What’s Next for ‘Star Wars?’



Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) in Star Wars: The Force Awakens. Image courtesy of Wookieepedia.

The Force Awakens is knocking down box office records and Star Wars is perceived as cool again. Disney has charted a loose course for the near future and has deviated slightly by bumping Episode VIII from May 2017 to December of that same year. We are still going to be getting a movie a year from now until at least 2019, which will include the next installments of the new trilogy as well as standalone spinoff films (one of which is slated for release this December). In the meantime, we can help ourselves to a proverbial buffet of secondary Star Wars media: the Rebels animated series, the various Marvel comics series, the occasional new novel or two and of course, Legos.

But for many people, these are all trivial distractions from what’s really on their minds: Episode VIII. It has a director in Rian Johnson, who I only know from the fantastic Looper. Nonetheless he’s exactly the sort of filmmaker that I hoped The Force Awakens would get, but we had to settle for the poor man’s Spielberg that is JJ Abrams. While Abrams did an alright enough job, I’m eager to get this franchise into someone else’s hands.

For what it’s worth, Episode IX also has a director picked: Colin Trevorrow, which I’m not enthused about at all. His Jurassic World was a broken mess so contemptible that I’ve sworn off Chris Pratt until the next Guardians of the Galaxy. I sincerely hope Trevorrow either drops out or takes an online film school course between now and IX’s tentative release date.

Anyhow, a great many folks have pointed out many similarities between TFA and A New Hope, mainly that they are almost the same movie. I was willing to overlook this because A) TFA did not suck, B) the new characters made up for it and C) being the first Star Wars film in a decade, taking the safe road is forgivable, especially considering what happened last time we got a new trilogy. But now that Star Wars is back in everyone’s good will, I feel like I have to put this out there: Episode VIII needs to be different.

I really don’t want an VIII that is essentially an Empire Strikes Back knockoff. TFA following ANH is one easily brushed aside thing, but VIII following Empire just as closely? Then I’ll get mad. And that’s just it; Empire is universally considered the best film in the OT. Even I, the most ardent defender/apologist of Return of the Jedi you will ever meet, would not dispute that fact. I mean, that’s just crazy talk. With that in mind, can you envision a scenario where there isn’t overwhelming studio and/or fan pressure to make VIII into an Empire clone? If you are one of the suits at Disney, why wouldn’t you take another trip down memory lane to the tune of another billion dollar global box office take?

There is this one negative side effect from the prequels that no one ever talks about: it made Star Wars fans deeply afraid of change. Everything about TFA was tailor-made to address those fears: the return of the original cast members, the mostly practical effects, the rehashed plot, the near identical aesthetic and the presence of JJ Abrams, the aforementioned poor man’s Spielberg. All deeply comforting to a fan base that has a hard time letting things go.

Hey, speaking of not being able to let go of stuff, what the hell is up with the continuing presence of Darth Maul in secondary Star Wars media? Have you seen that dense, spoiler-filled trailer for the second half of the current Star Wars Rebels season? Guess which spike-headed, full-body tattoo enthusiast with cyborg legs is STILL kicking around a mere five years before ANH? Seriously, fanboys, what is the deal with your obsession with Maul? I get that he was the only cool and edgy thing (in strictly visual terms; film Maul had as much personality as a sock drawer) in a movie that was overflowing with pandering little kid crap but your drawn out attachment to this vastly overrated character is getting insane. Let. Go.

Okay, rant over. Let’s get back to business.

I guarantee that it’s only a matter of time before Kathleen Kennedy, Abrams (who will stick around as an executive producer) or one of the cast members will drop the “we’re going to make this one our Empire Strikes Back” line during an interview and the fans will eat it up. And maybe they’ll just be pulling our legs and will yank the rug out from under us in VIII by disregarding the OT formula entirely. That would be just dandy, but they could also just build a loose facsimile of Empire and most of us still won’t give a shit and will just go along with it like last time because it’s Star Wars. I have faith in Johnson, but I tend to be cautious with my optimism.

No one at Disney or Lucasfilm will ever see this column, but if I could give whoever is in charge of Star Wars just one bit of advice, it would be this: take a risk. Don’t stray down the path of familiarity and nostalgia and don’t try to give the fans what they think they want. Forget about the OT; this is a new saga. Make the most of it and please, for the love of the Force, don’t put a Starkiller Base II in Episode IX.

