Star Wars Celebration After Action Report

Selfie

I got to take a selfie with BB-8.

Star Wars Celebration was a sensory overload in a mostly positive way. Unfortunately, it has left me completely unable to organize my thoughts on it, so this after action report will come in list form. Writing is hard and I am lazy.

1. I’m pretty sure the term “bucket list” is a cliché now, so I’m trying to use it less, but should you ask: yes, attending a Celebration was absolutely at the top of mine.

2. Last year in June, Facebook helpfully shoved an ad in my face announcing tickets had gone on sale. This could be the only useful thing Facebook has ever done. It cost me roughly $250 for a five day pass.

3. I didn’t go alone. I successfully lobbied a dear friend of mine I almost never get to see to come along and we split a hotel room. I am eternally grateful to him and we had a blast.

4. I absolutely adore the Rebel special forces guys that accompany Luke, Han, Leia, Chewie, Artoo and Threepio to Endor and I knew immediately that that was what I wanted to dress up as. Assembling this costume involved multiple trips to a Vallejo military surplus store, becoming a lifetime REI member, spray painting a Nerf gun and buying a plastic pot from Home Depot which I cut into a helmet ring. Altogether, this costume was…adequate. There were other people doing a much better job at that same cosplay which made me feel a little envious, but I’m still glad I dressed up. Even shitty cosplay is fun.

5. I’m not even going to try to describe every single amazing cosplay I saw because there was just so much of it. There are some really talented people in this world; I’ll leave it at that.

6. You could easily spend the entirety of Celebration stumbling around the expo floor in awe of all the stuff packed onto it.

7. If you absolutely must buy a celebrity photo op, get one with one of the voice actors, as they go for considerably cheaper than the live action ones.

8. We ended up staying for four of the five days on account of the fact that we didn’t book our hotel past the last night of Celebration and that the bus ride was long. Plans change sometimes and I’m adaptable. At any rate we were pretty much spent four days in and we had absorbed a whole lot.

9. Fun times always come with a cost, and not just in a monetary sense. Among the many sacrifices you’ll be subjected to at Celebration: not getting into a panel you really want to see in person, waiting in lots of lines, having to sit on floors, having to skip meals to hold a position in line and having to eat convention center food. And no matter how much you do and see, you will still dwell a little bit on all the things you missed. For instance, I’m kind of miffed over not getting the exclusive Clone Wars poster, despite the fact I got to see the panel itself, which is a far more substantial experience than acquiring a sheet of paper to hang on my wall. I’m outright embarrassed by that small, nagging disappointment; what the hell is wrong with me?

10. As far as I can tell, the toxicity of online fandom was all but absent from McCormick Place. Kelly Marie Tran (Rose Tico) and Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks) both received standing ovations and I spotted a bunch of Admiral Holdo cosplayers in the exhibit hall. The notion that “everybody” hates those characters is a load of bantha shit. Star Wars is for everybody; deal with it.

11. We got into the Galaxy’s Edge panel but I couldn’t attend because it conflicted with one of my photo ops. As far the larger panels went, we got to see half of Alan Tudyk’s interview with Warwick Davis, the Clone Wars panel (check out this sweet trailer) and we got into one of the streaming rooms for The Mandalorian

12. The Mandalorian‘s trailer was exclusive to its panel attendees (which thankfully included those of us in the overflow rooms where it got streamed). That show looks pretty sweet and it has practically guaranteed that I’ll fire up a Disney+ account come November. The trailer still hasn’t been officially released but there are some bootlegs of it on YouTube.

13. It would have been remiss of us to not get Chicago pizza, so we got some at Giordano’s. I’m no authority on Windy City pizza, but this place was excellent. It was also flooded with Star Wars fans, because you couldn’t go anywhere in Downtown Chicago without seeing at least a dozen.

14. Star Wars Celebration was a profoundly wonderful and life affirming experience. I don’t know if I’m up for going again so soon but there will be another one in Anaheim next year – probably to coincide with the 40th anniversary of The Empire Strikes Back. If you love Star Wars and have the money and the time off, you should consider going.

I Don’t Know What to Think About ‘Fantastic Beasts 2’

20181110_153550

Image: Warner Bros.

I didn’t particularly like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. I found it to be a C- movie at best with two immensely likable characters (Jacob and Queenie) who felt like worthy editions to the universe but otherwise it had nothing else terribly compelling to offer. If it was just a one-and-done standalone feature, I wouldn’t really give Beasts much thought outside of “Hey, remember Queenie and Jacob? Those two were great; too bad they had to be saddled with that annoying dork with the giant bird and Queenie’s sulky sourpuss of a sister.” But therein lies the problem.

