Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker Is A Fast, Emotional & Messy Conclusion To The Star Wars Saga

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is the latest and supposedly final Star Wars film dealing with the Skywalkers is now out. As with recent Star Wars films it is already a divisive film among fans and critics alike, who either praise it or deride it for too many reasons. Trying to do an objective review is very difficult for a film like Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker and that is because of the film franchise’s unique way of permeating throughout time. It is all too easy to offer an opinion on the latest Star Wars film, but come back a year or five later and anyone’s opinion will change.

Look at the prequel films. For the longest time they were so loathed by many fans that George Lucas swore off doing anymore films and could have been a reason why he just up and sold the property and Lucasfilm to Disney. Let them take the heat for the films and boy, are they doing so now. The derision tossed at the Disney-era films is so severe that the prequels are now viewed on a more favorable light by many. The one merit pointed out with the prequels is that at least they had a cohesive vision: the fall of Anakin Skywalker and the Jedi. This cohesiveness and vision are obviously missing with the sequel trilogy, which is a handicap the last film in the sequel trilogy had to face.

As many know, director J.J. Abrams created the template for a new trilogy with Star Wars: The Force Awakens in 2015. It was expected that the director of the next film, Rian Johnson, would take the themes and plot threads and continue them. Instead, Rian Johnson went off on his own tangent and did a deconstruction of the Star Wars films with Star Wars: The Last Jedi and the reaction was disastrous, divisive, and controversial.

Seeing the hatred Star Wars: The Last Jedi received, Lucasfilm tapped J.J. Abrams to come back and do a course correction. Did it work? Honestly, that is hard to say. On a personal level, to myself, the film was awe inspiring and emotional. It moves with a fast-paced momentum that reeks of desperateness that works! Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker is a satisfying return to the Star Wars that we all loved that is a heartfelt tribute.

But objectively, there are faults with the film and they come from Abrams and Lucasfilm’s thankless task of trying to undo the damage The Last Jedi did. The first half of the film is spent fixing and retconning characters and developments from The Last Jedi and at the same time it has to tell its own story. This resulted in a film that is constantly moving without a moment to breathe. Plot A occurs and it immediately leads to Plot B, then Plot C happens. The characters jump from planet to planet at a dizzying pace in a frantic scavenger hunt. Along the way, multitude characters, new and old, pop in and out to service the plot. While all this is going on Abrams also has the unenviable task of working in footage of the late Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa into the film in a way that works. Thankfully he succeeded, and with the overall job of cramming in all the plot points and resolving any threads. It was not easy and quite messy, but somehow it worked.

Thankfully, by the time the second half of the film commences, it is allowed to slow down and proceed at a smoother pace. By this time the emotions do get to you with all the fan services. There are many of those, which include call backs to all past eight films and while they could turn off some viewers, Star Wars fans will be delighted. But in this case, the callbacks are warranted. This is the final film in the trilogy and it was supposed to conclude the expansive story that began with Star Wars Episode One: The Phantom Menace. One element from Episode One that is revisited is the evil machinations of Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid). Some spoilers will start.

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Watching The Watchmen

HBO’s sequel to the famous DC comic book mini-series Watchmen has just concluded its nine-episode run, and now it is time to talk about the series. Spoilers will follow after this for both the original comic book and this TV series.

Watchmen was one of the most influential and revolutionary comic books that ever came out. Co-created by Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons, the tale was a complex one taking place in an alternate world where superheroes existed since the mid-20th century but were unpowered except for one incredible exception. Based loosely on Captain Atom, Dr. Manhattan was a nuclear scientist who was in an atomic accident and gained the powers of a god. With his existence, history radically changed with Richard Nixon still the U.S. president in 1985, Vietnam conquered by the U.S., and the world is on the brink of a nuclear holocaust. One of the other superheroes, Ozymandias engineers a complex scheme to unite humanity by creating a hoax of an extra-dimensional alien incursion. This works, but at the cost of three million people.

The just-concluded TV series takes place now in 2019, decades after the alien incursion (which links it closer to the comic book unlike the 2009 movie adaptation that changed Ozymandias’ plot) and America has changed just as radically again.

Robert Redford is the U.S. president and like Nixon, overstayed his terms in office, having been inaugurated in 1992. Now, the U.S. is struggling to become a liberal utopia, with African-Americans eligible for reparations and white supremacist terrorist groups fighting against the woke society they’re forced to live in.

