Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars

17
Dec
15

NON-SPOILER Review: The Force Awakens

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There are stories about what happened . . .

I know many people are excited for Star Wars: The Force Awakens and even as you read this many more are actually watching the film. Which brings me to the conundrum before me: how I write about this film when so many people have yet to see it? I certainly don’t want to spoil the excitement and anticipation that I had by spoiling something for those who haven’t seen it. I know I would be pretty disheartened if I was going to watch the film this weekend (or maybe even in the coming week) and I read something that basically spoiled the film for me. Having said that, this will be a NON-SPOILER review of The Force Awakens. This review will discuss the film, but not reference specific details that would give anything way. There is one caveat–any footage from the trailers and tv spots is fair game to discuss and reference.

I guess the burning question on everyone’s mind is: Does Episode VII ‘get it right’ after the disappointment that was the prequels? In my honest opinion, I think it does. JJ Abrams brings us a really close approximation on what ‘Star Wars’ is. With his work on Mission Impossible III and Star Trek, JJ has done a great job of taking old franchises and updating them for new audiences and The Force Awakens is no exception. Because of who he is, JJ Abrams respects this material way too much to make a Star Wars film that’s not Star Wars. He knows what we want and expect from a Star Wars film because he himself is just as big of a fan.

JJ Abrams at the helm of The Force Awakens.

JJ Abrams at the helm of The Force Awakens.

One of the ways Abrams makes The Force Awakens a Star Wars film is by mirroring several beats from Episode IV – A New Hope. Without giving too much away, some of the journeys undertaken by characters in The Force Awakens are similar to those of characters in A New Hope. Some may claim that there are certain plot points lifted straight out of Episode IV. I think JJ and fellow screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt diversify things enough to make The Force Awakens feel fresh AND familiar.

By incorporating Original Trilogy (OT) characters into The Force Awakens, it automatically gives us older fans something to latch onto and in a sense bridges two generations–both the characters in the film and audiences in the real world. I went on the record earlier this year as saying that I didn’t really care for JJ’s decision to bring in OT characters into this new trilogy. I was worried that it would be too much fan service and would try to give us a new movie with the OT characters as the main focus. It’s not a spoiler to say that this is not the case.

Daisy Ridley’s Rey is the main character of The Force Awakens with John Boyega’s Finn, Adam Driver’s Kylo Ren, and BB-8 providing great supporting roles. Ridley’s Rey has this certain spunk but yet at the same time this isolationism that in some ways combine both the characters of Han Solo and Luke Skywalker into a single character. I think one disappointment that I did have is that I wish there was more screen time for Oscar Isaac’s  Poe Dameron. He’s a great X-Wing pilot, but we really don’t get a sense for his character too much since he doesn’t have a lot of screen time. Harrison Ford as Han Solo is not a cameo role at all and if I were to guess; actually has the second most screen time when compared to Ridley. Carrie Fisher as Leia and Mark Hamil as Luke Skywalker also turn in supporting roles that literally support the roles and missions of our new characters.

This was the Han Solo I was looking for.

This was the Han Solo I was looking for.

Since going into detail regarding what our new characters are like would give away too much from the film, I’m going to stick with the fan favorite that I know everyone is excited to see . . . Mr. “We’re Home” himself, Han Solo. The apprehension I had seeing him in the full trailer back in April was put aside early on. I was worried because in his past couple of films we’ve seen Harrison Ford as a crotchety old man who looked like he was there just to collect a paycheck. I don’t know what JJ Abrams did or if it was just being with old castmates again or if maybe he was just excited to be Han again, but Harrison Ford BROUGHT IT for Star Wars. The man that I saw on screen was Han Solo. A slightly older version of Han Solo, but you could see the character we fell in love with from the OT in Ford’s performance in The Force Awakens. He had the great one-liners, quick quips, and that scoundrel-like attitude that made Han Solo, Han Solo. And he did it with these new set of characters.

As for the film itself, storywise, I think JJ and Kasdan have come up with a great hook in which to get the saga going in a new direction. You get a sense of that from the film’s title, but the opening crawl will make it plainly clear what this first film is about. The film is quite action packed and if I had to venture to guess, probably has the most action in any of the films in the series to date. Chase sequences, battles between opposing forces (pun not intended), and one-on-one battles happen multiple times throughout the film. With all the action going on you would think that there wasn’t much storytelling going on. There are a few quiet moments for characters to tell us about themselves, but JJ excels at giving us character and story development in the midst of these action sequences.

