Tag Archives: star wars

Solo Movie Review

As the year has been pretty busy, I didn’t get to see Solo while it was still in theaters.  To be clear, I didn’t approach this movie expecting it to be the best Star Wars movie ever.  I wanted something fun and light-hearted, something to distract and entertain.  And coming away from it, that’s what I got.

It is fun, fast paced, and it’s got enough action and characterization that you come to care about the characters involved.  The movie went through extensive rewrites and reshoots when Ron Howard took over.  You can pretty much identify, scene by scene, where his influence is.  The actors, action, and plot move along comfortably.  Other sections lag behind a bit and there’s a much more campy feel.

The story has plot-holes you could drive a Star Destroyer through and additions to the Star Wars setting that range from interesting to asinine.  But it moves along well, the acting isn’t bad at all, and it passes the bar of being *fun* if a little bit of a stretch at times.  It feels very rushed.  Solo goes from a street rat to an “experienced” smuggler in the course of a movie.  Sections of the ending were clearly in the campier/more humorous tone rather than the grimmer, darker tone of other parts of the movie.  This would have made a better TV series than a standalone movie.

Solo is a movie that didn’t do well not because it wasn’t a decent movie, but because of the disappointment that fans had with The Last Jedi (and that in itself is a can of worms I’m not going to open right now, but you can read my review of TLJ ).  It’s also a movie that didn’t necessarily need to be made and which answers questions most of us don’t have.  We don’t need to know where Han got his blaster or his dice, or why he likes the YT 1300 Corellian Freighter.  There was a perfectly good novel series that covered all that, once upon a time.  It’s not to say the actors or director did a bad job.  They didn’t. There were sections where I was caught up in “young” Han’s story… but again, it’s a story that didn’t need to be told.  It was entertaining and fun along the way, but I wish the focus had been more on the story itself, rather than an origin story for Han.  I wish there’d been more characterization.  More ties to a greater universe, instead of the barrage of homages to the original trilogy.

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Movie Review: The Last Jedi (No Spoilers)

The Last Jedi, Star Wars Episode VIII, is a movie that seems to have more controversy about it than any other recent movie.  Some people love it, some people hate it, and everyone has an opinion.  Short review?  See it for yourself.

Longer version: The Last Jedi is a movie which is focused upon building (or rebuilding) the Star Wars universe.  On the one hand, TLJ is Star Wars, in a way that the prequels weren’t.  It’s fun, it’s humorous, and it tells a story of good versus evil.  Plus there’s magic space wizardry and exploding space ships.

On the other hand, it isn’t a movie without flaws, or without messages of cynicism.  There are vast swathes of the movie that could have been cut out or streamlined.  There are militarily stupid decisions made, that if they were made in the real world, people would face serious criminal charges.  There’s a lot of humor, but some of that humor is cutting, to the point of offending those who held the original movies (and the expanded universe) close to their hearts.

But it is a new story.  This isn’t a repeat of things that have come before.  This is the start of something new.  And in a lot of ways, that’s the problem that many people have with the movie.  There were decisions made with the story structure and plot that suggest the franchise is moving on.  This isn’t about the original series and original characters, it’s about the greater universe.

On the third hand, there were decisions made in the new story structure that were… too safe.  There were some, potentially, very powerfully emotional scenes, and multiple times the writers/directors pulled back from the full delivery of those scenes.  They shied away from doing the hard things, they kill off swathes of faceless people we care little about (to the point of absurdity), yet there were several scenes where named characters should have died… yet they didn’t.

Overall, I enjoyed the movie.  It was fun and (despite the many faults) it was still Star Wars.  It had the spirit, the character, of a long, long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.  I will say that walking out of the theater, I really had enjoyed the experience, it was only after thinking about various scenes and story elements that I began to notice the flaws.  I recommend seeing it and developing your own opinion.

The Force Is With Me: Star Wars Rogue One Plot & Characters Review (SPOILERS!)

rogueone_onesheeta_1000_309ed8f6Now that Rogue One has been out for a while, I felt it is finally time to write an analysis of the characters and plot of the latest Star Wars installment.  Few people can deny that this is the prequel that captures the spirit and feel of Star Wars (those who do are entitled to their opinions, but the rest of us seem to think it’s great).

