Is Star Wars Losing Its Luster?

 

The title of this post sounds click baity, but it brings up a nagging thought among many fans over the beloved sci-fi franchise. There are many indications that Star Wars is losing its luster with the general public. No need to worry, Star Wars is not going anywhere, but the property just doesn’t seem to be capturing our excitement these days. Instead that is going to Disney’s other blockbuster IP, the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Star Wars is still a behemoth that brings in tons of dollars to Disney, but the evidence is becoming more clear. Let’s look at some facts:

  • The property has been swept up in the toxic culture wars that is strangling our society. It started with the release of the controversial Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which has enraged many conservatives fans who accused it of being too politically correct.
  • The mixed to negative reaction to The Last Jedi, not just from haters but many die-hard Star Wars fans helped lead to the failure of Solo: A Star Wars Story. That in turn led to the cancellation of planned Star Wars films.
  • Disney head Bob Iger admitted that too many Star Wars films were being released too quickly and cited this as a reason for Lucasfilm to cut back on Star Wars films.
  • Even though there is another Star Wars film coming out later this year, the enthusiasm for it is not as high as it was for previous Star Wars films.
  • Merchandising sales are down, with many retailers severely discounting Star Wars toys, especially those related to the Disney-era films.
  • The recent opening of Star Wars: Galaxy’s Edge at Disneyland has not brought in the massive crowds that Disney anticipated.

So, what is happening and why? The answers are not quite simple and it really depends on context. Yes, Star Wars is a victim of the stupid culture wars going on but that has affected other properties and franchises as well. Yes, there are too many sites and videos from haters infesting the web, but they also target Star Trek and even Marvel. Then the fact that these places champion underdog properties indicates that many of them just want to kick at the top dog of the moment. What didn’t help Star Wars is how Rey was written to be a Mary Sue and how the deconstruction of Star Wars in The Last Jedi alienated many die-hard fans who hated what writer/director Rian Johnson did with the characters.

There are many reasons why Solo didn’t perform well. A big part of it was due to the backlash of The Last Jedi, which is unfortunate because Solo was actually a fun film that evoked the traditional adventurous Star Wars films.

The scaling back of Star Wars films is a natural reaction to the mixed reception of recent films. However, more films are still being planned and the Disney streaming service, Disney+, will premiere this year The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars film and it is highly anticipated. Plus, the same service will include a new season of the beloved animated series, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which has many fans excited. So, for now, Star Wars’ future lies with television to keep us satiated until the next standalone or saga film.

All this hand wringing over the property could wind up being silly if the next film, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, recaptures the magic and leads to new films coming out sooner. Given how Star Wars: The Last Jedi turned out, it is nearly certain that The Rise of Skywalker will play it safe and give fans what they want. In the long run, it could wind up hurting the franchise in the same manner that some were ultimately turned off by Star Wars: The Force Awakens because it was too derivatives of A New Hope. But a short-term win is called for.

Let’s face it, Disney went overboard with the marketing and merchandising of the property At first, it worked wonders for the company when they acquired the IP in 2012. The build up to The Force Awakens was immense and was a genuine phenomenon. Unfortunately, this led to Disney slapping the Star Wars label on practically everything. If we thought creator George Lucas was bad with the merchandising when he owned the property, Disney took the marketing to the nth degree. it is only natural that there would be a backlash and this led to lowered sales.

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The Greatest Sci-Fi Hallmark Ornaments

While Hallmark’s Star Wars and Star Trek ornaments are well known holiday merchandise, we cannot forget the other related Hallmark genre ornaments. No, not the Harry Potter stuff, though those ornaments are great, but the ornaments based on popular science fiction films and TV shows. Although they’re not as numerous as Star Trek and Star Wars ornaments, they’re just as well-crafted. It’s too bad more aren’t produced because these sci-fi Hallmark ornaments are great gifts and additions to any fan’s Christmas tree. These are the best ones created to date, hopefully more will come in the future.

avatar ornament

10. Avatar Jake Sully (Avatar, 2010):

Fans can easily imagine that the tatted-up warrior hero from Avatar is protecting a giant mother tree with this dynamically posed ornament.

9. Nautilus (20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, 2011):

The miniature version of Captain Nemo’s steampunk sub is a faithful recreation of the Disney’s 1950s adaptation.

rocketeer ornament

8. High Flying Hero (The Rocketeer, 2014):

This was one of those limited-edition Hallmark ornaments that is hard to find, even when it was released. It would make a fine gift for any fan of the underrated gem of a film.

