The Identity Behind Star Wars: Rise Of The Skywalker

 

With the release of the first teaser trailer for the latest Star Wars film, Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker, one thing about the title is raising many questions. Chiefly, whom is the title referring to? Luke Skywalker, Anakin Skywalker, Leia Organa? Or is Rey herself a Skywalker?

Consider this, technically there are only two Skywalkers left and their last names aren’t even Skywalker. That is Leia and her son Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. So are either one of them the person in the Star Wars title? Thinking about it, not likely. Due to Carrie Fisher’s untimely death a couple of years ago before this film began filming, her screen presence will be limited. As for Kylo, unless he pulls Vader-in-Return-of-the-Jedi act and renounces the Dark Side of the Force, he isn’t the Skywalker either. Besides he is a Solo.

A popular and logical theory going around is that it’s Rey. She has no family and her past is mysterious, even to her. The only problem is that according to the previous Star Wars saga film, she came from a family of nobodies. This revelation disappointed fans who were hoping that the mystery alluded to in Star Wars: The Force Awakens would lead to her being a long-lost Skywalker. But given how divisive Star Wars: The Last Jedi was, and based on the nostalgic tone of Rise of the Skywalker trailer, it looks like the new film will retcon The Last Jedi to the relief of many. So we may learn that Rey is part of the Skywalker family, but who’s child is she? Luke and Leia with their affinity to the Force didn’t acknowledge her as a relative. But who knows with the new film?

Could it be Luke Skywalker coming back from the dead as an advanced Force ghost? He is very powerful in using the Force and would have the ability to do so as Yoda and Obi-Wan hinted in the past. Or is this person some other lost child (and no this does not mean that slave kid at the end of The Last Jedi) that we haven’t met yet? Doubtful. What if it’s Anakin coming back as a Force ghost to right the wrongs committed by Ren and the First Order? That could happen, but there hasn’t been any reports of Hayden Christiansen on the set of the film.

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker could be referring a cause, a movement instead of a person.

Star Wars: The Last Jedi made a big deal over how the Jedi were extinct and even Luke Skywalker wanted the order to wither away because of his failure over Kylo Ren’s rise. But as we know, at the end, Luke had a change of heart and proclaimed that he was not the last Jedi and it was up to Rey to carry the torch. She was shown to have taken the Jedi texts with her so she could learn from them, but she never passed the trials to become a Jedi.

It’s possible that like the Sith, the Jedi are indeed gone, never to return. But in a new and better order will take its place and it will be called Skywalker. Think of it as Buddhism or Christianity. The religions are based on the philosophies of two influential people, Buddha and Jesus Christ. It’s possible that an order called Skywalker will be more about keeping balance in the Force and will spread by the end of the film. Followers of the movement will be inspired by Luke and Rey’s actions as they carry out a crusade to wipe out the First Order and bring peace and justice throughout the galaxy.

This is just a thought, a mere speculation, but keep it in mind when going to see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker later this year and by watching the teaser trailer below.

 

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Top 10 Twilight Zone Episodes From The 1980s

The Twilight Zone has been in the public eye lately with the new version streaming on CBS All Access and the fact that this year marks the 60th anniversary of the original TV show. As many focus on Rod Serling’s masterpiece or Jordan Peele’s new take on the sci-fi, fantasy, horror anthology series, the first Twilight Zone revival from the 1980s often gets overlooked. That is a shame because in its own right The Twilight Zone from the 1980s was high caliber.

Many episodes were well done and ranged in quality from solid to so outstanding that it would be easy to imagine Rod Serling himself approving of the episodes to be included with his version. Respected and revered talents such as Wes Craven, William Friedkin, Joe Dante, Harlan Ellison, George R.R. Martin and J. Michael Straczynski worked behind the scenes to bring forth thought provoking or imaginative episodes that challenged viewers.

What made this revival stand out is that the showrunners allowed the stories to run as long as they should. Several stories only lasted about ten minutes and were the better for it. The most important thing in this version, like the original, is that the story was the most important element with fascinating morality plays, twist endings and allegories.

While respecting the original by mostly adhering to its high standards in terms of storytelling, not every episode was memorable, especially in its third and final season. Nonetheless, The Twilight Zone from the 1980s deserves a close examination since so many episodes are worthy of the Twilight Zone name.

Submitted for your approval are the top 10 Twilight Zone episodes from the 1980s:

10. “The Cold Equations”

A space pilot (Terence Knox) delivering critical medical supplies in his small spaceship discovers a stowaway (Christianne Hirt) which upsets the ship’s fuel ratio and endangers the mission. This adaptation of Tom Godwin’s short story effectively conveys a message about human emotion vs the cold, hard physics of space travel.