As a note, I’m adding some filler here just to make certain anyone who wants to avoid spoilers won’t have anything spoiled.  *Spoiler Warning: The rest of this review will delve into some plot and character details*

While Rogue One is a fast, exciting, and tension-driven war movie set in the Star Wars universe, the beginning is something of a mess.  There’s no opening crawl, a decision made to thematically separate the movie from the space opera feel of the others.  It arrogantly states, “We don’t need to tell you what’s happening, pay attention and we’ll show you.”

Which is all well and good, except at the very beginning it jumps around from planet to planet and through time rather quickly.  If you aren’t paying attention (and possibly even if you are, you’ll have no clue what’s going on right up until Jyn Erso is sat down at the Rebel Base on Yavin 4 when they explain everything through exposition.

It’s sort of like they made the decision not to have an opening crawl and then decided, “Crap, we need to slip it in, we’ll just have some characters explain it all.”  Which is fine.  We get some time to meet some of the characters, to establish Captain Cassian, Jyn Erso, and to see that the Director Krennic is kind of an asshole.  Still, it feels like they could have done a bit more showing than telling, but it’s a style choice that works, despite being a bit silly in some regards.

Moving on, we’ve got the Imperial defector, Bodhi who gets captured by an apparently unhinged Saw Gerrara, the leader of a splinter faction of rebels on the planet of Jedha.  Bodhi is carrying a warning about the Death Star, sent by Jyn’s father, Galen Erso.  Now this is another area where I feel the film sort of loses it’s course.  Saw is an enigmatic character, who seems to have lost touch with reality, one moment being helpful and the next… well, the next he’s accusing Jyn of being there to kill him.  It doesn’t make a terrible lot of sense, and there’s so much odd stuff about Saw that we’re left wondering: what’s up with his legs, how was he injured, why exactly has he lost it, why did Jyn’s father trust him with his daughter’s life?

We can extrapolate a lot of this, but it’s all distracting from the overall plot for a character who gets killed so early in the movie.  There might have been some wider idea for the character in other outlines for the film, but what we’re left with is sort of a box of crazy that distracts overall.  His splinter group of rebels, on the other hand, fits in very well with the overall “dirty” theme of the movie.  Not all of the rebels are going to be idealistic, kind-hearted folk like Luke Skywalker and Leia.  Saw’s rebels are scary and violent, opening fire on the Empire in a crowded market place and using grenades indiscriminately.

The torture of Bodhi, the Imperial defector sort of serves that point too, but it feels like another rabbit hole at the same time.  The Bor Gullet seems like a random thing to throw in there, particularly when it’s stated power didn’t seem to convince Saw Gerrara of anything.  And the “madness” that it caused didn’t seem to last long enough to serve any plot point.  Mostly it leaves you with some confusion about what the thing is and how it does what it does… then it’s gone.

Rolling onwards, we see the rivalry between Moff Tarkin and Director Krennic, which culminates in Krennic utilizing the Death Star to obliterate the rebellious city and the old Jedi Temple in a display of the Death Star’s potential.  This is a fantastic scene for a number of reasons, many of them fairly subtle.  We see the casual disdain for life that the Empire’s senior officers hold, where Krennic feels nothing but relief that his weapon worked and then anger that Tarkin steals the credit.  We see Tarkin’s arrogance in how he only cares about how the Death Star will improve his standing with the Emperor.  All the other Imperials just seem to want to lick up scraps of power from the two officers, their shock at the destruction turning to support for Tarkin as Krennic is sent scurrying to plug security leaks that made him look bad.

The “beautiful” comment from Krennic is particularly good as it shows that he has an appreciation of beauty, yet lacks any morality to consider that he just killed thousands, possibly millions, of people.

In a not-so-subtle detail, the Death Star eclipses the sun for the city, circling in an orbit that blocks out the light to the planet just before it obliterates the city.  It’s an ominous omen, one that sets the viewer on edge as they realize what’s about to happen.

