Thursday, December 28, 2017

“Star Wars: The Last Jedi” and the Dark Side of Fandom



Yes, I loved Star Wars: The Last Jedi. It was by no means my favorite film in the saga, but I really enjoyed it (even more so upon second viewing), and I appreciated that it added to the mythology of that galaxy far, far away.

Maybe you felt differently. Maybe you were disappointed or (gasp!) hated Rian Johnson’s Episode VIII. And you know what? That’s OK, too. Believe me, it is. But you wouldn’t think that way if you’ve been on social media the past few weeks, with Last Jedi advocates and detractors waging their own Galactic Civil War over the film, even resorting to personal attacks against each other to further their point that The Last Jedi is the best/worst Star Wars movie. Ever. Something that should unite us only serves to break us into warring factions, and that shouldn’t be the case.

This isn’t something that’s new among genre fans or even Star Wars geeks. If you were a message board devotee when the prequel films were being released between 1999 and 2006, you saw all manner of bitter back-and-forth as Original Trilogy OGs battled Prequel Trilogy Proselytizers for all-important affirmation that the things they liked were better than the things other people liked.

With The Force Awakens, the quarrels continued, only this time the sticking point was whether or not geek culture lightning rod JJ Abrams had ripped off A New Hope to reboot George Lucas’ galaxy for the Disney Era. However, instead of these Star Wars shouting matches happening in the relatively confined space of message boards, they were now being waged on our Facebook feeds — not among anonymous strangers, mind you, but between loved ones. Now, you didn’t have XWing3855 ripping you a new one for your taste in movies, but your cousin Bob and your old high school classmate. It changes the whole dynamic, resulting in arguments that tend to devolve into personal attacks and block-worthy behavior quicker than you might expect.

And now we have The Last Jedi, a film that takes a lot more chances than The Force Awakens (which really had to play it safer to reintroduce the Star Wars brand to audiences). As such, it’s the most divisive Star Wars movie since The Empire Strikes Back, and that divisiveness has spilled, naturally, onto our social feeds. At a time when it’s already dangerous to have an opinion online, whether it be social, political or otherwise, voicing your thoughts on Star Wars at this point is like walking into a minefield.

I haven’t blogged in this space since May 10. Mostly it’s because I’ve been busy (getting married will do that to you), but it’s also because defending an opinion on the Internet these days is an exhausting endeavor. I’d just as soon tap out a tweet and be done with it but, even then, I’m subject to paragraphs-long reprisals listing the ways in which I’m wrong. I’m sure others can relate.

And look, I’m not saying I’ve never dipped into the “Dark Side” before. I’ve left comments online that I’ve later regretted. But when it comes to online discourse about the things that we love, I think we’d all benefit from stepping into the “Light” just a little bit in 2018. I know I will.

Since you’re  probably curious, here’s the long and short of it when it comes to my opinion on The Last Jedi. Keep in mind, these are just my opinions and do not reflect fandom as a whole. If you disagree, that’s totally fine, and I’d be more than happy to have a civil debate (the key word being “civil”) on the topic over on Facebook. Spoilers abound below, so consider yourselves warned.

WHAT I LIKED:
  • This film subverted just about every expectation I had, and I’ve never been this surprised by a Star Wars movie as an adult. I feel like that’s a good thing.
  • There’s more to the Force than we learned in the previous movies.
  • I appreciated that the heroes make a lot of mistakes in this movie. Sometimes heroes don’t live up to their own legend, and I think that’s an interesting theme to explore.
  • Puppet Yoda is the best Yoda.
  • This movie looked spectacular, both in terms of digital effects and set design. I want to visit Supreme Leader Snoke’s throne room.
  • Speaking of the throne room, it was home to one of the coolest Star Wars fight scenes I’ve ever witnessed. More like that in Episode IX, please.
  • Luke Skywalker is a badass. I loved everything about his character in this movie.
  • Ditto for Kylo Ren. This is a different kind of Star Wars villain.
  • The porgs were adorable and I want to own as many of them as possible.

WHAT DISAPPOINTED ME:
  • This is nothing against Laura Dern, but I wasn’t crazy about the Vice Admiral Holdo character. I feel like that role in this story (and her big moment toward the end) could have been given to someone else entirely.
  • Princess Leia floating through space like a superhero genuinely made my cringe in the theater. It just looked goofy, and it actually got a laugh both times I saw the movie. That’s probably not the reaction Rian Johnson was looking for.
  • I know the trip to Canto Bight helped to strengthen the relationship between Finn and Rose Tico, but after my first viewing, I couldn’t help but feel like a lot of these scenes weren’t completely necessary.
  • Captain Phasma might be the most wasted Star Wars character of all time, which is a shame because Gwendoline Christie is a gem.
  • Porgs don’t really exist, and I want to own as many of them as possible.