Harry Potter is now a franchise in perpetuity and so Fantastic Beasts is of course becoming a series. That’s the reality of show business at the moment and it isn’t a deal breaker for me. I love Star Wars, James Bond and Marvel and DC, and those institutions have refused to conclude since before anyone even heard the phrase “franchise in perpetuity” (if Disney hadn’t bought Star Wars, the now defunct Expanded Universe would have gone on until the end of time). A cultural touchstone like Harry Potter was of course going to follow suit.

I’m going to get the unpleasant business out of the way first: the pre-release period of Crimes of Grindelwald has just been a parade of unpleasantness. Johnny Depp’s continued presence in the series. The initial erasure of Albus Dumbledore’s sexuality (hopefully that isn’t the case anymore). The Nagini-is-actually-a-person business, which is both stupid and probably racist. All of the above makes me leery of giving this franchise any more support.

Those are all significant problems and they are stacked on top of the fact that I didn’t even like the first movie and that I find the direction Beasts is taking to be baffling. If this series was just about Newt having whimsical adventures with silly magical creatures then it would be a harmless distraction. But because it also has to function as a five goddamned part prequel series about the global wizarding war, it’s a bloated mess instead. If you wanted to make a Dumbledore versus Gellert Grindelwald story why not just make that? Why does it have to be shown from the perspective of wizard Steve Irwin? And if you absolutely must capitalize on one of the peripheral Harry Potter books, then why not just choose Quidditch Through the Ages and make a magic sports movie franchise? That’s something no one’s seen before.

There’s already a great deal of talk about J.K. Rowling turning into prequel period George Lucas. I don’t really have anything to add to that, though the Nagini reveal is pretty much on the same level of Darth-Vader-building-Threepio in terms of “Who the hell asked for this?” Creators losing touch as time progresses is an extremely normal career arc. I can live with the fact that I won’t like the Beasts series, but Rowling’s and Warner Bros.’ continued support of the credibly accused domestic abuser headlining their shared blockbuster franchise is much harder to swallow.

I’m currently re-reading Harry Potter, in addition to re-playing the LEGO Harry Potter games. This series is a huge deal for me and will always be a big part of my life, almost as much as Star Wars is. As you could no doubt tell by this article’s headline, I haven’t come to any satisfactory conclusion. I probably will see The Crimes of Grindelwald at some point; it’ll make a billion dollars with or without my ticket purchase. But whereas going to see the Harry Potter movies always felt like the best kind of adventure, seeing new installments of Fantastic Beasts just feels like a chore at this point.

Here’s Our First Look at “The Incredibles 2”

Jesus Christ, this has been a long wait. Up until it was announced two years ago, I was convinced I wouldn’t ever get a sequel to my all-time favorite Pixar flick. Thanks largely to the efforts of the Disney-owned Marvel Cinematic Universe, superhero movies have only been the most popular thing on the planet for at least five years now. They would be mad not to give us another adventure with the Parr family. Just to give you an idea of how long ago The Incredibles was, consider this brief list of things that had happened (or not yet happened) as of its release date of Nov. 5, 2004:

George W. Bush was on the cusp of re-election.

The Boston Red Sox had just broken their curse.

The Star Wars prequel trilogy hadn’t been completed yet.

Peyton Manning hadn’t yet reached a Super Bowl.

The Venture Bros. had wrapped up its first (First!) season.

We foolishly believed that Alien vs. Predator would be the worst thing to happen to the Alien franchise.

Hell, Disney didn’t even own Pixar yet.

We didn’t even consider the possibility of  waiting 14 years for Incredibles 2.

Wow, that is some shit isn’t it? I still haven’t even entertained the notion of forgiving Disney for giving us a goddamned Cars trilogy before Incredibles 2. Pixar as a brand isn’t quite as bulletproof as it once was (from a critical standpoint) and while they’ve still made some good and sometimes even great movies since 2004, none of them has resonated with me as much as The Incredibles has. I was 15 years-old and a freshman in high school then and I saw it in theaters three times. Curiously, this was around the age I started getting into South Park, King of the Hill and Family Guy (for instance, I had stopped watching Nickelodeon that year, which is how I missed out on Avatar: The Last Airbender while it was actually on the air). Clearly, the Disney shit wasn’t done with me. I’m pretty sure The Incredibles taught me that it was okay to still watch and enjoy stuff aimed at kids, even into adolescence and adulthood.

If the barely-a-trailer above is anything to go off, youngest member Jack-Jack will have a substantially larger role. If you have never seen the Jack-Jack Attack short film, I strongly recommend it. In addition to being funny and cute, it shows what happens with Jack-Jack and babysitter Kari while the rest of the Parrs were on Nomanisan Island and also shows off more of Jack-Jack’s powers, which is apparently everything. I’m thinking Incredibles 2 will be centered on the youngest Parr; the tyke is pretty powerful and there’s bound to be nefarious people or groups out there who’ll be interested in him. But that’s just speculation.