Another subtle detail is that, unlike Alderaan, we actually see the place they destroy.  The audience sees Jyn Erso rescue a young girl in a firefight on the streets, delivering the child to her mother.  That girl, her mother, and everyone else in the city is annihilated.  We don’t see their last moments, but we see the city vanish in a cataclysmic explosion that also kills off Saw Gerrera and his rebels.

The main characters barely escape, witnesses to the terrifying might of the Empire.  They also come to the decision to go to rescue (well, Captain Cassian is there to kill) Galen Erso, after Bodhi gives them the location to find him.

Their travel to Galen’s research facility is an excellent use of characterization.  We see the different characters play off one another.  Chirrut and Baze were earlier introduced well and their few words in this scene establishes them further.  Chirrut is obviously a force sensitive, not a Jedi, but in tune with the Force.  Baze is cynical, but his bond with his friend is strong, showing that there’s some depth to his character.  The way they address the destruction of their home is subtle but strong.

The interaction and chemistry between Cassian and Jyn also works well.  Cassian, dark a character as he is (lets face it, he shot a former friend in the back at the start of the movie), wants to believe in Jyn, but at the same time he’s determined to follow orders.

The battle at the research facility is fantastic.  Confusion between Cassian’s superior and the team sets up a series of mistakes that results in the rebels bombing the facility, killing Galen in the process.  Cassian is given a moment to kill Galen, but decides to trust Jyn instead, only to see a rebel Y-Wing blow up the platform anyway.  We get to see Bodhi, Chirrut, and Baze all do what they do, all in interesting ways.

The rest of the movie moves along with an inevitable feel.  The rebel council reject an attack to seize the Death Star plans.  The main characters decide to go anyway and Captain Cassian comes forward with a grizzled host of warriors who volunteer for the mission.  Without going into detail, he establishes them as desperate, hardened fighters and they look and act the part.

The final fight is a chaotic mess and in that they do a fantastic job of capturing the feel of combat.  The rebel plan goes well enough as Cassian, K2, and Erso infiltrate the facility.  I had a moment of eye-rolling as the unshaven Cassian walks around in an officer uniform, but other than that, the scenes play out well.  The firefight kicks off, many of the rebels knowing that they’re going to die just to create a distraction and buy time for Cassian and Jyn.

The firefight kicks off, quickly becoming a mad scramble as more and more Imperials flood the area, an entire garrison against a handful.  We get a moment of excitement as the rebel fleet goes to help… but that’s dampered by the fact that the rebel arrival results in the closure of the shield gate, trapping Rogue team on the planet.

At this point, every character seems to realize there’s no escape and the movie does a fantastic job of showing that realization.  Every one of them reacts in a different way.  Bodhi is shaken, almost panicked.  Chirrut seems to accept it.  Baze scowls.  Jyn and Cassian are all about how to accomplish the mission.  It’s a fantastic bit of storytelling that sells the characters even more.

As an observer, I’ve got to say that it’s the second time that the rebels seized defeat from the jaws of victory (the first being where they kill Galen Erso with a bomb when he would have known best how to destroy the Death Star).  Granted, there’s no guarantee that Jyn and Cassian could have got the plans out of the facility, to the shuttle, and then escaped, but they aren’t left with that option as the fleet arrives and the Imperials close the shield.

At this point, characters begin to die.  K2 goes first, the quirky and humorous droid going out in a poignant fashion, saving Cassian’s life and doing his duty to the last.  With the realization that they need to transmit the plans, Bodhi has to get a message out, setting up a sequence of events where a transmission switch needs to be activated in the middle of a firefight.

rogue-one-star-wars-baze-malbus-chirrut-imwe-death-scenes-218390-640x320Chirrut by far has the standout scene here, chanting “I am one with the Force.  The Force is with me.” As he walks through blaster fire to activate that switch, in a scene where every other rebel who tried was cut down.  This scene is fantastic and as he blindly flips the switch, only to be blasted the next instant, we’re given both a heroic moment of self sacrifice and a gut-wrenching blow as a character we’ve grown to enjoy dies in his moment of triumph.