MY UPDATED STAR WARS FILM RANKING:
  1. The Empire Strikes Back
  2. A New Hope
  3. The Force Awakens
  4. The Last Jedi
  5. Return of the Jedi
  6. Rogue One
  7. Revenge of the Sith
  8. The Phantom Menace
  9. Attack of the Clones

Wednesday, May 10, 2017

"Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2" is the Blockbuster We Need in 2017


It's not controversial to state that 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy is among Marvel Studios' best efforts, with a solid ensemble cast, an incredible blend of humor and action and a cinematic swagger rarely seen in modern-day blockbusters. There's no way a sequel could measure up, right?

Wrong. So, so wrong. Somehow, James Gunn did it again, giving us a follow-up that takes even more risks than the original while maintaining that rebellious spark that made us all fall in love with Star-Lord, Drax, Gamora, Rocket Raccoon and Groot three years ago.

My new obsession with all things Baby Groot aside (various plush and plastic iterations of the little guy seem to be making their way into my apartment lately), Guardians 2 immediately struck me as a welcome rarity among recent, laboriously interconnected Marvel Studios films in that it exists solely as a sequel to the first movie. As such, the film is able to take its time telling a smaller, character-driven story that doesn't exist solely to bring us crossover cameos or propel the Guardians team toward Avengers: Infinity War.

Granted, I just called a story revolving around a sentient planet "smaller," but all things being relative in the Marvel Universe, it's fairly focused in its scope.

Without delving into spoiler territory, I'll state that the film revolves mostly around the relationship between Peter Quill, a.k.a. Star-Lord (Chris Pratt), and his otherworldly dad Ego (Kurt Russell), who has a lot of explaining to do regarding his relationship with Peter's late mother. Meanwhile, Peter's blue-skinned "adoptive" dad Yondu Udonta (Michael Rooker) is on the outs with the Ravagers since we last saw him, and the rest of the Guardians, including the aforementioned infant Groot, get incredibly involved in Star-Lord's daddy issues, making a friend or two along the way.

With its story being fairly simple, Guardians 2 spends much of its screen time building on relationships, including the aforementioned father/son connections. We see Gamora (Zoe Saldana) make amends with her "sister" Nebula (Karen Gillan) as Rocket (voiced by Bradley Cooper) realizes he has more in common with Yondu than their love of money. The overtly literal Drax (Dave Bautista) strikes up an unexpected friendship with empathic series newcomer Mantis (Pom Klementieff), while Groot (still somehow voiced by Vin Diesel) essentially brings the whole dysfunctional family together as its curious, mischievous and sometimes stubborn child.

The film just works as a humorous, escapist fantasy, which is something that's pretty necessary given how crazy, unpredictable, divisive and, at times, scary the real world has gotten lately. For 136 minutes, I was completely immersed in the spacey Marvel Universe and for that, I'm grateful.

But Guardians 2 is not necessarily a perfect movie. The effects-laden climax drags out for a bit too long, and the soundtrack, while memorable, doesn't resonate as much as that of the first film. That doesn't mean I haven't been rocking out to "Mr. Blue Sky" before work every day this week, but it's hard to complete with the music of the original Guardians.

Overall, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is an easy film to love, and if you enjoyed the first movie, there's no reason why you won't have a blast this time around. And, as is always the case with Marvel flicks, be sure you stay through the credits.


Tuesday, April 18, 2017

Disney Wants You to Live in a "Star Wars" Spaceship


I haven't talked it over with my fianceƩ yet, but given the fact that Walt Disney World is planning Star Wars-themed resort that lets you live inside a spaceship, a permanent move to Orlando might need to happen.

As reported by Walt Disney World News Today, the resort would immerse visitors in a two-day night interactive story involving live performers, lightsaber training and secret missions in Disney's Hollywood Studios' Star Wars land. This is of course in addition to an "on-board" cantinas, dinner shows, exclusive park access and droid butlers.

I repeat: Droid. Butlers. 

The resort experience would cost roughly $1000 per guest, and would coincide with the anticipated Star Wars land opening in 2019.

This information came to light thanks to a Disney guest survey about the forthcoming resort that was distributed by a third party. Naturally, people are excited.

If this actually happens, the Force faithful will finally get the chance to legitimately live, eat, drink and breathe Star Wars for two nights. I know I basically do that every weekend, but never with droid butlers or actors dressed like Duros. 

For more details on Disney's plans for a Star Wars resort, head to wdwnt.com.