The Incredibles 2 comes out on June 15, 2018. My expectations are Jupiter-sized.

 

 

Assorted Musings on Alien: Covenant

Yes, I know this has been out for a week already, but since I’m doing nothing else this Memorial Day weekend and negative thoughts really ignite my creativity like nothing else, I just had to get this out of my system. There will be spoilers from here on out.

  1. If you are one of those horror flick purists who thinks that monsters are scarier when they are unexplained and that an origin story detracts from a beast’s air of mystery which makes it so much more horrifying, than you will hate Alien: Covenant. Granted, you probably already hated Prometheus, which this is more or less a direct sequel to.
  2. If you are one of those horror flick purists who thinks that monsters are more effective the less we see of them, then you will hate Alien: Covenant.
  3. Building off the last point, the CGI Xenomorph looks like shit.
  4. Good luck remembering any of these characters’ names or remembering who is married to who. With the exception of about three of them, none of the Covenant‘s crew members have any distinct personality, so you don’t care when someone dies.
  5. That business with David (Michael Fassbender) and Dr. Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) ends pretty much exactly how you expected it to, and although these new characters are mostly unaware of the events depicted in Prometheus, watching Covenant devote most of its second act to this tiresome non-mystery is pretty damn frustrating from the audience’s perspective.
  6. James Franco is in this (don’t ask).
  7. Speaking of Franco, his frequent collaborator Danny McBride does a pretty good job in this very, very serious movie. He’s one of few highlights.
  8. Colony ship Covenant‘s commanding officer Oram (Billy Crudup) is quite possibly the stupidest character in this whole franchise. He makes the hapless biologist from Prometheus look like Tony Stark in comparison.
  9. David and the newborn Xenomorph that bursts out of Oram striking that dumb pose at each other is extremely dumb. Why is this in the movie?
  10. Chestburster scenes have lost all impact.
  11. The various kill scenes in this movie are so sloppy, rushed and un-artfully constructed that it’s hard to believe Ridley Scott directed this mess.
  12. While technically impressive, watching Fassbender act opposite of himself isn’t nearly as interesting as it sounds on paper.
  13. Android Walter (also Fassbender) fighting android David was kind of cool, though it lead to a plot twist that is way too easy to see coming.
  14. Just about every twist in Covenant is telegraphed from light years away.
  15. Watching Xenomorphs get crushed by cranes and impaled by fork lift prongs is admittedly quite novel. I award Covenant style points for these scenes.
  16. If you’re wondering if finding out where Xenomorphs come from is worth all of the horseshit Prometheus and now Alien: Covenant will force you to swallow, the simplest answer I can give you is “no.”
  17. Why are Alien movies still being made?
  18. The Predator films were never this pretentious.
  19. You should probably just go see Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 again.
  20. Remember that Life movie that came out back in March? It was far from perfect, but it turned out to be a better Alien movie than Alien: Covenant. Check that one out if you missed it.
  21. Origin’s new album will probably be a better Alien movie than Alien: Covenant.
  22. The Martian is less than two years old; rest assured, Ridley Scott fans, some part of that guy still knows how to make a great movie.
  23. We still have Alien and Aliens.

Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers! Star Wars Trailers!

The problem I have with Star Wars movies is basically the exact opposite of the problem I have with upcoming DC films: I tend to get so excited for them I have to actively fight off impossibly high expectations. And with Star Wars Celebration in full swing (Why am I not there?! Agghhhh!), the hype machine is in overdrive and so is my fanboyism. There’s all sorts of Star Wars news breaking at the moment, but below I’ve outlined my big three takeaways from Celebration so far. Let’s get cracking:

My enthusiasm for gaming tends to go through extremely dramatic and unpredictable ebbs and flows so I have no idea how interested I’m still going to be by the time Star Wars Battlefront II (curiously, it’s the second such game to be called that) is available to play on Nov. 17. But for the time being, this looks cool as hell. It’s supposed to be the first Star Wars game in the new continuity to explore a post Return of the Jedi setting and it appears to also set up the rise of the First Order. I’m a bit iffy on video game stories being made into franchise canon (good riddance, Force Unleashed), but Battlefront II gets the benefit of the doubt for now.