The passing of the torch.

The passing of the torch.

Overall I was pretty pumped by the time end credits’ overture started to play. Here was one generation of Star Wars characters passing the lightsaber to the next. The action and spirit of the saga were all present in The Force Awakens and while the film closed at an appropriate point it left me with a number of questions that already have me anticipating the next episode.

Because I’m so excited and because I have so much more to say, another review of The Force Awakens will be forthcoming, this time with spoilers. Until then, go out and see Star Wars: The Force Awakens. All the hype you’ve heard about the film . . . to quote Han Solo: “It’s true. All of it.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is now playing everywhere. Look for our spoiler-filled review shortly after Christmas.

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23
Apr
15

Post View: Thoughts on The Force Awakens Trailer

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I’ve had a lot of cautious optimism since the dual announcement of the LucasFilm acquisition by Disney and the creation of new Star Wars movies two and a half years ago. Though I have fond memories of watching each of the episodes in the New Trilogy (NT, Episodes I, II, & III), they just weren’t as memorable or as imaginative as the Original Trilogy (OT, Episodes IV, V, & VI) was. That’s why since the announcement I’ve been patiently waiting to see how the franchise would be guided and what kind of storytellers would be brought in to carry the saga forward.

To be honest, I wasn’t all that hot on JJ Abrams decision to nix the script that Toy Story 3 writer Michael Arndt was working on in favor of a storyline that brought the OT leads back. I wanted to see what new stories and challenges the characters in a post-OT Star Wars universe would have to face; not tagging along with Luke, Leia, and Han for “one last ride.” Their stories have been told already. Been there done that.

When the Star Wars – The Force Awakens teaser trailer came out last December I was intrigued, but not blown away. I mean really, all we got were a couple of short scenes that gave us an idea of how the film would “look.” Probably the biggest takeaway for me was that this film “looked” like it fit in with the OT and not dramatically different like the NT did. While everyone was excited to see the Millenium Falcon (the only appearance of something from the OT), I was excited to see that scene as well. Not because we got to see the Millenium Falcon, but because of how we saw it. That over the shoulder tracking shot of the Millenium Falcon as it did a loop and then turned right side up was so dynamic and exhilarating that it was definitely my favorite part of the trailer.

Now cut to a week ago.

Disney drops the first full trailer for The Force Awakens last week at Star Wars Celebration to rave reviews, fans crying (hell, even Matthew McConaughey shed a few tears), and nearly half of my Facebook feed wetting themselves. Again, cautious optimism. But what was getting everyone so worked up?

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. . . the reveal of Chewie and Han. I’m not going to lie, Harrison Ford looks older than ever. I don’t know if it’s because he became such a big star, but after his last slate of films that he’s been in (Expendables, Ender’s Game, Cowboys & Aliens, Morning Glory) I don’t see him as Han Solo anymore. I see him as an old and grumpy Harrison Ford. The brash and beguiling Han I know only appears in Episodes IV, V, and VI. Seeing him here at the end of the trailer telling Chewie “we’re home”, that did not do anything for me. Do not get me wrong, I am a fan of the series through and through and I love Han as much as the next fanboy; but seeing a tired Harrison Ford on-screen just kind of deflated the entire trailer for me. I’m still hopeful that maybe in the grand scheme of the movie, this wasn’t exactly Ford’s best moment. And who knows, maybe he is still is the same old Han Solo we all know and love just a bit older. We’ll have to wait and see.

Similarly to the teaser trailer, it’s the sum all the parts of this trailer that really gets me excited for Episode VII.

StarDestroyerDown

The trailer starts out with a familiar shot of Tatooine, but then as the camera pans across the desert landscape we see a massive star destroyer crashed into the dunes with a wrecked X-wing in the foreground–already I’m hooked. We’ve seen the Tatooine landscape laid out for us before, and Lucas even brought back similar shots in the NT to give Anakin an angsty emotional moment. This opening shot, however, it lets us know that we’re not in that same galaxy far, far away that we once knew–things are different now.

