The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy: An Honest Assessment

With the release of Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy and the entire nine-film Skywalker Saga has come to an end. The film has had its share of controversy, scorn and praise from all parties. Despite what trolls hoped for, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an actual hit film. Now as to its quality, that is another story. Personally, I truly enjoyed the film but am honest enough to admit the latest Star Wars film is riddled with plot holes and faults. Still it did enough to entertain me and others and provided closure to the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. Looking at the three films in this trilogy it is fair to opine that on the whole, the trilogy was badly flawed and can be considered to be the weakest of the three Star Wars trilogies. And that is due to many reasons, especially one: it is clear that Lucasfilm and its owners Disney did not have a clear plan for the sequel trilogy and it hobbled the films overall.

Inconsistent Characters

Looking at the past three films (standalone films aside), it was difficult to tell what was the main story. The only consistent arc that flowed logically was Rey and Kylo Ren’s personal journeys in their understanding of the Force. Not surprisingly, this storyline is what received the most praise. Everything else, not so much.

future jedi finn

Look at Finn’s story in the films. He had a brilliant setup, the world of Star Wars told from the POV of a normal Stormtrooper, and how he comes to believe in a greater cause than his lot in life. As well as his story was set up in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, it stagnated in the followup, Star Wars: The Last Jedi, where he became a bumbling comic relief shuffled off to a pointless side quest. Then in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, his story arc had a radical course correction as we are tantalized with him developing Force sensitivity, which hinted at his potential future as a Jedi.

Even more jarring was figuring out who was the main bad guy in these films. Kylo Ren’s story was fine and flowed smoothly as he struggled with his conflicting emotions. But he was set up to be the main villain according to The Last Jedi. In that film, he killed the supposed main boss, Supreme Leader Snoke, and took his title. Meanwhile, Snoke was dispatched too early and the filmmakers were left scrambling to find another villain for the final film. This is why director J.J. Abrams and others hastily resurrected the long-dead Emperor Palpatine. As great as it was to see him cackling and oozing evil on the screen again, his reappearance into Star Wars lore was sloppily handled. If he had been hinted at in earlier films, his revival would have made more sense and not come off as a desperate plot ploy.

Then there are the other supporting characters who were treated as disposable plot beats. Take poor Rose Tico, first introduced as an annoying and self-righteous wannabe crusader in The Last Jedi, which led to toxic online backlash from misogynistic and racist trolls attacking the actress. In The Rise of Skywalker, her role was noticeably reduced to that of a glorified extra and any hints of a romance with Finn alluded to in the previous film were gone.

Aside from Rose, the most contentious character introduced in The Last Jedi was Admiral Holdo played by a badly miscast Laura Dern. This supposedly brilliant military leader did not exude any kind of gravitas as a leader, which infuriated many viewers and emboldened Internet trolls. But hey, at least she had a cool death scene where she used her ship to take out the ginormous uber star destroyer.

Then there was Hux, the First Order leader who instead of inspiring dread and fear like Grand Moff Tarkin became an ineffective joke in The Last Jedi. His character was so mangled that he was mercifully killed off in The Rise of Skywalker after he nonsensically was revealed to be a spy working against the First Order.

Contrasting Visions

The fault for the way they and other characters turned out has to be with the scripts, which reeked of being written on the fly. Another important reason for the disjointed feel of the sequel trilogy was the contrasting visions of the directors of the films, J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson.

abrams johnson

Although both men are talented directors who brought good ideas to Star Wars, their viewpoint clashed wildly. With The Force Awakens, Abrams was clearly doing an homage to the original films, especially Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope.

A valid criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too similar to A New Hope: both films opened on a desert planet where good guys and bad guys sought a droid that held vital information. The heroes run into an older mentor type who gets killed and the films end with a space battle to blow up a superweapon planet. Be that as it may, The Force Awakens was a fun film that served as a soft reboot and reintroduction to the world of Star Wars for a new generation. It also set up many plot threads that Abrams left for future directors to follow up.

The problem was that the next director, Johnson, obviously was not interested in doing that. Instead he had a mindset of doing a deconstruction of Star Wars. Luke Skywalker, set up as a long-lost would-be savior in The Force Awakens, turned out to be a bitter old man without any hope. His final moments disappointed fans who were itching for him to decimate the First Order.

rey the last jedi

Rey, who was to be the next generation of Jedi, had a mysterious past and was seeking to learn about her parents. Was she related to anyone in the Original Trilogy? Why was she so powerful with the Force? Johnson obviously did not care with the casual dismissive announcement that she came from a family of nobodies. Something that had to be retconned later.

Supreme Leader Snoke was introduced as a trilogy’s final threat was unexpectedly killed by Ren. Meanwhile, Ren was hinted at in the film of having a redemptive arc but instead turned his back on Rey and embraced the dark side of the Force.  Both films are clear evidence that there wasn’t a coherent vision with the trilogy.