Bodhi transmits to the rebel fleet to prepare for the data transfer, but then he dies a moment later as a stormtrooper grenades him.  It’s a quick, abrupt death, Bodhi not even having time to say anything before his shuttle explodes.  Yet he’s done his job, he got the message through.

Then we come to  Baze.  Here he has an excellent moment, where his faith in the Force is restored as his longtime friend, Chirrut, dies.  This crowning moment results in Baze taking up his friend’s chant… only to kill a few enemies and die to a random grenade.  In my mind, it’s the one flaw to he end sequence.  Baze should have either died with his friend or had some suitably essential role.  His death as it is is just sloppy.

We’re then back to Jyn and Cassian, the latter who has a brush with death.  Jyn sets up the dish to transmit, nearly dying in the process.  She gets to confront Krennic, Cassian saves her, and she transmits the data to the fleet, not even knowing if they received it. Then she and Cassian stumble out of the facility just as Moff Tarkin fires the Death Star.

Krennic’s death is appropriately ironic, dying from his own creation, given just enough time to realize it and then vanishing.  Jyn and Cassian have a heartbreaking moment, long enough for them to say that they did the right thing, that they gave the rebellion a chance, a bit of hope, before they perish.

Then Vader arrives.  His star destroyer smashes several rebel ships as they try to escape, and he boards the rebel command ship to regain the plans.  His scene where he appears in the corridors is again, excellent.  The tension and terror is raw.  This isn’t a scene where the death of these nameless rebels doesn’t matter.  They’re dying as one of their number tries to get the plans to safety.  It’s a brilliant scene because, like their compatriots on the planet, they know they’re going to die.

The last bit of the movie, as the plans are passed off was done perhaps a little too smoothly.  I see some logic issues with the command ship having the Tantive IV docked inside it for the entire battle.  Couldn’t they have used that firepower in the battle?  For that matter, why not have a last desperate transmission… and why didn’t Vader’s star destroyer block it’s escape?  We know it’s got to have the plans in A New Hope, but couldn’t they have showed that in a less orchestrated fashion?  It’s a small thing, but it disrupts what is an otherwise fantastic ending, giving us a “feel good” for all that the characters all died before the movie really ended.

Thematically, the film is an odd mix of darkness filled with hope.  The rebels really are fighting a desperate battle against tremendously long odds.  They’re always outgunned, always on the run, they are never safe… yet they fight on.

The movie gives fantastic depth to the older movies.  Rewatching them afterwards, there’s far more impact as rebels die, knowing that each of them has their own story and seeing the terrible cost to the rebel alliance for each victory.

Rogue One is a fantastic story.   It’s a fitting prequel, the prequel that many fans wanted from the beginning.  This is a tragic story, one about normal people caught in a terrible time.  Yet at the same time, the characters exhibit some of the best traits of soldiers and humans in general, exhibiting faith, self-sacrifice, and loyalty unto the end.

There’s some flaws overall, but those are small things, minor imperfections in an overall fantastic movie that had excellent characterization and a powerful message of hope.

 

 

 

 

 

I am one with the Force- Star Wars: Rogue One Review (No Spoilers)

rogueone_onesheeta_1000_309ed8f6Star Wars is at this point a factor of culture and a defining element of fandom within those who identify as geeks and nerds.  The story, of hope, of good versus evil is something that almost everyone can identify with.

Star Wars: Rogue One (Or is it Rogue One: Star Wars?) is very much a Star Wars Story, as it markets itself.  It is set at the height of the Empire’s power, just before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.

It’s a story about people in that time.  This isn’t Luke Skywalker’s story, this is the story of a band of rebel misfits who have lost everything to the Empire.  It’s a story about faith and hope and a refusal to give in.

It’s also a dark story.  These are not happy times and the Empire is far too willing to go to any length to seize more and more power.  There are some very subtle things woven into this story, elements of tragedy and ambition that stand starkly against the hope and sacrifice.

The beauty of this movie is not just that it is a good Star Wars movie, but that it could easily be a military movie set anywhere, from Nazi Germany to the fall of China to the Communists.  It’s a story about a handful standing against many because its the right thing to do.