I was totally wrong about Star Wars Rebels concluding with its third season despite appearances to the contrary, but I wasn’t off by much. It’s been officially announced that it will end with the upcoming season four. Truthfully, I didn’t expect this show to last; in addition to the fact that cartoons for kids don’t usually have deep runs, the five years before A New Hope time frame didn’t give its storytellers tons of wiggle room. Nonetheless, the pieces of an emotionally satisfying conclusion are in place, especially since Hera’s somber narration doesn’t imply a happy ending. We know from that Easter Egg in Rogue One that she’ll probably be okay. My credits are on Kanan buying the moisture farm, since I don’t think Disney is about to kill off any 15-year-olds. I’m pretty sure Thrawn will go down too, which would take him “off the board” during the events of the OT. At any rate, I’m glad Rebels will get to end on its own terms, rather than get abruptly yanked off the air like Clone Wars did.

And that wolf! I don’t know what it is, but I love it already!

I’ve saved the best for last: the first trailer (it’s April; there’s going to be several more) for The Last Jedi. I’m super bummed that the elderly versions of Luke, Han and Leia won’t get to share the screen but it’s nice to have Luke back even though the last 10 or so years haven’t been kind to him. Luke took on a mentor role in some of the later post Saga books in the now defunct EU and getting to see that version of him onscreen is going to be treat, especially since Mark Hamill is really selling it with that magnificent beard. The only major plot point we can cull from this is that a despondent Luke, haunted by his failure with Ben Solo/Kylo Ren, will be ending the Jedi Order. Everyone – me included – thinks this means Star Wars is trying to move past the Light side/Dark side dichotomy (Luke’s “It’s so much bigger” line is lending that theory major credence). The idea that the Force has more than just two paths was touched upon in the previous season of Rebels via the Bendu character and hopefully it will get explored further in TLJ. I stand by what I said about Star Wars needing to take creative risks and this feels like a step in the right direction.

The Last Jedi comes out on Dec. 15.

An Obligatory Report on the Justice League Trailer

Somewhere in the space-time continuum, there is a parallel Earth in which I’m excited for the upcoming Justice League movie.

The titanic turds Batman v Superman and Suicide Squad were strikes one and two; time will only tell if Wonder Woman will be the third or if it will break the mold and be the first good DC movie since at least 2012 by my reckoning. At some point, I’m going to have to stop giving Warner Bros the benefit of the doubt, but I just can’t help myself. The DC films thus far have been train wrecks I just can’t look away from. I’ll be as helpless as everyone else once Nov. 17 rolls around.

Anyhow the above trailer dropped yesterday and under literally any other circumstances the sight of Batman riding a horse through the Arctic would be an immensely positive sign but alas, not in the DC Universe as envisioned by Mr. Zack Snyder and his enablers at WB. We are talking about a man whose idea of fun is having Jimmy Olsen get shot in the face because nothing says “I have immense respect for these iconic characters and their legacies” quite like Superman’s pal getting his brain stem split in half with a bullet to the dome.

Okay, back to the topic at hand.

It would take immense mental effort that would be better invested elsewhere to even pretend to think maybe Justice League will be cool. The Parademons (and make no mistake, those are Parademons) don’t look completely horrible but the prospect of Snyder visualizing the New Gods is something I don’t want to think about. The suppressed optimist in me wants to say that Darkseid and friends couldn’t possibly look worse than Cyborg and Flash, who are both over-designed atrocities. J.K. Simmons is playing Commissioner Gordon, which means that there will probably be a couple of funny lines in this mess and if we’re really lucky, Jason Momoa’s hard-drinking, hard-rocking Aquaman will be one of those things that’s so stupid it borders on brilliant.

If the worst comes to worst, I could always just dust off my Justice League/Justice League Unlimited DVD box set. I’m overdue for a re-watch.

Carrie Fisher: 1956-2016

Goddamnit, this one hurts on a profoundly shitty level.

After cutting down Alan Rickman all the way back in January, this ugly ass year once again robbed me and countless others of an actor integral to a franchise I love. 2016 can get fucked forever. Carrie Fisher’s passing has made it clear to me more than ever the appeal of the “fuck 2016” meme: every time we think we’re getting tired of this schtick, another death or some intolerable bullshit (*cough* Trump) will come along and put us in need of some serious coping.

As a guy who has been in love with all things Star Wars since at least the age of seven, any member of the trio passing away was obviously going to hurt like hell. The youngest of them, Fisher was just 60. Even taking her health problems into account, I thought we had more time with her. Fisher was, of course monumentally awesome as Princess Leia. She was the strong female character I never knew I needed; the one I took for granted for far too long.

There was way more to this gal than just Star Wars. She was a highly prolific and sought after script doctor throughout the ’90s, authored eight books, survived drug addiction and became an advocate for mental health after going public with her struggles with bipolar disorder. Fisher was a remarkable woman; I’m currently trying to comfort myself with the notion that she was simply too good for this world.

Rest in power, princess.