Star Wars (The Original Trilogy) Themes

One of the reasons that Rian Johnson had so many problems and so much of a backlash against SWTLJ is the exact same problem that I had with Looper–he relied on visuals rather than trying to create epic themes that SW (especially the original series).  SW at its core is about relating its characters to the world and showing how much more you can be.  SW is about themes that resonate through the characters’ (& by extension, our own) lives.

Star Wars: Believe in Something Greater/Higher than Yourself
The theme of SW is to believe in something greater/higher than oneself–to have faith.  There are a multitude of scenes that illustrate this including the famous “Trench Run” scene where Luke is told by Ben’s voice to trust the Force and he turns off his targeting computers.  In doing so, he is questioned by “ground control” as they wonder what is wrong.  It is most explicitly talked about, however, during Luke’s “training” with the drone with Ben teaching him about the Force.  We see that once Luke realizes that he can “see” beyond the physical and into the immaterial, then the Force “guides” his actions and helps to move him from good to great.

The Empire Strikes Back: 1) You May Not Have All of the Facts Even When You Believe You Do and 2) The Power of Belief.
The ESB is a darker movie, not because it is literally shot darker, but because it deals with more complex and more nuanced themes.  Most specifically, one of the main themes that runs throughout the movie is the idea that even if you think you have all the information at hand, you actually might not not and a closer look might be wise.  This happens to both Luke while training at Dagobah and to Han, Leia, and Chewie in Cloud City.  In each situation, both groups think that they have all of the pieces of information they need, when in fact, they are missing valuable pieces that would greatly enhance their understanding of the situations they find themselves inhabiting.  It really comes down to trust.  Should Luke trust his teachers or trust himself, should Han, Leia, and Chewie trust Lando or not?  Luke also learns from the raising of the X-Wing that he doesn’t really truly believe in the power of the Force.  Yoda has given himself over to it completely where Luke has learned the lessons, but when things get hard, he doesn’t really trust in the Force to see him through it.  This ties back into the first theme when Luke doesn’t trust Yoda enough to see his training through even though it might cost him his friends.

The Return of the Jedi: Point of View as well as Friends versus Lackeys
For RotJ the theme is trifold: 1) One’s Point of View, 2) the idea of having Friends vs. Lackeys, and 3) Don’t make the same mistakes.  One’s Point of View is very important in orientating/grounding the character to the world and has an important bearing on how the person/character looks at the universe.  Luke is angry with Ben Kenobi for not telling him the truth about his father, but Ben tells Luke that many of truths that we cling to in the universe depend greatly on our point of view.  Had Luke not learned that lesson then he might have fallen into the trap of believing that his father was completely lost.  Having friends that one can depend on was very important to the SW characters as they are always bailing each other out and formed an interconnected web.  The Empire, however, relied on lackeys to serve and fulfill the Emperor’s will and this ultimately cost them the battle.  Many fans hate the Ewoks because they reason that the Empire shouldn’t be able to be defeated by “teddy bears with spears,” but history is replete with examples of finer military forces getting upended by smaller, less advanced forces because those smaller forces have better “grit” for lack of a better word.  Even the biggest Imperial Walker can be taken down with the right combination of grit and moxy–something the Ewoks had in spades.  Finally, Luke learned a valuable lesson in ESB–that under the right circumstances he could find himself in the same position and be lured to the Dark Side.  Luke was especially conscious of this based on his experience in the “cave.”  When his time came to be tested, he saw what he had done and stepped away from the “precipice,” something his father couldn’t do.  So he learned his lesson well and ultimately, it served to save his life as well as to ensure the victory of the Rebellion.

This is where SWTLJ ultimately failed in that it really didn’t go deep enough with the themes that the characters inhabited to make it a truly satisfying movie for fans of the original trilogy.  There is a reason that many are calling Rey/Kylo Ren’s “relationship” “Reylo” and that is a true disappointment to me personally, but to many other OG SW fans out there.

Slight spoiler here–Skip down to the next paragraph if you want to know nothing about TLJ–you know you’ve gone off the rails somewhere if there’s a scene in a SW movie where Rey is telling Kylo Ren to put a shirt on (and yes, that scene exists).  Why does that scene even exist?  What function does it perform that either a) ties into the greater universe as a whole or b) reveals something unique about the characters or the world?  It was simply a throw away line designed to get laughs and get tweens speculating on how cool it would be if Rey and Kylo “hooked up?” Gah!  Please, someone get that out of a SW movie and put it in Twilight where it belongs!

We talk about suspension of disbelief–well, for me, that was the moment when the “magic” was broken and I saw SWTLJ as a movie rather than a story.

 

Advertisements

Star Wars The Last Jedi Mini-Review (No Spoilers)

So, everyone’s in a tizzy about The Last Jedi.  I finally saw it on Saturday, but I wanted to get my head around the movie, the story, the experience, and yes, the controversy that is surrounding it.  My local theater showed it only in Imax 2D as has been there wont lately, so I can’t tell if 3D would have made an impact–I suspect not (as you’ll see below).  A note on Spoilers–there aren’t any (hopefully).  I tried to talk about more my impressions and be as oblique as possible, but that comes at the expense of really delving deeply into what I thought was right/wrong with the movie as I’d have to point out specific examples from the film to make the points that I wanted to and that would make this post far too spoilery–so I chose not to do it.  I may revisit this movie with a post in the future with full spoilers, but for now, this review is as spoiler free as I could make it.