The New ‘Star Wars’ Does Not Suck and is Pretty Damn Good

It wasn’t until three days before Star Wars: Episode VII-The Force Awakens dropped that I became genuinely terrified it was going to suck for reasons that are completely unnecessary to recap. It didn’t help that I wasn’t seeing it until Sunday, making the wait that much more excruciating and my social media browsing that much more risky, lest I happen upon some of those dreaded spoilers. I saw TFA with my mom, my older brother and his wife in a packed theater for a 10:40 matinee to cap off a weekend that had not been kind to me physically or mentally. These two hours and 16 minutes (more like three hours, seeing as we showed up super early to get decent seats) were going to make or break my Sunday.

Here is the brief version: it’s good. In fact it comes pretty close to great and gets better the more I think about it, which might necessitate a second viewing for me. TFA has its fair share of flaws, none of which come close to breaking it and it more or less gives you everything you want from a new Star Wars movie. The new cast is awesome, the old cast is as awesome as you remember and the story has an appropriate “this is Star Wars” feel to it.

Good as it was, TFA didn’t blow me away; there are at least two scenes that got the whole theater clapping (me included) but otherwise I didn’t come out of it thinking I had seen some spellbinding masterpiece of cinema. The fan service starts to wear thin midway through. There’s at least one dramatic turn that is robbed of its heartbreak factor by how predictable it is. The story itself feels like a broad retelling of A New Hope and that’s before we reach the finale: an X-Wing flies through a trench to take out a planet destroying super weapon, which is protected by an energy shield that another group of characters have to take down, which is all taking place on a snowy, icy planet. Essentially, it’s the three big action set pieces from the original trilogy dropped into a blender.

This is where the cast comes into play, because without them, TFA is nothing special. It’s hard to put into words just how satisfying it is to see Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher slip back into Han and Leia mode, more so because of how well they mesh with newcomers Daisy Ridley (as new hero Rey), John Boyega (defecting Stormtrooper Finn) and Oscar Isaac (as ace pilot Poe Dameron). But the biggest standout of all is Girls star Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, the villain of the piece. It’s impossible to talk much about Ren without revealing some major spoilers, so I’ll just leave it at this: he’s a radical departure from any Star Wars badguy we’ve seen before and I can’t wait to see how his story unfolds.

Weirdly enough, the movie TFA reminds me of most is this years’ Peanuts. They both do just enough things good enough to dance on the cusp of greatness, they both give audiences what they want and they both grow on you to the point where you desperately want to see them again. TFA leaves you hungry for more, which is the best possible feeling to have on this side of the first new Star Wars film in a decade.


How About That Star Wars Trailer? No, the Other One

In the midst of a fairly uneventful Monday Night Football game, we caught another glimpse of the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens and this one was a doozy. More explosions! People other than Han saying “Chewie, we’re home” got to speak! And God Almighty, the music! This trailer could probably have just been two minutes of that music against a black screen and it would almost have the same effect.

So what’s going on here? We finally get to hear Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), Finn (John Boyega) and Rey (Daisy Ridley) talk, for one. Rey does some scavenging, Finn reveals some of his backstory (apparently he is a defecting Imperial First Order member) and Ren vows to “finish what you started” while presumably speaking to that charred Vader helmet we have previously seen. Han does some light exposition dropping to Finn and Rey, telling them that “it’s all real,” in regards to the Dark Side and the Jedi.

That’s a tad revealing, as it suggests that the Force and all its history have become even more obscure and forgotten about than it was in “A New Hope.” Remember, Tarkin says that the Jedi are “extinct” and that “their fire has gone out of the universe” in that film. Did things get worse for the Jedi since the events of the OT? Also, where did this New Order come from? I’ve theorized (and I can’t be alone in thinking this) it may have been the new government the Rebels formed after the Empire’s defeat in Jedi gone way bad but that feels too derivative of what happened to the Republic in the prequels. Then again, it’s been like 50 or 60 years since Jedi and we still have Not Rebel X-Wings zipping around shooting at Not Empire TIE Fighters; originality probably isn’t on menu. But who cares? It’s Star Wars.

Parting thoughts: that fleeting shot of Han and Leia embracing just kills me on a thousand levels. It’s good to see that they are still together. And once again, Luke’s face is being obscured in favor of that robot-hand-giving-Artoo-a-scalp-massage shot. What’s the deal? We already know he’s in the movie.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes out on Dec. 18. Tickets are already on sale. If anyone is still wondering, those last words uttered in the trailer are “Just let it in.”