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Then the nostalgia train gets started with Luke (we think) reciting his line from Return of the Jedi that talks about his family “having” Force abilities. While seeing Vader’s burnt and disfigured helmet is a nice touch, it’s when we get to this particular shot (image above) that we realize this isn’t the line from Jedi that we’re hearing, but new dialogue when we hear “my father HAS it.” This could mean any number of things, but most fans are speculating that this suggests that Vader is not dead. Why would Luke say this unless he knew his father (Darth Vader) wasn’t dead right? Maybe, just maybe he lived and what Luke burned at the end of Jedi wasn’t his father. Granted, this is one possibility.

Another interpretation could be that the reason Luke said it this way is because, as Obi-Wan told us, “from a certain point of view” Luke doesn’t consider his father dead because he is still “alive” as a Force ghost–which we saw at the end of Return of the Jedi. He could still be interacting with his father/Vader’s Force ghost ever since his death.

Still another possibility is that this isn’t Luke speaking at all, but perhaps it’s his son instead. Most of the theories out there posit that this next set of episodes will focus on the children of Han and Leia–who would have Force abilities passed down to them from their mother. However, as no official synopsis has yet been released, we still don’t know what the story is. The reference to “my father has it” could be from Luke’s son being told to someone else. Fun speculation to be sure, but like I said, this could be another possibility.

As we get into the second half of the trailer though, that’s where we get to see a bunch of fun puzzle pieces . . .

An ominous cloaked figure putting a metal hand on R2D2, someone being handed a lightsaber, Oscar Isaac getting excited flying he X-wing . . . while these next set of shots didn’t move the needle too much for me, the following did:

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Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, and BB8 running from tie fighter strafing fire . . . totes exciting.

 

Is this a new sith lord? Is he the main villain of the film? Always two there are right? Which one is he?

Is this a new sith lord? Is he the main villain of the film? Always two there are right? Which one is he?

 

A tie fighter shooting up an Imperial hanger--you can feel JJ’s presence with both the look of the shot and how everything is framed.

A tie fighter shooting up an Imperial hanger–you can feel JJ’s presence with both the look of the shot and how everything is framed.

 

I saw this guy and wanted to know his story. Is he the sith lord from a few scenes ago? Or is he just a badass Tie fighter pilot?

I saw this guy and wanted to know his story. Is he the sith lord from a few scenes ago? Or is he just a badass Tie fighter pilot?

 

And then, the pièce de résistance for me . . .

FalconChaseSequence

This chase sequence through a crashed star destroyer (same one from the opening shot perhaps?) is damn near genius. It’s definitely got hints of Return of the Jedi when Lando took the Millenium Falcon into the Death Star, but I also love that it’s updated by JJ with the snap zoom shot as the Millenium Falcon enters the star destroyer. It’s something we’re familiar with, but updated for a new generation.

And that last shot, well, I’ve already talked about that at the top.

After seeing this trailer, I’m much more excited and hopeful that this next set of Star Wars films will be the Star Wars movies that we’ve been waiting for. While I will always have fond memories of camping out and seeing the NT in theaters the same way the previous generation did with the OT; the newer films themselves didn’t live up to the bar that was set by the older ones.

After this trailer though, there has been an awakening . . . have you felt it?

30
Oct
12

Disney’s Acquisition of Star Wars

Wise is Yoda.

The Walt Disney Company sent the collective movie world on tilt today with the news that Disney will be purchasing LucasFilm Ltd for approximately $4 billion. The sale includes everything under the LucasFilm Ltd umbrella including the LucasFilm film unit, LucasArts video game unit, effects house Industrial Light and Magic, Skywalker Sound, and most prominent among them–the rights to the entire Star Wars universe. Perhaps the biggest news to come out of the whole deal is that Disney is kicking the tires on Star Wars: Episode 7 and is targeting a 2015 release with potentially more episodes to come.

Needless to say, this is some huge news that is already prompting a lot talk, buzz, and speculation about everything under the collective sun at Disney and especially the future of the Star Wars franchise.

Disney: Buying vs Creating

From a financial and business standpoint the purchase of LucasFilm makes perfect sense for Disney. They get to add another recognizable and family friendly name brand to their already large stable of family friendly name brand characters. The tactic of acquiring other name brands has served Disney well in the past 6 years. After a ten year relationship with Pixar dating back to the first Toy Story, Disney acquired Pixar Animation Studios in 2006 for $7.4 billion in stocks. Then in 2009 Disney announced that they would be acquiring Marvel Entertainment in a deal for $4.24 billion which would bring Marvel’s character’s into the Disney fold and gave birth to this year’s mega-blockbuster The Avengers. Now, three years later Disney has done it yet again and on similar terms with their acquisition of LucasFilm.