9. “Many, Many Monkeys”

This episode was originally written for the original show back in 1964 but was never used. In it a blindness epidemic sweeps the world and a nurse (Karen Valentine) struggles to treat her suddenly blind patients. It doesn’t take long to find out that their condition is related to their callous and selfish demeanor.

8. “Shelter Skelter”

Joe Mantegna plays a paranoid survivalist whose nightmare comes true. An apparent nuclear attack strands him in his fallout shelter as he prepares to deal with the outside world that will never intrude his home. This was a great look into a paranoid mind of the survivalist as he descends into madness and the ending was a true and ironic twist.

7. “The Last Defender of Camelot”

George R.R. Martin wrote this imaginative episode that adapts Roger Zelazny’s short story about Sir Lancelot (Richard Kiley) who is still alive but elderly in modern times. He reunites with Merlin (Norman Lloyd) and Morgan Le Fay (Jenny Agutter). Lancelot is soon caught up in a power struggle between the two as Merlin reveals his plans to take over the world for the betterment of humankind and Lancelot has to stop him.

6. “Cold Reading”

Several radio actors in the 1930s perform a live radio play and quickly learn to their horror that their script actually comes to life when spoken. For instance, when someone mentions that it’s raining in the story, the studio is quenched in an indoor rainstorm. Quite humorous and inventive, it’s fun to watch the actors and writers hastily rewriting the script in order to prevent dangerous things from appearing. The episode’s ending is very cute.

5. “I of Newton”

Perhaps the funniest and coolest Twilight Zone episode is also one of its shortest. Sherman Hemsley is a frustrated math professor who offhandedly wishes to sell his soul to solve a math problem. Enter a demon (played with fiendish aplomb by Ron Glass), who shows up to collect. The professor then desperately tries to talk his way out of the unwanted bargain. The lines and their delivery, particularly from Glass, were sparkling and full of vigor. When watching “I of Newton” take time to check out the demon’s always-changing t-shirts (ex: “Hell is a city much like Newark”)!

4. “A Small Talent for War”

It can be said that this short episode is a worthy companion to the classic “To Serve Man” from the original Twilight Zone. Giant aliens arrive on Earth and announce that they seeded humanity eons ago. They also intend to wipe out the human race because of its “small talent for war”. The UN Security Council then frantically tries to negotiate world peace to demonstrate to the aliens that humanity is worth sparing. What happens next is one of the most ironic endings in Twilight Zone history.

3, “The Toys of Caliban”

A rather touching and wrenching story co-written by George R.R. Martin about a young mentally challenged man (David Greenlee) with unusual powers. He is capable of conjuring to life whatever he sees or imagines, which could be disastrous. This forces his parents (Richard Mulligan and Anne Haney) to keep him sheltered to avoid unfortunate incidents. This only works for so long as exposure to the outside world disrupts their lives and forces the father to take extreme steps to ensure the safety of the world.

2. “Profile in Silver”

The tired time travel trope of someone trying to change history is given a jolt with this unexpectedly inventive episode. Lane Smith is a professor from the 22nd century who time travels to Dallas in 1963 to witness the assassination of his ancestor John F. Kennedy (Andrew Robinson). He decides to stop the incident and unlike other time travel stories, he succeeds and the result is unsettling. Soon the world is on the brink of World War III and the professor has to find a way to undo his actions. The ending is not only genuinely surprising but very stirring and a statement about the nobility of humankind.

1. “To See the Invisible Man”

The Twilight Zone is famed for presenting allegorical yarns, morality plays and statements about our society. This episode is a perfect example. Like in the original Twilight Zone, this story takes place in an imaginary society where Mitchell Chaplin (Cotter Smith) is punished for his unfriendly behavior. He is sentenced to a year of invisibility and has a mark placed on his forehead. At that point, he is ignored by everyone around him, which he finds liberating. Over time, Chaplin comes to disdain his nonexistence and yearns for human interaction. “To See the Invisible Man” represents the very best of The Twilight Zone as it examines the morality of the punishment and an astute character study. It also is a damning look at a society that imposes certain behaviors which deny free will. With so much to offer this is the best episode of The Twilight Zone from the 1980s.

Honorable Mentions:

“Act Break”, “The Elevator”, “Examination Day”, “Gramma”,  “Her Pilgrim Soul”,  “A  Matter of Minutes”, “Need to Know”,  “Nightcrawlers”, “The Once and Future King”, “Paladin of the Lost Hour”, “The Star”, “Still Life”, “Wordplay”

Have any of you seen this version of The Twilight Zone? What are your thoughts on the show and the episodes on this list? Take a moment to leave your comments below.

José Soto

 

The Matrix: Still Around Us 20 Years Later

matrix poster

Twenty years ago, when I worked at Starlog, I was invited to a screening for a film few people had heard of, myself included. There was very little known about The Matrix prior to its release, just that it starred Keanu Reeves. The only clue I had was that early in 1999 I picked up a mini-mouse pad at a horror convention in New York. Its image was of Reeves’ Neo emerging from his Matrix chamber. To me it looked like some kind of horror movie that was possibly about cloning.