Watchmen takes place in Tulsa, Oklahoma and centers on Angela Abar (Regina King), a supposedly retired cop who hails from the 51st state of Vietnam and moonlights as the illegal vigilante Sister Night. Her friend, Tulsa’s police chief, Judd Crawford (Don Johnson), is killed under mysterious circumstances and her investigation unravels a complex plot. This involves Dr. Manhattan (Yahya Abdul-Mateen II), who is not on Mars as he was supposed to be, Ozymandias (Jeremy Irons), the barbaric architect of world peace in an unusual exile, an elderly Will Reeves (Louis Gossett Jr.), Crawford’s supposed killer, Lady Trieu (Hong Chau), the head of a powerful organization, and FBI agent Laurie Blake (Jean Smart) aka the former Silk Spectre II.

Even though on the surface, Watchmen is about superheroes it really isn’t. Like the comic book it is based on, the TV series is a very complex, non-linear tale involving deeply emotional characters and examines the strange, yet somehow familiar world. The world building is delightful with plenty of Easter eggs and references to the original comic book and tidbits to how different this world is compared to ours. But like any worthwhile story, Watchmen sticks with the plot and characters and slowly hooks in viewers as it unveils more and more jaw dropping revelations.

Starting with the fact that Crawford was a white supremacist to the revelation that the very first superhero was a bi-sexual African-American acting out on frustration to the hidden identity of Dr. Manhattan and his relationship with Angela Abar, Watchmen is a wonderfully presented, worthwhile sequel to the classic comic book. However, it does not seem like a comic book brought to life (a flaw with the movie adaptation), but as its own medium. One could complain that by not feeling like a comic book, this version of Watchmen seems like it was just a sci-fi story that stuck in references to the comic book to allow it to be greenlit. That is open to debate, but nevertheless the product is exemplary.

It is fairly easy to get drawn into the series from the beginning as unanswered peculiarities are shown, such as squid showers and background images which show that 9/11 never happened. However, several episodes are devoted to the origin of several characters, the standouts being “This Extraordinary Being”, which chronicles the tragic back story of Hooded Justice, and “A God Walks Into Abar”, which explores the temporal complexities of Dr. Manhattan while being a love story at the same time.

Much of Watchmen may be upsetting for some due to its subject matter about race relations, but many episodes are very powerful and compelling. While it is not exactly like its comic book predecessor, Watchmen is a worthy sequel and expansion to that comic book. It should be enjoyed by comic book, alternate history and sci-fi fans and others wanting something different with live-action superhero presentations.

 

The Mandalorian Returns Star Wars To Its Space Western Roots

mandalorian poster

The Star Wars franchise is many things; a space opera, a retelling of ancient myths and societal archetypes, an allegory of political and current events. But one thing the very first Star Wars film was noted for was being a space western. This aspect has been revered by fans for decades but the films have moved away from its space western roots aside from the last Star Wars film, Solo: A Star Wars Story. But now, Star Wars firmly embraces its space western roots with its first live-action TV show, The Mandalorian.

The new streaming show on Disney+ stars Pedro Pascal as the titular character, a mysterious bounty hunter with no name (actually he is called Mando fleetingly in one episode) who dons the same suit of high-tech armor worn by the villainous Boba Fett seen in the original films. Unlike that bounty hunter, the Mandalorian has a certain warrior code he lives by. The Mandalorian takes place five years after the events of Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the Galactic Empire has fallen. It takes place in the lawless Outer Rim Territories which are rife with criminals, loners and other desperados. When The Mandalorian begins, the title character callously hunts down his prey without mercy and speaks very little as he strolls into seedy alien bars.

Werner Herzog Client

He is hired by a mysterious Client (Werner Herzog), once affiliated with the Empire, for an assignment to capture, dead or alive, a fifty-year-old target on another planet. After a Wild West-type shootout with guards in a remote town, the bounty hunter finds out that the target is actually a cute and adorable infant child of Jedi Master Yoda’s species. Already the Internet is flooded with images and memes of this cuddly Baby Yoda. Come on and give us the toys and plushies of this charming baby already!