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The Greatest Marvel Hallmark Ornaments

marvel hallmark ornaments

Christmas or Holiday ornaments based on popular IPs have populated Christmas trees for quite some time. Along with the Star Wars and Star Trek ornaments, Hallmark has produced many different ornaments based on superhero properties. One of their most successful lines are ornaments based on Marvel Comics superheroes, whether featured in comic books or on film. Here is a list of the greatest Marvel Hallmark ornaments released by the company.

potted groot ornament

10. Potted Groot (2015):

Sweet, adorable Groot as seen in his seedling form at the end of Guardians of the Galaxy makes for one cute ornament! Although this Groot does not dance, the ornament features the song “I Want You Back”, which Potted Groot dances to behind Drax’s back.

9. Hulk: Thor: Ragnarok (2017):

The Hulk in his full gladiator regalia as he appears in Thor: Ragnarok, is one of the most colorful and intimidating Marvel Hallmark ornaments. The figure easily captures the enraged mood of the gladiator Hulk as he is ready to pounce on his next victim/opponent.

8. The Avengers: Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man (2012):

These were three separate ornaments featuring the three superheroes from The Avengers. They could be hung separately in a Christmas tree or combined at their bases to created a cool diorama. Plus, this is one of the best Iron Man ornaments.

7. Team Captain America (2016):

The year that Captain America: Civil War featured to opposing separate ornaments, Captain America and Iron Man. While the Iron Man ornament is well crafted, the Captain America ornament is hands-down the best one based on the star-spangled hero. Other Captain America ornaments usually have him in a stationary pose. This one, however, captures him in powerful fighting action.

6. Iron Patriot (2013):

The patriotic red, white and blue colors on a re-branded War Machine from Iron Man 3, make this ornament stand out so vividly. Never mind that the film divided fans, it cannot be denied this ornament is beautifully done.

5. A New Breed of Superheroes (2006):

Actually, this ornament is a collection of mini-ornaments featuring classic Marvel heroes that can be combined at their bases into one. This allowed one to either use all six heroes (Spider-Man, Wolverine, the Hulk, Captain America, the Thing, and Iron Man) together or separately. It’s a highly sought-after collector’s item.

4. The Infinity Gauntlet (2019):

The fearsome weapon that Thanos used to wipe out half of all life in the universe as seen in Avengers: Infinity War, is a powerful ornament indeed. Featuring multi-colored lights emanating from the Infinity Stones, this gauntlet fits surprisingly well in a lit-up Christmas tree.

3. Spider-Man and Green Goblin (2010):

This ornament featuring a mighty battle between Spidey and his arch nemesis, the Green Goblin, stood out from other Spider-Man ornaments just for its concept of having a hero fighting an opponent. The two figures are dynamically posed which helped make the ornament one of the very best ones produced by Hallmark. The company should continue this idea with other Spider-Man villains; imagine what one featuring Doctor Octopus would be like!

2. Comic Book Heroes #3 – Incredible Hulk (2010): 

This Marvel ornament was part of an ingenious ornament series from Hallmark. On one side was a 3D figure on a background that recreated a famous comic book. In fact, the ornament was a mini-comic book reprint of the famous issue. In this case, The Incredible Hulk #181, which is renowned for having the first full appearance of Wolverine. It’s too bad, Hallmark discontinued the series after just four ornaments (the final one being the following year’s The Avengers #4), there are so many other classic and iconic comic book covers the series could have recreated.

first spidey ornament

1. Spider-Man (1996): 

There have been many wonderful Spider-Man Hallmark ornaments. Most of them had our favorite Web-Slinger in wild and spindly poses that accurately represented Marvel’s most popular superhero. But the very first ornament is still the best one. It’s so elegantly posed so that this mini-Spider-Man looks so natural hanging from a tree branch. The strings attached to his hands aid with the illusion that he is swinging around a Christmas tree with its lights that could easily stand in for the bright lights of a city.

Honorable Mentions:

The following are pretty terrific Marvel Hallmark ornaments that are worth mentioning and hunting down on Ebay or elsewhere:

A New Kind of Hero: Spider-Man: Homecoming (2017); Black Panther (2018); Captain America: Avengers: Endgame (2019); Comic Book Heroes #1 – Amazing Fantasy #15 (2008); Comic Book Heroes #4 – The Avengers #4 (2011); Deadpool (2017); Groot and Rocket (2018); Hulk Smash! (2014); Iron Man (2008); Iron Spider (2019); Slinging and Swinging (Spider-Man, 2016); Spidey Swings Into Action (2018); Thanos (2019); Thor: Thor: Ragnarok (2017); Venom (2016); Web-Slinging Wonder: The Amazing Spider-Man 2 (2014)

José Soto

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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