When I went to the screening, the producers and possibly the Warchowskis (I cannot remember anymore) were there and introduced us to The Matrix. The film was 99% complete with a couple of F/X shots missing. One of the producers set up the film and said it was their way of doing superhero films in a more plausible way and they hoped The Matrix would do well so they could do more films later. With that, the lights dimmed, and the film began.

Midway through the film, most of us attending instantly knew we were seeing something unique and groundbreaking when we saw The Matrix. Stating that the cyberpunk actioner was truly a revolutionary sci-fi masterpiece is not an understatement. About six weeks or so later, on March 31, the rest of the world beheld this revolutionary masterpiece.

There are so many, too many to list, reasons why this sci-fi film changed the cinematic landscape, but let’s try.

The Core of the Matrix

How about starting with the fact that this was the first cyberpunk film to strike a resonant chord with the general public. Yes, there were earlier cyberpunk films before The Matrix with similar themes, but this film was the one that hit the public zeitgeist. Every similar film that was released afterwards was inevitably compared to The Matrix, even its sequels.

The next and most obvious reason could be seen with its visual effects. CG had become a standard by 1999 but The Matrix used it in distinct ways to subvert the reality of its world. People defied the laws of gravity and physics, which was most famously witnessed in the iconic moment when the main character Neo (Keanu Reeves, who took the role after Will Smith turned it down) dodges bullet fire in sequenced dubbed bullet time. We witnessed his POV where time slowed down, but the cameras didn’t and we could see the trajectory of the bullets, which left vortexes. This pulse-pounding moment during the climatic third act was built up from the opening moments of The Matrix when we first see Trinity (Carrie-Anne Moss) jump up and hang suspended in the air (a moment that was copied and parodied many times since), then run on the walls with ease like she was Spider-Woman.

The Matrix also boasts some of the most exciting fight scenes ever seen on film. In many of them, fighters spar by defying gravity, moving at superhuman speed and precision. The fight choreography was nearly flawless and framed expertly. The filmmakers were inspired by Asian martial arts films and the technique of Wire Fu, where performers carried out impossible physical feats thanks to wires.  It goes without saying that some fights are still considered the best ever shot on film. The standout has to be the climactic battle between Neo and Agent Smith (Hugo Weaving) as they fight throughout the city and subway. On a side note, Weaving should be lauded for his intimidating presence in the film as Smith, who was methodical, precise and ruthless. We could feel his disdain for humanity and growing frustration when dealing with Neo and his colleagues.

However, these dazzling effects and action set pieces wouldn’t mean anything without the story, subtexts and themes that formed the core of The Matrix. The film is stuffed with references and allegories to various religions, such as Christianity and Buddhism, philosophical thought such as nihilism and existentialism, and finally literary works like The Wizard of Oz and Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. It explored the concept of reality and how we perceive it, as well as the concept of free will vs fate. Tied to the last theme is Neo himself, as he struggles with the notion that he is the actualization of a prophesy that he will free humanity.

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The Challenge of Alita: Battle Angel

As people flock to theaters to see Captain Marvel and rave or criticize the film, there is another woman-centric sci-fi film that has caught the admiration of many others. But that film is not pulling in the box office dollars of the MCU film. That is not an indication of its quality, however. In fact, many who have seen Alita: Battle Angel have come away convinced it is the better film that deserved a better fate.

Right now, even though the Robert Rodriguez film has been out for over a month, it is too soon to declare Alita: Battle Angel a box office disappointment. To date it has grossed nearly $400 million dollars. Sure that is peanuts to what other films have pulled in, but it is not that bad. The film’s supposed budget was $170 million, so technically it made its money back and has a tiny profit. So, is that enough to get a sequel?

Fans of the cult film (and that is what Alita: Battle Angel is at this point, though it is worthy of that honor) are clamoring for a sequel, especially given how the film sets up future films. The problem is that the amount of money it has earned probably won’t be enough for a sequel to be greenlit. There is also the fact, that as of two days from now, 20th Century Fox, the film studio that released Alita: Battle Angel, will belong to Disney. Who knows if the House of the Mouse will be interested in pursuing a followup film. They have other properties that will generate more money for them.

Then again, we have seen cult favorites build enough of a following to convince studios to take another crack at the property. One recent example is Pacific Rim. That film was released in 2013 and was not a hit film, but it quickly developed a fan base, not unlike Alita. As the film did well in home media, it picked up more fans and demands for a sequel increased. Last year, a sequel was finally released, Pacific Rim: Uprising. Although the film was way inferior to the first Pacific Rim, it did demonstrate that we can always hold out hope for followups to non-hit films. This has happened with John Wick, The Boondock Saints, and others.