Baby Yoda

The moment he encounters Baby Yoda, the Mandalorian appears to be torn over the child’s welfare. He takes to the speechless infant who already displays a great affinity with the Force. Baby Yoda is also is wanted by the Client for unknown but obvious nefarious purposes, so the bounty hunter’s protectiveness of the baby puts him at odds with the galaxy. What is so remarkable about this development and the show itself is that we never see the Mandalorian’s face, it is always hidden behind a helmet. Yet, with few words and Pascal’s subtle performance, the bounty hunter displays deep character. Maybe it’s because he sounds a lot like Clint Eastwood from those spaghetti westerns, maybe it’s because his expressionless visor forces us to read into how the bounty hunter is feeling or what he is thinking. It could be that his reluctance to allow any harm to come to Baby Yoda lets us know that he is more dimensional than the more famous Boba Fett. This is why the character and the Disney+ show itself has taken everyone by storm. Continue reading

Latest Terminator Suffers From More Than A Dark Fate. Major Spoilers

Terminator Dark Fate is the latest film in the long-running science fiction/action franchise that sees the return of creator James Cameron as a producer and contributed to the story, Linda Hamilton as Sarah Connor and, of course, star Arnold Schwarzenegger as the famous killer cyborg.  The film has been divisive with fans because of rumors about certain plot points and this as such will affect reception of the film. As an action movie, Terminator Dark Fate is decent with some good action pieces and having Sarah Connor back in action is a treat. Unfortunately, the movie also makes the mistake of killing off a key character in the first few minutes. *What follows below will contain major spoilers, so unless you’ve seen the film, read at your own risk.

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In this case, John Connor, the savior of humanity whose existence was at the core of these movies, is gunned down as a child a few years after the events of Terminator 2: Judgment Day by yet another terminator sent back in time to kill him. Just like that, the events of the first two films are basically rendered pointless!  The film then jumps to 2020 and shows an augmented human called Grace (Mackenzie Davis), who is sent back in time to Mexico City to protect a young woman named Dani (Natalia Reyes), who now holds the key to the future of humanity. There is, of course, a terminator also sent back to kill her. This model, called a Rev-9 (played by Gabriel Luna) is basically two terminators in one, with a metal endoskeleton and a liquid metal exterior that can separate into a second cyborg. Basically, when John and Sarah destroyed Skynet in Terminator 2: Judgment Day, it created a new timeline where Skynet was never created, but instead has another artificial intelligence called Legion that comes into existence in 2042 that tries to wipe out humanity. When Grace shows up and escapes with Natalia only to be cornered by the Rev-9, Sarah Connor shows up and helps them to flee.

Sarah Connor reveals that she has been receiving text messages with the locations of terminators who were sent through time and she hunts and destroys them. The three women find the source of these texts, who is revealed to be the same T-800 that killed John, and now goes by the name of Carl. He currently sells drapes and has a wife and adopted son. Carl explains that it had no purpose after killing John and found a woman who was in an abusive relationship and it developed a conscience (!). He has been sending Sarah the texts to give her a purpose. Frankly, this part of the movies was ridiculous! I could see the terminator learning about human behavior similar to T2, but the idea of it raising a son and having a relationship with a woman is just not believable. Anyway, Sarah wants to kill Carl, but is stopped by Grace and Dani, and they reluctantly team up with Carl to take down the Rev-9. Without spoiling the rest of it, the ending is basically a rehash of T2, with a set up for the inevitable sequel.

Some reviews have said that this movie is better than previous sequels, but I disagree. Both Terminator 3: Rise of the Machines and Terminator: Salvation were better movies because at least they furthered the story in interesting ways. I always wanted the story to continue after the future-set Salvation, where we finally got away from the same trope of terminators being sent back to the past. Time will tell how this latest plot will go forward, if at all, but hopefully it will be something unique. I did like the future war scene at the very beginning that shows terminator endoskeletons rising out of the water and coming onto a beach, but it was all too brief. Another flash forward scene was somewhat interesting which showed how Grace got her augmentations after a battle with tentacled terminator models.

Linda Hamilton’s return as Sarah is great to see as she is now a grizzled warrior mourning her son and determined to get revenge on those who wronged her. Schwarzenegger is fine as “Carl” but the misuse of his character is not a good thing. Seriously, a drapes salesman? But more importantly how was he sent back in time if Skynet was never created? The terminators that Legion creatre in the future are different than the T-800 models. He should not even exist! Also, how does he know about these other terminators and Legion if he is not from that new timeline? It is never made clear.