My 2015 San Diego Comic-Con Top 5

As just about all of you already know, last week was San Diego Comic-Con. While SDCC has strayed pretty far from its roots over the years (and for the record, that hasn’t always been a bad thing), there’s always been at least a handful of stuff to get really excited about. This time around, though, there were five big effing deals that have captured my attention. Without further ado, here’s the SDCC announcements that I was most excited for.

  1. The newest “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” trailer:
    Putting aside all of my concerns about this movie, it’s pretty damn hard not to be excited about it. Zack Snyder is a goddamned genius when it comes to spectacle and visceral thrills, and in many ways his inner eight-year-old is perfect for Batman and Superman’s first live-action onscreen pairing. Until the movie itself rolls around, I’ll save the judgment and just take in this breathtaking three and half minute trailer. We see our first glimpse of Wonder Woman in action (fleeting, but there nonetheless), Jesse Eisenberg’s “Silicon Valley” version of Lex Luthor (I’m thinking of trademarking that description), and that money shot at the end…damn.
  2. The Darth Vader crossover: Trade waiting all of the ongoing “Star Wars” comics Marvel is currently publishing is so far my biggest regret of 2015. It seems that Marvel is hell bent on punishing me for that disastrous decision even further. In addition to that new Chewbacca miniseries we’re getting, Chief Creative Officer Joe Quesada announced that the “Star Wars” and “Darth Vader” ongoing series will crossover in an event known as “Vader Down.” Jason Aaron and Kieron Gillen will be handling the writing duties and Salvadore Larroca will be illustrating. I’m about to lose so much money this fall…
  3. Grant Morrison’s new DC projects: Weirdly enough, there were quite a few really cool SDCC announcements that actually had something to do with comics. I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the great Grant Morrison is doing a followup to his “Multiversity” miniseries, called (I kid not) “Multiversity Too.” Considering how awesome “Multiversity” was – the whole series is this jubilantly insane celebration of every bizarre nook and cranny of the DC Multiverse – I’m definitely hungry for more. In addition to more of that stuff, Morrison will also be doing a series of “Batman: Black and White” graphic novels.
  4. The “Star Wars” behind the scenes video:
    This video was shown to fans at “Star Wars’” Hall H presentation. Watching it, it’s hard not to get caught up in the enthusiasm shared by JJ Abrams, the cast and crew. Look at those real sets! Those on location shoots! Was that an actual explosion?! Holy crap, that bucking bronco Millennium Falcon cockpit looks like a blast! So far Operation: Make This as Different as Humanly Possible from the Prequels seems to be working out for Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy and co.
  5. This: If you don’t like this, we can’t be friends.

The Brilliance of the Ahsoka Face

Ahsoka in a state of shock. Image courtesy of Agents of Geek.

Ahsoka in a state of shock. Image courtesy of Agents of Geek.

During “The Siege of Lothal,” the second season premiere of Disney XD’s “Star Wars Rebels” animated series (read my thoughts on it here), there is a cool moment when Ahsoka reaches out with the Force and ascertains the identity of the Sith lord pursuing The Ghost: her former master, Anakin Skywalker. It’s some fairly heavy shit and it will no doubt be setting up even more heavy – and potentially tragic – shit down the line in season two.

While I thought it was great, the most memorable take away I have from that scene is the face Ahsoka makes in the above photo when she makes that awful realization. This is quite possibly the greatest face conveying shock and horror I’ve ever seen. It is also my new favorite facial expression. Expect this to become my go to JPEG when I need to express those same emotions in a comments thread.

I bring all of this up because I want to make a fun game out of this face by re-contextualizing Ahsoka’s expression with alternate scenarios where looking like that is a reasonable reaction. Now let’s add some levity to “Star Wars Rebels’” most dramatic moment.