7. Alien (Alien, 2014):

One would think this kind of ornament would never work. Seriously, this alien creature is the stuff of nightmares. But it works thanks to its meticulous detailing and organic exo-skeletal look that somehow fits within a tree.

6. Cylon Centurion (Battlestar Galactica, 2011):

The sound effects of the distinctive robotic Cylon voice (“By your command”) is the highlight of this sci-fi Hallmark ornament. If only Hallmark would make more ornaments of either version of Battlestar Galactica, including the ships. “Sigh”

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Looking Back At Planet of the Apes 50 Years Later

This year marks a very significant anniversary for sci-fi films. Of course, it is the 50th anniversary of 2001: A Space Odyssey, but that is not the only sci-fi classic celebrating its 50th anniversary. That other film is Planet of the Apes, a sci-fi masterpiece which launched a successful film franchise that resonates to this day.

Planet of the Apes was a 1968 film adaptation of Pierre Boullle’s novel, which was published in 1963. The film, like the novel, was an allegorical examination of human society and how inhumane people can be. In the story’s case, the humans were represented by super intelligent apes that control the planet.

George Taylor (Charlton Heston in one of his greatest performances) is an astronaut on a deep-space mission to find a new habitable world. He and his fellow astronauts crash land on an Earth-like planet centuries from now. Before long, Taylor is the only survivor and is captured by upright, talking ape-like beings that rule a pre-industrial civilization. During his capture, Taylor is injured and unable to talk, much less communicate. Most of the apes that hold him captive for science experiments treat him inhumanely and lump him along with the other mute and animalistic humans that inhabit the world.

Taylor stands out because of his expressed intelligence and catches the attention of a simian scientist studying him, Dr. Zira (Kim Hunter). As Taylor regains his speech (done so dramatically when he shouts defiantly “Take your stinking paws off me, you damn, dirty ape!”), he befriends Zira and her husband, Cornelius (Roddy McDowell), an archaeologist.  These two champion his cause for equal rights against the ruling apes that refuse to recognize Taylor’s intelligence. One of these members is the fundamentalist Dr. Zaius (Maurice Evans), who won’t acknowledge Taylor’s sentience, and seems to be hiding secrets about his planet’s dark past.

taylor and dr zaius

Taylor’s struggle is the heart of Planet of the Apes and echoed the civil rights movement that engulfed American society in 1968. What is remarkable about Taylor’s plight is that at the start of the film he had a dim, pessimistic view of humanity. So it’s a great sense of irony when he alone is forced to champion humanity to the dogmatic apes that refuse to acknowledge his rights, let alone his intelligence. This was best seen in the pivotal tribunal scene where Taylor pleads his case to the obtuse Assembly led by Zaius. They try to deny his humanity and dignity, but he rose to the occasion and we cheered him on.

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The Greatest Star Wars Hallmark Ornaments

As the mighty Star Wars merchandising/marketing avalanche invades, one of the most common and popular items standing out this holiday season are ornaments! Star Wars and holiday ornaments go hand in hand as a cool and popular way for geeks to revel during the holidays. Ever since Hallmark started producing them during the mid 1990s, they have created the best Star Wars ornaments. From the very first, single ornament released back in 1996 (the Millennium Falcon) the market has exploded with the large variety of Star Wars Hallmark ornaments. These are the best of that Hallmark has created:

Characters/Dioramas

10. Admiral Ackbar (2015): One of the best limited edition Star Wars Hallmark ornaments was devoted to the amphibian Rebel leader. The sculpt was a perfect reproduction of Admiral Ackbar.  

9. A Deadly Duel (2009): Despite the disrespect the prequels get, one thing everyone enjoyed was the climatic duel where Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi battled Darth Maul. This ornament perfectly captured that thrilling moment in Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.

8. Luke Skywalker and Yoda (2006): This dual character ornament is the ideal blending of two characters since it represented Luke’s Jedi training on Dagobah and Yoda’s iconic teachable moments.

7. Chewbacca (1999): Everyone’s favorite Wookiee was one of the best solo character ornaments and fits perfectly on a Christmas tree. After all, Chewbacca’s from an arboreal world.