For the military junkies, there’s plenty of it, with space and ground combat that’s both dazzling and has you on the edge of the seat.  Every bit of the combat has a purpose… and you can see the cost in lives in a very real fashion.  People are fighting and dying to stop the Empire, and they’re struggling against insane odds because to do otherwise would be unthinkable.

The movie isn’t perfect, though.  There’s things that they could have tweaked a bit, parts at the beginning could have flowed a bit smoother and parts at the end felt a little too smooth.  But the theme, the overall story, is exactly what Star Wars has always been about.  I’ve seen it once and I plan to see it a second and third time.  There’s a lot of things going on and its a movie I spent several hours mulling over afterwards.

Go see it.  It’s a fantastic movie and no matter your politics or outlook on life, there’s something in it for you.

Review: Star Wars The Force Awakens (Spoiler Free)

maxresdefaultAfter seeing that Star Wars: The Force Awakens was coming out the same weekend as not only my anniversary but also my move, I was pretty certain I wouldn’t get to see it until the following week.  Fortunately for my sanity, my wife is also a fan and we managed to fit it into our insane schedule for the weekend.

Since the move revolves around surprises and plot twists, I’ll keep this review spoiler free and friendly to those who don’t want anything ruined.  I may, at a later time, discuss some of those things, but not here.

First off, it captures a lot of the spirit of the original.  This is, in no uncertain terms, an homage to the originals, albiet one written by a younger generation.  The themes, of good struggling against evil and of evil against good, are the same.  The idea of family legacies and of discovering ones full potential, are there as well.  There are many references, both direct and indirect, to places, people, and events of the previous movies, along with deliberate parallels written to make the audience go “Okay, this is Star Wars.”

I’ve seen a lot of discussion about the movie’s merits, but much of the disappointment (and there is some) is more from those who didn’t manage their expectations.  There is no way that JJ Abrams and Disney are going to recreate the Expanded Universe books, page by page.  For one thing, there’s too much there and for another, it would strip away all the pleasure of the mystery and wonder of discovery.  I loved Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn books and those of Michael Stackpole’s X Wing series, and other books of the expanded universe were fun, engaging, and exciting.  What they are not is a good way to write a new and exciting movie.   I’ve heard they’re writing new books, set in the new universe.  I’ll probably read some of them and I might introduce my children to them, someday.  For that matter, I’d love the opportunity to write some of them.

Where the movie succeeds is in capturing the excitement, from the very opening crawl to the last, emotional scene, you can feel that this is Star Wars, that the cast and crew poured love and excitement into its crafting, and that it is a movie that your children will want to share with theirs.  It did what I hoped it would and resurrected the franchise.

Is it a perfect movie?  Not in the least.  There’s a tone of pandering at times, of giving the audience what they want.  As an adult, there were many twists that I could guess at, ones that a child or someone new to the genre probably wouldn’t.  Some of the constraints of the good guys, as well, were maddening, but mostly, again, from my own perspective rather than the flow of the film.

Still, the movie is exceptional in that it breathed new life to the Star Wars franchise.  I’m excited to see the next one, thrilled to have spin-offs like Rogue One, and overall filled with questions.  I highly recommend the movie to all fans of the original Star Wars trilogy.

Computer Games: Retro Mode: X Wing, Tie Fighter, and X Wing Alliance

Going up against a Star Destroyer in a snub fighter, what's not to like about X Wing?
Going up against a Star Destroyer in a snub fighter, what’s not to like about X Wing?

I still remember the first time I bought X wing.  I was in high school at the time.  I spent $40 at the time, was so excited by the idea, couldn’t wait to get it home and hop in the cockpit of my very own spaceship.

Of course, I didn’t know much about computers and discovered I’d bought a mac version of the software, which I couldn’t then exchange (store wouldn’t allow exchanges of computer software).  Money wasted, in a lot of ways.