In a nutshell, am I disappointed in the movie?  I’m ambivalent towards it.  There are good things to like and there are bad things to dislike.  In the original trilogy the good far outweighed the bad, while (for me) in the prequels, bad far outweighed the good.  So while I see these new movies as “okay,” I don’t really feel that they are close to greatness that the originals achieved.  I’d say these rank solidly in the middle for me–better than the prequels, but not nearly as engaging as the originals.  Now, on to a more nuanced discussion of The Last Jedi.

Strong Visuals
This is where the movie excels–say whatever you will about The Last Jedi (TLJ), but it has very strong visuals and visualization of the actions.  It is a very striking movie and looks very good in terms of how a “modern” Star Wars movie should look–even more so than the Prequel Trilogy.  I love the color scheme and the look of the characters and the integration of practical effects with CGI effects.  It all looks amazing and has a strong visual flair to it.  I think that perhaps JJ Abrams reboot of the Star Trek franchise is slightly more visually appealing than TLJ, but not by much although that’s a pretty subjective determination on my part.

Okay Story 
So this is where it begins to get a little dicey–yes, TLJ has a coherent story that has a beginning, middle, and end, but (without spoilers) it felt a little disjointed in places.  It is as if there were several different plot threads running through the movie, but none of them have a solid through line.  I once read/saw something that said after The Force Awakens there was nothing written (i.e. a roadmap) for the rest of the trilogy.  If that is true, that’s what this seems like.  A set of striking vignettes/subplots all rolled into one movie in which “moments” happen, but nothing “big or revelatory” happens.  The story just exists, but doesn’t actually “say” anything once its finished.

Not sure about the Characterization
So, the characterization feels off to me for some reason.  The characters are all there, but they don’t necessarily act in ways that I would expect them to do so having seen all of them, the infamous Christmas Special, the Muppet Show Episode with Mark Hamill, the animated Droids, and pretty much everything else (except the latest episodes of the animated SW show on Disney XD because of the hefty price tag).  The characters are sometimes on note and sometimes are way off.  I don’t want to throw the director under the bus (as many websites and fan review videos are doing right now), however, he wrote Looper, which was among my least favorite Sci-Fi movies of recent years–although it was (to be fair) critically lauded.  However, while he may be a good Sci-Fi writer that doesn’t immediately give him cred. for being a good SW writer.  Sci-Fi comes in different “flavors” and there was nothing in Looper that said that he would be a good fit for SW as a time travel story is much different than a science fantasy story.  Without spoilers, Finn lurches between cowardice and unrelenting heroism, Rey is sometimes really strong, yet really naive, and Po gets to be a “rebel” with a cause, but his plans never come to anything substantial in the story.  I won’t even get started on Luke’s character–suffice to say, many SW fans are not happy with the way he’s portrayed.  I personally felt ambivalence.  When a major thing happened in the movie, I just watched, but didn’t actually feel anything.  It was as if I was just watching someone move figures around on a chessboard–I didn’t engage/root for the characters and the story didn’t seem to make me want to care so it was as if I was just going through the motions.

Overall Grade: B-.  Hey, it’s a SW movie, so there’s a ton of nostalgia built up for the movie, but I look at it this way–when I was a child, the wait between Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi was interminable.  However, no matter what Episode IX will be called, I can wait for it–easily.  In fact, only the fact that my mother wanted to see it in the theaters and it is because of her prompting that caused me to buy tickets for it.  I was content to just watch it on bluray/streaming based on the weak trailer.  There are no burning questions/characters that makes me want to find out what happens to these characters right now.

Implications for My Writing
Twofold–1) practice at different forms of the genre and know my limitations.  While I like history, I’m probably never going to be able to write lots of strong Victorian Steampunk.  The Victorian era, while I know quite a bit about it, isn’t an area where I really find myself drawn to in writing works or reading various works.  So I’d have to do a lot of work to really make sure I hit my marks, knowing that there are other writers who could hit it out of the park far easier than I ever could.  2) Characters–Johnson’s visuals could only carry him so far, but in the end, the lack of affinity that he had for the characters really was distracting.  I wonder if what I feel towards Rey, Finn, and Po right now are what editors are feeling for my stories–just sort of ‘blah.’  I really need to work on characterization and truly getting awesome characters in order to combat this problem.

As EA’s Value Rises With its Shareholders, EA’s Value is Plummeting With Gamers (especially me)

 

Okay, as you know, I try to have this blog reflect my diversity of interests and as video games are now were a lot of really interesting things are happening in Science Fiction and Fantasy (& one could say Horror, with the explosion of VR and non-VR Horror titles), it is safe to say that I devote quite a bit of time to video games on this blog.