Over the past six years Disney has positioned themselves as THE center for lucrative family entertainment. In this time there definitely has been a shift at Disney from content creation to acquisition and becoming a repository for similar properties. Yes at the end of the day all these decisions are about how these properties will make the company money, but what does this say about the company itself?

Walt Disney was long gone by the time I was born, but I grew up watching the classics like Bambi, Dumbo, Cinderella and then experienced the second golden age of Disney animation with great films like Beauty and the Beast, The Little Mermaid, and Lion King. After that last run though, things definitely take a different turn. As I got older it seemed as though every Disney movie was getting direct to video sequels and you could start to tell that they weren’t coming out with as much quality original content as they had in the past.

I guess you could say that the company is just changing with the times and their acquisitions over the past six years only reflect this change. In fact, if you look at the current trends in Hollywood right now where sequels, adaptions, remakes, and reboots are all the norm . . . acquiring the rights to Star Wars (ie: acquiring familiarity) totally makes sense. My biggest fear is that the next generation of kids/movie fans may not have anything to call their own if this current trend of rehashing and retelling stories from their parents’ past continues. I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m down to see another Star Wars movie as much as the next person, but I’ve grown up in a world where the Original Trilogy meant something. I don’t think that could be said of those who grew up in a world where Jar Jar and angsty Anakin could have been their first introduction to the Star Wars universe.

What Comes Next For Disney, Star Wars, and Everything Else?

The Force is with Disney when you combine Star Wars with the collective power of the mouse house.

With today’s news comes a ton of questions, not just about the proposed film, but about how all of Disney’s properties could potentially intermingle with one another and the partnerships and creative projects that could be created.

First and foremost is Episode 7 itself. With a projected target date of 2015 (assume a summer release), production would have to start towards the end of next year (at the latest) in order to make this date. Is there anything currently in development right now? Is there a script or even a screenplay at this point? What would it be about? From a production standpoint who would be involved?

One of the most interesting nuggets from today’s news announcement is that George Lucas will serve as “creative consultant” on Episode 7 which means that he most likely will not be directing and only give creative input into the film. With that said who will screen write the story if there already isn’t one? Who will direct the film? And gulp . . . who will star in it? These are all questions that are currently circulating, answers for which I don’t think we’ll get for at least another year. However, that’s not stopping the movie blogosphere from already suggesting recommendations.

I know many Star Wars fans were disenfranchised when the new trilogy came out and continuously still when Lucas again altered the Original Trilogy when they were released on blu-ray. With today’s news that Lucas will be relegated to a supportive role rather than grand master on upcoming films I think is the reason why there is a lot of renewed interest and hope that Star Wars can be good again. Our first recommendation . . . friend of the blog and local screenwriter Brian Watanabe should be in the writer’s room on Episode 7, 8, or 9. After all, he did give some pretty good ways to remake the the prequels that made for some pretty good drama. With new Star Wars films a certainty, the question now will be: Will they be better than the prequels?

Sort of the next tier I guess is how this latest Star Wars film and the franchise itself will affect Hollywood. Star Wars has influenced so many filmmakers working today that who knows how many will jump at the chance to not just work on this film or any of the future films in the pipeline, or how many will make pitches to Disney for potential projects now that George Lucas is not controlling the reigns. Who knows, maybe Indiana Jones could come back for another tour. Granted, some of this this is all pie in the sky at this point, but when you live in a world where creative access to Star Wars and other Lucas related properties maybe viable, you can’t help but be excited by the possibilities.

Then comes the potential across the Disney landscape and the potential for cross collaboration, crossovers, and synergy between these Disney properties and creative units. Probably the first thing that jumps out with fanboys is that theoretically Pixar Animation could do an animated movie set within the Star Wars universe. With their track record for great storytelling and a focus on characters this could be a great project. However, this is what everyone said three years ago when Disney acquired Marvel . . . a Marvel movie done by Pixar, that’d be great! Three years later though we’re no closer to seeing the beginnings of this than when we were back then. And don’t even get me started on Marvel or Star Wars characters crossing over. I don’t think the universes should mix at all. However, the long talked about Star Wars TV show could get some life breathed into it seeing as how Disney owns ABC as well as a slew of other different TV channels. Only time will tell if any of this comes to fruition.