But the dream lived on, and when I saved up, I got a version of Tie Fighter that worked, complete with a joystick and I settled down to play.  Even at the time, I knew it wasn’t a very good simulation for actual space combat.  Ships moved at WWII aircraft speeds (sometimes WWI), the graphics were great for their time (but very dated now), the physics were completely inaccurate, and the overall gameplay was relatively simple and linear compared to modern games.

What the game did do, however, was tell a great story, give challenging scenarios that required skills, thought, and even tactics.  This further evolved with the follow on game a few years later with X Wing Alliance, which updated the graphics and allowed the player to play through a fun campaign, as well as evolving the multiplayer a bit more and allow crafting of scenarios.

What did I get from these games?  Well, they let you live out some of the most exciting aspects of the Star Wars universe, putting yourself in the pilot of a tiny ship and pitting your skills against not only the computer, but other people.  They were tremendously fun, but they also were a key aspect of inspiration to me.  They opened up a section of the Star Wars universe that was, until then, sort of vague and abstract.  You could not only see what it was like to be in a military unit in this universe, but you could see how the flight mechanics, technology, and tactics could unfold.  You could witness the awesome firepower of a Star Destroyer and also work together as a team to take one down using outdated snub fighters and hot-shot piloting.

I still maintain that a lot of modern games lack that same spark.  Games like Mass Effect and Eve Online are RPGs, where it is the skill of the character rather than the player that determines an outcome.  This is fine, in many ways, but it also somewhat distances the player from his accomplishments.  With an RPG, you can ‘build’ a character to accomplish tasks.  While you might take some pride in taking down a ship or discovering some new planet, you aren’t the one doing it… your character is.  At most, you have skill in using the character’s abilities… which isn’t the same thing at all.

With simulator games like X Wing and it’s follow-ons, the player has a direct connection to their accomplishments.  I think that brings a whole new level of excitement to the game.  In many ways, getting into space behind a joystick is the pinnacle of my dreams… and doing so as me versus a character is far better.  Other games, like Freelancer also explored and expanded on the groundwork, adding more options, entire worlds, star systems, and other mythologies as well as a bit more accuracy in physics and technology.  They still have a WWII fighter feel, but they have entire star systems to explore and discover, with options to trade, explore, defend, and pirate.

These games, in many ways, allowed their player base to live out their dreams of reaching the stars, if only in a limited sense, in a way that RPGs can’t do, in a physical, exciting fashion that brings the risks and rewards of space to the player.  I’ll gladly admit that those old space simulation games inspired me with ideas and possibilities, and in many ways were responsible for keeping my excitement over space travel alive.  I know for a fact that I wouldn’t be where I am now if not for the excitement that these games gave me in my youth.  Unfortunately, these types of games became less and less common in the last decade, with most of the focus going to First Person Shooter games, sports games, or RPGs/MMORPGs.  Space fighter simulations basically vanished, especially as big developers, like EA, consolidated a lot of the gaming companies and set about producing incrementally improved games based off their big sellers.

Check back soon for my next post: Computer Games: Modern Space Simulations.

Starfest Denver 2014

Boba Fett and Han Solo discuss their plans for Starfest.
Boba Fett and Han Solo discuss their plans for Starfest.

 

 

I had the opportunity to attend Starfest last weekend as an author and participant.  It was a great time, all in all, with the highlight being the Combat in Science Fiction and Fantasy Panel.  We had a great turnout for that panel (almost standing room only) and excellent audience participation.  Sunday was May the 4th, which is Star Wars Day.  So there was a huge turnout of Star Wars fans as well.

A Star Wars Rebel Steampunk Pilot
A Star Wars Rebel Steampunk Pilot

It was a great opportunity for me to meet folks, both writers, editors, and readers.  I had some great conversations with people and really enjoyed myself.

The highlight for me, as I said, was being on several panels, especially the Combat in SF & F one that I organized.  We talked about a number of things, to include pet peeves as readers and viewers, awesome scenes in the genre, as well as writing tips and techniques for doing a combat scene.  The other two panels were pretty awesome as well, and I really had a great time overall.

Fortunately there were first responders on hand in case of any health issues or zombie breakouts.
Fortunately there were first responders on hand in case of any health issues or zombie breakouts.