However, some may have noticed that I’m not talking about some of the games that I profiled earlier in the year from EA even though two of them have been released: Need for Speed Payback Star Wars Battlefront II (2018). This is because EA has lost their focus as a company and I’m not really interest anymore in the product that they are producing.

Let’s Talk About Audience
So this is going to be about micro transactions, right? Well, yes and no.  EA has been trying to walk a fine line for a long time.  They want to publish video games and make a profit by having more people buy them than it takes to make them.  However, they’ve increasingly wanted to appeal to their shareholders with business strategies that are designed to get more money, but not through games.  They had a program called Project Ten for a while, designed to get customers to pay ten dollars more for “Deluxe/Enhanced/DLC/etc” for their games, before that it was Season Passes, and so on.  They were the publisher who partnered with Microsoft to make the original Titanfall game an X-Box One exclusive (even while the console was “going down in flames” due to its original “Always On” conception & restrictive used game policies).  In the past month, EA has cancelled a Star Wars game, shuttered a Studio, and included micro transactions in two of its flagship titles (one of which it has “temporarily” rescinded).  All of this is great news to shareholders, but horrible news for gamers–the people who actually purchase games.  Currently, EA seems to feel that they’re number one job is pleasing the shareholders and not their core audience.  Not a great move.

The “Mass Effect Andromeda” Effect
So, I realized what happened after I bought the game Mass Effect Andromeda for full price when it was first released.  I reasoned, “yes, the reviews are lackluster, but this is a seminal “brand” for them–they wouldn’t completely mess it up or they would destroy their fan base.  They would have the same care of the ME brand as Disney had for the Star Wars “brand” after they bought it from George Lucas.  We’ll, Caveat Emptor (let the buyer beware).  The game was a buggy mess that was mediocre at best.  Yes, it ran, but not well–from glitches, to frame rate issues, to a storyline that started strong, but meandered and filled with quests and side quests meant to pad the length of the game–it was a huge disappointment.  I linked to it before, but below is a video of a longtime Bioware/ME fan who quit the game out of frustration for such a disappointing effort.

Why did this happen, you might ask?  The answer was simple: the game just needed 6 more months of development time.  However, six months would have put it into the window of Star Wars Battlefront 2 (which is releasing now).  They can’t push that game because of the movie (The Last Jedi) which opens in month, but also they have Anthem coming down the line, and so they chose to release something that wasn’t ready and sell it at full price.

I personally finished ME:A–my completionist nature at work–but I decided that, while I would still buy games from EA, they would now receive the lowest consideration on my part, to be bought only when I bought/played all the other games I was interested in playing.  It will be at least a year based on school and other games in the queue before I get around to purchasing an EA game–and I’m okay with that–and that’s the problem.

Unholy Alliances
Between that experience and the micro transactions, EA has proven that they care not a whit about me as a gamer and as a consumer.  They prefer their share holders over me, so I’m content to wait.  The whole goal of a company is to produce products that an audience loves and will purchase again and again–Apple, anyone?–not to try to dig extra money out of your audiences pockets through tricks and manipulative schemes, so that your numbers look all rosy at the next Investors’ Conference Call.  You can’t make “moon-calf” eyes with the angel while dancing with the devil.

As someone who has bought games from EA, back when they originated (heck, I even remember when Trip Hawkins founded the company and have some of the company’s newsletters from that time period) and they produced games like: Starflight (the “original” ME:A back in the day), Skyfox, and The Bard’s Tale II from the company’s inception, all the way into adulthood, I feel that EA is missing the point by chasing the fickle investor who will dump their stock like a ton of bricks no matter what EA does the moment EA’s dividend doesn’t meet with their expectations.  EA needs to get its priorities straight and until they do, I’ll buy games from other companies that still seem to “get it.”

Star Wars The Last Jedi

 

star-wars-the-last-jedi-poster_slashfilm_com

This is another shorter blog today–I have a feeling that this will be the case until Fall Break next week, but a couple of big trailers dropped over the past couple of days.  Today, I want to (briefly) talk about Star Wars The Last Jedi (SWTLJ) and my feelings about it.

I’m including a link to the trailer below, in case you haven’t seen it, but I’m going to be honest here.  From a flat out fan of ALL things Star Wars (even the Prequels–which I dislike), I’m not really excited by this trailer.  Now, there are elements of the trailer that are really exciting–such as the apparent fight between Finn and Captain Fasma, a look at Supreme Leader Snoke, a new (furry) alien, and space battles–lovely, lovely space battles, but on the whole, I’m not really interested in where the trailer seems to be heading: Luke tries to teach Rey, fails because of her immense power, and she joins with Kylo Ren, the most angsty teen villain I’ve seen since the Twilight movies.

Ugh.

Now, I’ll reserve judgment until I actually see the movie, but this trailer did nothing to get me truly excited to see it.  The music wasn’t epic, Rey’s journey/Finn’s journey didn’t come through, way too much Kylo Ren–I mean, he is the villain isn’t he.  Why the heck do we get to see his journey?  He isn’t the heart of the movie; that honor goes to Finn and Rey.  I could go on and on, but I just don’t have the time.

From a life-long Star Wars fan, here’s hoping that the movie is much better than the trailer.