The main problem with the idea of killing John Connor and just having someone else step in to the role of leader of the resistance is that it makes everything in the original Terminator film and T2 pointless. What if another terminator is sent back and kills Dani? No big deal, someone will just replace her! What happens when Dani and Sarah destroy Legion in the future? Again, so what? Another AI will take over. If they wanted to move on to new characters and settings, I can understand that.

Maybe the studio should have just made a full on reboot with no connection to the other movies. They keep trying to tie these films together and it makes everything awkward and convoluted. Terminator Genisys had this problem, as well. It started with a terminator being sent back to kill Sarah when she was a child, which changed events in the first film and erased the second movie. They should of just had that basic story of Sarah being targeted as a child as the first film in a totally new continuity with no connection at all with any of the other films and It would not have had any baggage to deal with. This is so frustrating since James Cameron developed the story, along with four other writers, and is behind this film. With the other derided Terminator films, it was easy to lay blame on Cameron not being involved. Well, there goes that argument.

As it stands, Terminator: Dark Fate is an okay action film and casual fans will probably enjoy it, but as a continuation of the Terminator franchise, fans will find it somewhat lacking since it makes the franchise’s logic even more confusing.

C.S. Link

Ad Astra Takes Us On A Visually Stunning, If Muddled Voyage To The Stars

poster ad astra

Ad Astra is a new sci-fi film starring Brad Pitt as astronaut Roy McBride who is assigned to a top-secret mission to Neptune. A few decades from now, humanity has gained a foothold in our solar system with bases on the Moon and Mars. Years earlier, McBride’s father, Cliff (Tommy Lee Jones), a legendary astronaut, went to Neptune on a mission to find intelligent life beyond our system. However, the mission apparently failed as Earth lost contact with the elder McBride. At the start of Ad Astra (which is Latin for “to the stars”), mysterious power surges from Neptune engulf the Earth and threaten all life in the solar system. Roy McBride is tasked to establish contact with his father, who is believed to be alive and somehow causing the surges.

brad pitt as roy mcbride

This may sound like a fairly simple plot, but Ad Astra is more complex and thought provoking than one might think. Directed by James Gray, who directed the pensive The Lost City of Z, Ad Astra is just as reflective as Gray’s previous film as it chronicles Roy McBride’s long journey to possibly reunite with his father. The film is certainly not an action-packed fest, but more of a slow burn that for the most part engages the mind. There are arresting sequences that grab attention, such as a thrilling moon rover chase sequence involving pirates, and a claustrophobic visit to a distant space lab. In between these scenes, we are left to ponder Roy McBride’s ambivalent feelings towards his long-lost father and his own failings in trying to live under the shadow of his father’s legacy. In some strange way, McBride’s reflections echo Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness as the visual look of the film evokes 2001: A Space Odyssey.

On the whole, Ad Astra is a mesmerizing watching experience. The space sequences are simply beautiful with magnificent special effects and photography. James Gray supposedly was insistent on making futuristic space travel as realistic as possible and it shows in this film. There isn’t any ludicrous technobabble and though humanity has expanded into the solar system, voyagers still contend with zero-g conditions and use rockets. The scenes on the Moon best echo 2001 in how commercialization and civilians make a voyage to the Moon feel a bit humdrum. It’s not gritty (that aesthetic is saved for McBride’s visit to Mars), but very average and comfortable as the Moon bases are littered with commercial properties like Applebee’s and D.H.L.

Clearly, the first half of Ad Astra is the most engaging as it presents us with a grounded travelogue of space travel in the future. But issues with the film’s plot and pace come up in the second half. The film requires constant attention, but it becomes a bit too ponderous and the payoff at the end doesn’t quite resonate, Gray and co-writer Ethan Gross try to present an important message and an intense spiritual journey, but the delivery is muddled and the payoff feels anti-climatic. There isn’t anything wrong with their message about ourselves, but unlike the stunning visuals of the film, it doesn’t have much emotional impact. What lessens the film’s flaws, aside from the visuals, are Brad Pitt’s charismatic performance. This kind of film demands a certain type of actor that audiences will want to empathize with and Pitt fills the bill perfectly. Other supporting actors have small but memorable appearances throughout.

Mcbride at space elevator

Ad Astra is the kind of film that is meant to marinade after viewing it. Anyone hoping for an action film or a thriller are better off seeing Rambo: Last Blood or It: Chapter Two. Others who are seeking a cerebral experience, or a vehicle for inner reflection, or just want to see an unforgettable and plausible look at our future will appreciate Ad Astra.