My (New) Hope . . .

In the grand scheme of things, I think Disney could possibly be the right place for the Star Wars franchise. There are some circumstantial numbers out there to prove it. If there is one thing Disney is smart about these days, they know how to foster success; you only have to take a look at their previous two high profile acquisitions to see that. With both Pixar and Marvel, both of those divisions have retained their internal structure and autonomy from when they were acquired. I mean, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it right? With the internal development process that goes on at Pixar, it could have been a disaster if Disney chose to fully integrate them into the Disney brand. Same goes with Marvel. They seem to have a pretty good formula going as they craft and produce the Avengers line of films. The way Marvel vets stories and personnel seems genius in this post-Avengers world.

And I hope the same goes for LucasFilm and Star Wars. I hope that Disney takes what they’ve learned and gained from their previous acquisitions and applies that same management style to their latest. If they can do that, then I think that galaxy far far away will be just fine.

12
Sep
11

[Commentary] Old Movies in 3D

I've lost that lovin' feeling . . . for seeing any movie in 3D.

It was reported today that Top Gun would be getting the 3D treatment and could potentially be released back into theaters sometime early next year. Add it to the list of ‘old’ films that will be getting 3D treatment and will be released next year (Star Wars: Episode I and Titanic are also on the list). Hollywood recycling old films is nothing new, the 3D converting of older films however, somewhat is.

Now, I don’t want to rehash my stance on what I think of 3D (for that, see this blog post). However, just when it seems that 3D might be quieting down and we may get a break from it, it’s thrust right back in our faces. The difference this time being that these aren’t new movies that are coming out in 3D . . . they’re old ones.

As you can imagine, converting older films for 3D presentation raises a number of questions with the top one being, “Is this a money grab?” I think we’re all familiar with the Hollywood MO of taking existing properties, turning them into movies, and then bringing them out in 3D to help bump up its box office take. Could that be what’s going on with Star Wars, Top Gun, and Titanic? To answer this question, you really have to look at who’s behind these releases.

James Cameron is reportedly spending $18 million on the 3D conversion of Titanic. Can the 'King of the World' be king with 3D again?


Take for example the Titanic release in 3D. According to the linked article, James Cameron (the guy that brought 3D to the masses with Avatar) is the driving force behind that conversion:

“There’s a whole generation that’s never seen Titanic as it was meant to be seen, on the big screen . . . and this will be Titanic as you’ve never seen it before, digitally remastered at 4K and painstakingly converted to 3D. With the emotional power intact and the images more powerful than ever, this will be an epic experience for fans and newcomers alike.”

The film is slated to come out on April 6, 2012–coinciding with the 100th anniversary of the Titanic setting sail. We this much thought and effort being put into this conversion, it seems to me that this is something that Cameron wanted to do and seems to be doing it from an artistic perspective. Will people go out and see it? I’m sure some will, especially those that are big fans of the film.

The case of converting and bring back Top Gun though, doesn’t appear to be from an artistic standpoint, but from an economic one. To quote from the THR.com article:

“We think there is great potential for catalog titles in 3D, but studios have had trouble justifying the expense,” Hummel said [CEO of Legend 3D], explaining that Legend 3D is funding and doing the conversion for Paramount.

In this case the company behind the conversion seems to be spearheading the effort to convert Top Gun–not the studio or not director Tony Scott. “How nice of them,” you might say for footing the bill and doing the work. Well, just remember, nothing in life is ever free. If you continue reading the piece this quote was drawn from, it says Legend 3D has a revenue sharing partnership with Paramount so they will see some return on their work. However, I suspect that the real reason for doing it is because if they can show what a great job they’ve done on Top Gun,  who’s to say other studios or even Paramount might come to them to convert other older films into 3D. I guarantee you they won’t be doing those for free.

In the grand scheme of things I can’t get excited for these 3D releases at all. I just dislike 3D too much. I don’t like the glasses and I don’t like the darkened picture you get while watching 3D movies. Be it for artistic reasons or economic reasons, I’ll probably be staying away from these 3D releases next year.




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