6. Han Solo to the Rescue (2012): This Star Wars Hallmark ornament of Han Solo in his cold weather gear atop a tauntaun just looks perfect hanging from a Christmas tree or even on your desk.

5. An Epic Vision, a Star Wars Celebration (2015): The best limited edition Star Wars Hallmark ornament is also one of the rarest and a true treasure. The sculpts eerily recreate Ralph McQuarrie’s famous pre-production art for the first Star Wars film.

4. Anakin Skywalker and Obi-Wan Kenobi (2005): Colorful and striking with flaring lava plumes, this ornament is a superb recreation of the epic final battle between the Jedi and his former apprentice. Features powerful dialogue and clashing lighsaber sounds.

3. Darth Vader (1997): The first Darth Vader ornament is still the best one. Lord Vader stands imposingly on a lit base with his glowing red lightsaber. It doesn’t get any better though future ornaments like the Rise of Lord Vader (2014) and the Darth Vader Peekbuster came close.

2. Yoda Peekbuster (2014): Hallmark first launched this motion sensor ornament in 2012 with a Darth Vader Peekbuster. The concept is simple, you walk by and the ornament would talk to you, warning you away from the presents. The Yoda Peekbuster is superior because the little green Jedi Master better captures the spirit of the holidays and can be thought of as an honorary elf.

1. The Adventure Begins (2007): This one is a bit of a cheat since it features a spaceship, the Millennium Falcon, but it’s a terrific diorama. It depicts the moment the Falcon departs from the Mos Eisley spaceport on Tatooine as it whisks off our Rebel heroes on a grand adventure that changes the galaxy. Not only does the Millennium Falcon’s engines light up, but John Williams’ legendary Star Wars theme blares from this ornament, which is a superb touch.

Ships/Vehicles

10. Darth Vader’s TIE Fighter (1999): This is a rather neat Star Wars ornament, with its best feature being the lit-up cockpit that reveals Darth Vader’s silhouette.

9. The Battle of Naboo (2001): This is the best miniature Star Wars ornament which features the Trade Federation’s starship flanked by tiny Naboo and vulture droid fighters. It was a novel concept for Hallmark and portended to greater Star Wars ornaments.

8.  The Death Star (2017): Incredibly, it’s the first time we’ve gotten a full-size ornament of the original Death Star. And it is wildly impressive thanks to sounds and lights that accurately depict the infamous battle station.

7. Slave I (2011): Boba Fett’s weird vertical spaceship gets some love from Hallmark with this ornament. As always, Hallmark went the extra step to faithfully recreate the look and sounds of the bounty hunter spaceship.

6. Anakin Skywalker’s Jedi Starfighter (2005): One of the best ships seen in the prequel films was well crafted by Hallmark. Striking due to its design and yellow coloring, the Jedi Starfighter is clearly one of the most underrated Star Wars Hallmark ornaments.

5. T-70 X-Wing Fighter (2016): Poe Dameron’s eye-catching X-Wing fighter with its distinctive black color sets this ornament apart from other X-Wing ornaments. If it lit up like the others it would have rated higher on this list.

4 Star Destroyer (2004): The last Star Wars Hallmark ornament that plugged into a Christmas tree socket depicts the famous opening moment in Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope as the imposing Star Destroyer captures the tiny Rebel blockade runner.

3. Imperial AT-AT and Rebel Snowspeeder (2006): It can be argued that this is more of a diorama but the walker is so prominent it belongs in this category. The walker stands on a snowy base as a tiny Rebel snowspeeder is buzzes around its metal legs. The battle sounds nicely complement this ornament.2. X-Wing Starfighter (2017): This huge ornament improves upon the original X-Wing ornament that came out in 1998. Like the original it lights up but now has sounds and better detailing. This pricey ornament is part of a set that includes Vader’s TIE fighter and the Death Star. When put together the three of them recreate moments from A New Hope with sounds..1. Millennium Falcon (1996): The best Star Wars ship ornament just happens to be the very first one released by Hallmark in 1996. It’s one of the older ornament models that plugs into a Christmas tree’s light socket, but just look at the detailing. The Millennium Falcon looks so real with its dark grey hull, engine and cockpit lighting; this beauty has weight and heft. Thankfully, next year Hallmark will produce a newer version of the ship that made the Kessel run in 12 parsecs.