  1. Ahsoka is a Cavaliers fan.
  2. Ahsoka just watched the brass knuckles scene from “True Detective’s” season premier.
  3. Ahsoka just listened to The Acacia Strain for the first time.
  4. Ahsoka just watched the Patrón Challenge.
  5. Ahsoka has overheard Obi-wan and Yoda using the term “turnt” in casual conversation.
  6. Ahsoka has just learned that the last In-N-Out on Coruscant has closed.
  7. Ahsoka found the search term “Togruta bukkake” in Anakin’s browser history.
  8. Ahsoka has just finished issue #15 of “Miracleman.”
  9. Ahsoka just became the first non-Wookie to actually see Wookie genitalia.
  10. Ahsoka just realized that the younglings in lightsaber practice aren’t using the safety blades.
  11. Ahsoka just read a sample of erotic “Luxsoka” fanfic.
  12. Ahsoka just discovered an early screenplay draft of “Revenge of the Sith” that prominently featured her, stuffed in George Lucas’ medicine cabinet.*

Wasn’t that fun? Please contribute your own Ahsoka Face Moment in the comments section.

*Rest assured, this was never a possibility. To my knowledge, Ahsoka Tano did not exist prior to development on “The Clone Wars” (both the theatrical film and the subsequent Cartoon Network series) in 2008.

‘Star Wars Rebels’ Briefly Comes Back; Is Still Awesome

Here are my thoughts on “The Siege of Lothal,” last night’s “Star Wars Rebels” TV movie:

  1. If getting James Earl Jones to reprise Darth Vader’s voice is considered fan service, than it is fan service I can get behind.

  2. The “Should we join the Rebels or sit this one out?” dilemma that the Ghost crew faces made for a good B-story. It actually had me sympathizing with Kanan, who I generally care about the least.

  3. If I recall correctly, Minister Maketh Tua is the first casualty we’ve seen on “Rebels” (ie, a character with a name and a speaking part, as opposed to the mostly nameless and faceless Stormtroopers).

  4. Ezra and Kanan’s duel with Vader was exceptionally well done and was also made unusually more visceral (for Disney standards) by that bit were Vader forces Ezra to hold his lightsaber against his own throat.

  5. Sabine once again displays a fondness for blowing shit up, which once again proves that her character is flawless. Also, visors on Mandalorian helmets are blaster proof.

  6. That bit with Ezra after the gang escaped from his parents’ house added some unexpected, though welcome, poignancy.

  7. I’m not sure how I missed Lando’s deep V-neck and medallion necklace in season one, but I guess that look suits him…

  8. Of course Vader could wipe his ass with an entire squadron of A-wings! No one should doubt this! On a more serious note that whole sequence is flawless.

  9. In case Kanan and Hera’s status as the surrogate parents of the Ghost crew wasn’t obvious enough, Hera drops this line: “Alright kids, do mom and dad proud!” Brilliant.

  10. Damn, Ahsoka finding out that it’s Skyguy under the helmet wrecked me. We’ve got a fascinating season ahead of us.

  11. Given the unfortunate history of mustache-wearing Imperial Navy officers, that Star Destroyer captain who failed to capture the Rebels and accidentally trapped Vader’s TIE fighter in the tractor beam probably doesn’t have a long career ahead of him.

  12. I’m sure Ahsoka has perfectly valid reasons for not sharing Vader’s identity with Kanan and Ezra, but it makes we wonder if there is such a thing as Master-Padawan privilege in the Jedi order. Like the ones between doctors and patients and lawyers and their clients? The sad part is that I’m not entirely kidding.

  13. Speaking of Ahsoka, I still haven’t seen enough of the adult version of her to get a good read on her character (she’s largely absent during this movie), but I’m still hoping that the writers retain at least some of her spunk and playfulness from “Clone Wars.” The “Star Wars” galaxy has an unfortunate habit of turning Jedi dry and stodgy once they reach veteran status.

  14. Chopper continues to give no shits and the show is so much better for it.

  15. Do we really have to wait until the fall for season two to begin properly?


Deciphering all of that Trailer Madness

Last weekend ended up being pretty busy on the movie trailer front, with at least two of them generating enough buzz and angst to keep us sufficiently distracted until “Avengers: Age of Ultron” kicks down our doors. Seeing as these sorts of movies are kinda my thing, let’s take a closer look.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

Seeing as Celebration was going on, it’s no surprise we ended up seeing this trailer earlier than expected (it was, and probably still is, slated to appear before “AoU” when that hits theaters on May 1). Here are my takeaways:

  • Luke’s voiceover (a reiteration of his “the force runs strong in my family” speech to Leia in “Jedi”) certainly implies that at least some of these new characters will be the children of the Trio. The smart money is on Han and Leia.
  • That melted Vader mask; chilling in all the right ways.
  • The hooded figure with the robot hand giving Artoo the functional equivalent of a scalp massage is our only shot of Luke. Because let’s face it: that can’t be anyone but Luke.
  • The lightsaber exchange solidifies my thoughts on the first point.
  • I absolutely love that shot of Oscar Isaac’s X-Wing pilot (Poe Dameron), if only because he perfectly channels the emotions of just about everyone watching this thing.
  • Our first good look at our new antagonist, Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver of HBO’s “Girls.” I know basically nothing of Driver, but he’s 6-foot-3 and clad in mask and armor, so he’ll at least be physically imposing.
  • More of the new Nike-ized Stromtroopers, new TIE Fighters and a new Empire logo. So far, so good.
  • There’s a bit of our new heroes in this. Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega) do a whole lot of running and panting and we once again see Finn in Stormtrooper armor. Whether he’s a spy, a defector or a sympathetic Imperial remains to be seen, but the first two scenarios are more likely than the third.
  • “Chewey, we’re home.” There cannot have been a better way to end this. I’ve got nothing, other than that the jacket Harrison Ford is wearing seems more Indy than Han. Interesting.

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice

After the initial excitement died down, it took me quite awhile to realize “Man of Steel” was not good. With that in mind, I can’t help but to look at all of WB’s upcoming DC films through a lens of apprehension. And since you can’t get bigger than the first ever live action teamup of the two greatest superheroes ever (at least until “Justice League” comes along), my scrutiny is magnified a hundredfold. So here’s what caught my eye:

  • Things are already off to a gloomy start with that opening barrage of extremely worried sounding voices, at least one of which belongs to Holly Hunter, whose roll in this is yet to be disclosed.
  • We get a shot of Superman’s (Henry Cavill) unreasonably handsome face. Supes is surrounded by people, some of whom are reaching out to him. Some in the crowd are wearing grisly skull-like facepaint. I’m assuming that they are supposed to be protestors of some sort. Keep in mind, Superman is at least partially responsible for turning Metropolis into a crater in “Man of Steel.”
  • There’s a Superman statue in a park with a presumably rebuilt Metropolis behind it. Behind the statue are marble slabs inscribed with the names of the deceased from all that collateral damage in the last movie. The statue has been defaced with graffiti stating “False God.” Okay, I can see where this is going.
  • Jeremy Irons’ Alfred is seen but not heard and we get our first close-up of Ben Affleck’s Bruce Wayne, looking sufficiently brooding. Note the gray in his hair and stubble.
  • It’s far from my favorite Batsuit, but damn, it’s a hellava lot better than the black rubber suits of the previous movies. Also, what the hell is Batman holding at 1:22?
  • If that’s the Batplane and the Batmobile, then I like it. And holy crap, Affleck fills out that suit pretty damn well. Consider me on board Team Batfleck.
  • Bats and Supes, at night, in the rain, in a forsaken alleyway. Batman is wearing some crazy armor and is looking to throw down. All of this should be instantly familiar to anyone who has ever read this bestselling trade.
  • “Tell me: do you bleed? You will.” Well, this looks like a barrel of laughs…

Fantastic Four

It appears someone at 20th Century Fox once again realized that they also have a summer tent-pole blockbuster on the horizon, because nothing else can explain this thing (pun intended) popping up at the close of the weekend to compete for our attention. Pretty much everything I’ve seen and heard of the new “FF” paints the portrait of an unmitigated disaster, so it is out of dutiful obligation that I analyze this to find something – anything – substantial to say. Here it goes:

  • Reg E. Cathey’s very serious sounding Dr. Franklin Storm introduces us to Reed Richards, played by the baby-faced Miles teller. No surprise there, since this film will pull from the Ultimate Universe version of the FF, who are teenage science prodigies.
  • There’s the Baxter Building, which is very helpfully labeled “Baxter.”
  • We see the rest of the gang: Kate Mara’s snarky Sue Storm (Invisible Woman), Michael B. Jordan’s cocky Johnny Storm (Human Torch) and Jaime Bell’s jockish Ben Grimm (The Thing). I’m already bored to tears by all of them.
  • In a different movie, that machine, those suits and all of this talk of interdimensional travel might interest me.
  • So they went to Mordor…
  • The machine blows up and we see the four in medical care, starting to exhibit their powers. Bell’s Thing looks positively Hulkish, and spends the whole trailer sans trunks.
  • There’s our first look at that dreadful looking Dr. Doom.
  • Good God, watching this again was a chore…