Bear in mind that this is not a guarantee. Films like Serenity and Dredd had devoted fans that tried to push awareness of the films so that sequels could be made, but they never came to be. Plus, while it is important to see the James Cameron-produced film in theaters now, it is equally, if not more important to buy the film when it is available in home media. That would demonstrate the lasting appeal of the cyberpunk action film, which is surprisingly faithful in spirit to the manga that inspired it. That would be a critical challenge for Alita: Battle Angel. The fan base has to be persistent and vocal. Then there is the matter of getting James Cameron, Robert Rodriguez, Rosa Salazar, and others to return to the stunning futuristic world that they created. Another issue is that if a sequel is commissioned will it get the same care and budget of the original? An easier way to convince execs to finance a sequel is if its budget can be controlled. That might mean that Alita’s next adventure might have to take place in the floating city of Zalem, which would look eerily like modern-day society. It might work given the decrepit state of the world below shown in Alita. In that case can it be as faithful to the manga as the original?

This is all speculation at this point. Go see the film if it is still playing. Despite its narrative flaws Alita: Battle Angel is a stunning cinematic experience that better captures a hero’s journey much better than the other superhero film out now in theaters.

Captain Marvel Is A Solid MCU Entry

Captain Marvel is here at last, satisfying our desire for new content from the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU), being that it’s been several months since we had anything from the famed MCU. At the same time, the latest offering from the Marvel Cinematic Universe sets us up for next month’s Avengers: Endgame.

As many know, Captain Marvel, based on the Marvel Comics character, has been mired in controversy lately thanks to Internet trolls and people with their own agendas. It’s a shame really, because all this noise is distracting from the film itself. It’s bad enough that so much is expected from an MCU film these days that unless the film is an absolute epic, it is bound to disappoint. With all this going on it may be difficult to judge Captain Marvel on its own merit.

Looking at the film objectively, it does have its faults but it’s not a disaster at all. In fact, on the whole, Captain Marvel is a solid entry to the MCU and has so much to enjoy. Part sci-fi space adventure, part fish-out-of-water story, part mystery and part buddy cop yarn, the film bridges the cosmic part of the MCU with the Earth-based part. It introduces us to Vers (Brie Larson), who lives on the Kree homeplanet Hala and is part of the Starforce, dedicated to peacekeeping throughout the Kree Empire. She and her squad routinely hunt the Kree’s mortal enemies, the shape-shifting Skrulls. Early in the film, Vers crash lands on Earth in 1995 and meets S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson sporting some amazing deaging CG). The two team up to find out why the Skrulls are infiltrating Earth until she is recovered by Starforce. Along the way, she has flashbacks that reveal she is actually Carol Danvers, a human test pilot and this revelation has her questioning her allegiance to the Kree.

Captain Marvel is an enjoyable film with some interesting twists and character moments. Some plot developments can be seen light years away but they’re well executed and the film is highlighted by the cast who are quite good, especially Jackson, who portrays a less jaded version of Nick Fury, and Ben Mendelsohn as Talos, the main Skrull in the film. Talos is an unexpectedly complex character and Mendelsohn’s acting is exceptionally good here as he is able to emote so effortlessly through the heavy Skrull makeup.

As for Brie Larson, her performance is rather stoic and comes off as a largely unemotional hero and not very interesting despite her personal dilemma. Larson is OK as Danvers/Captain Marvel. but one has to wonder if anyone else could have done the role better. This could be a problem because she is supposed to be a major player from here on out. But there is room for growth and Larson is a talented actor. She does have some good banter and chemistry with Jackson, but Jackson is the more charismatic of the two. Larson’s performance is just part of the problem the film has. It’s slickly made and has many fun moments, but the direction is bland at times and some pivotal scenes are poorly lit, which detracts from their impact. Marvel Studios has a penchant for hiring largely inexperienced, but talented directors and this usually works. In this situation, perhaps the film studio should have gone with someone other than Ann Boden and Ryan Fleck. The two don’t seem to have distinctive voices like James Gunn or Taika Waititi.

The film is not bad by all means, its merits easily outweigh its problems. It’s quite awesome with dazzling special effects, a great ’90s soundtrack,and hits most of its marks. Plus, the mystery behind Danvers’ identity and what happened to her are done well. Despite what some trolls are proclaiming it doesn’t have some kind of feminist agenda. It’s a straight up superhero adventure. Also, Captain Marvel is an important entry of the MCU because it explains how many aspects of the Marvel Cinematic Universe came to being. Plus, its post-credits scene is vital to Avengers: Endgame. On the whole, Captain Marvel is a respectable, flashy high-middle tier entry of the MCU that adds new wrinkles to the ever-growing film universe.