Walderman Rivera

 

Unleashed Star Wars Toys

star wars unleashed

While we Star Wars fans salivate over the Star Wars Force Friday II release of new toys, let’s take a quick look back to one of the most popular and colorful Star Wars figures line. This one was called Star Wars Unleashed, which debuted in 2002 and ran until 2007, ten years ago. The line mostly concentrated on the characters from the then-current films Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith.

As with recent Star Wars toys, the Star Wars Unleashed line was manufactured by Hasbro and the figures cost more than the standard six-inch figures. Usually they retailed for about $15-$20 and the cost was due to their size, plus the bases of the figures. Those who managed to buy them at the initial price back then are extremely lucky because they now cost quite a lot in the secondary markets. Some fetching prices well into the hundreds of dollars.

When the line was first launched, each figure had a theme reflected in their dynamic poses. Each pose represented a key moment for the character in the movie. This was probably to make up for the fact that they’re not as articulate as regular figures though they’re much more detailed. A good example of such vivid posing and sculpture is the Anakin Skywalker figure is known as “Rage” since that the sculpture illustrated his violent mood after his mother was killed in Episode II. We all know after her death Anakin went on a killing spree, which made him reckless, even into his fateful confrontation with Count Dooku. It was one of the most dramatic poses in the series with Anakin in full attack mode wielding two lightsabres and a look of pure hatred. It’s amazing that the manufacturers were so capable of capturing his inner turmoil since one wouldn’t expect that from a toy. The other most dramatic figure that was part of the initial release was the Darth Maul figure that is called “Fury” and he is placed standing on one leg as if ready to pounce on a hapless Jedi as a swirl of red dark force energy swirls around that leg. For some reason, the other figures released in the following years didn’t have any subtitles, which took away from the idea that the sculpture were supposed to represent the characters at certain, pivotal moments.

Luckily for the collectors, the later figures in the Star Wars Unleashed line were just as impressive and in fact more so. Take the Boba Fett figure that was sold exclusively at Target. The detailing is simply beautiful and the pose was so dramatic. You almost expect the bounty hunter to come to life. In the actual display, Boba Fett is battling the hungry sarlacc creature while trying to escape. This was inspired by the scene in Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi when he is eaten by the creature. In this pose it looks as if he’s ready to blast off, implying that he survives the encounter. It was a beautiful and dynamic sculpture as Fett’s posture with one arm raised high and one leg tangled in the sarlacc’s tentacle was reminiscent of a cover from an old science fiction pulp magazine.

On a side note, additional figures were repackaged and sold exclusively in Wal-Mart, KB Toys, Best Buy and Target. They included two versions of Darth Vader, Luke Skywalker and General Grievous. The figures were slightly larger than the original figures.

The best figures from that line included the just-mentioned Darth Maul and Boba Fett, as well as the Yoda (2003), Obi-Wan Kenobi and General Grievous (2005). One nifty aspect of the Obi-Wan figure is that he can be easily connected at the base with the Anakin Skywalker figure also released in 2005. Based on the final moments of Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith, when they confront each other on the volcanic planet Mustafar, they are both shown in battle poses as swirls of lava surround them. Only their mastery of the Force keep the lava at bay. Even though these two figures were sold separately, they could be connected.

This idea was carried one step further the same year with the Yoda vs. Palpatine figures that come together in one package. It can be said that Hasbro took this to the next level with the release of the Epic Battles packs collection. These sets sold for less and included at least four figures though they are much smaller, roughly three inches tall. The collection includes groups of Jedi, Wookies, Droids, Imperial Troops and so forth. They were also well detailed with dramatic poses but were not as enticing as the regular Star Wars Unleashed figures, which were more geared for older children and adult collectors. However, they’re perfect for the younger fans who want to recreate exciting scenes from this film series that just seems to spawn more and more creative toys and figures.

On the other hand, the popularity of the Epic Battle packs spelled the end of Star Wars Unleashed. There was only one Star Wars Unleashed released in 2007, Count Dooku, which was just as masterfully sculpted and detailed as the other figures. It’s a shame that the line ended because there are so many characters that would be perfect.  Imagine one being sold for Ahsoka Tano, Rey, Lando Calrissian, Qui-Gon Jinn, or Luke Skywalker from the first Star Wars film. We do have the Titanium and Black Series figures which are just as impressive, but Star Wars Unleashed does hold a special place in my collector’s heart. It’s probably because of the dramatic forces that captured the essence of the characters. Perhaps one day they can come back in some form or another.

José Soto