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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Top 10 Most Anticipated Films Of 2020

As we settle into the new year it’s that time to look ahead for what films await us in 2020. A quick look will show that the superheroes will be taking a breather on the big screen along with some of the more notable franchises. Still, there are plenty of promising offerings for this year. As before keep in mind that not all of the films will actually be released in 2020 or on the dates listed below, and some of them will turn out to be disappointments, while something that may not even make it into the other mention list will turn out to be tomorrow’s classic.

10. Black Widow (May 1):

Finally! Black Widow gets her own overdue solo film, but is it too late? The first film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s (MC) Phase Four offers the MCU take on spy thrillers that is obviously a flashback/prequel film (no spoilers for anyone who has not seen Avengers: Endgame).

Tomorrow war

9. The Tomorrow War (December 25):

Chris Pratt stars as a soldier in a future war against aliens. The catch is that humanity is forced to recruit soldiers from the past to win the war. If this is anything like the classic Edge of Tomorrow then genre fans are in for treat.

8. Antebellum (April 24):

Very little is known about this horror thriller from the producers of Get Out and Us. It has something to do with a writer trapped in between our reality and one during the period before the Civil War. But their credentials and the disturbing and mysterious imagery shown in the trailer make this film a must see.

7. Free Guy (July 3):

Think of this film as a live-action Wreck-It Ralph, sort of. Ryan Reynolds stars as a Non-Playable Character (NPC) in a Fortnite-like video game who evolves beyond his programming. Now aware of his limited existence, the NPC decides to take a more proactive role in his virtual world and become the hero.

6. Wonder Woman 1984 (June 5):

Gal Gadot returns as the titular Amazonian warrior in this sequel that takes place in the 1980s. The more modern setting juxtaposed with Wonder Woman’s heroics are refreshingly different from Wonder Woman’s grim World War I backdrop. Another plus is that the previous film’s humor and kinetic superheroic action will continue in this sequel.

5. BIOS (October 2):

Tom Hanks stars as a dying scientist and the last person on Earth who builds a robot companion for his dog and the trio embark on a journey where the robot has to learn to be more “human”. Game of Thrones director Miguel Sapochnik helms this sci-fi film which combines the retrospective nature of Hanks’ classic Cast Away with high adventure.

4. Godzilla vs. Kong (November 20):

The epic showdown between two of the biggest and most famous kaijus takes place in the fourth Monsterverse film. Many have complained about the previous film’s (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) poorly defined characters and plot, but many others cheered the jaw-dropping visual treats of giant monsters battling to the death. Hopefully, the latest Monsterverse film will deliver more of this to fans.

3. A Quiet Place, Part II (March 20):

The first film about a family surviving in a world overrun by lethal aliens was a chilling and tense surprise thanks to John Krasinski’s (who also starred) masterful direction. A Quiet Place, Part II continues the journey of the family from the first film as they venture beyond their home to the outside world and learn they don’t only have the aliens to worry about.

2. Dune (December 18):

Acclaimed director Denis Villeneuve, having won accolades for his work on Arrival and Blade Runner 2049, gives us his take on the most revered sci-fi novel of all time. This version of Dune promises to be more faithful to the source novel than the David Lynch film from the 1980s. Already boasting an impressive cast, expect Dune to be lavishly presented with exceptional production values and effects. Also note that this version of Dune will only cover the first half of the novel, which is about a young messianic figure’s trials on a desert world in the far future, whose actions will reshape the universe.

1. Tenet (July 17):

Director Christopher Nolan’s newest film is clouded in secrecy but appears to be a high-octane spy thriller about preventing World War III. Tenet stands out from say another James Bond or Jason Bourne thriller by being laced with disorienting and not-so-subtle twists in the vein of Inception.

In fact, some are already speculating Tenet could be a sequel or spinoff to Inception only this time the emphasis is on time. Even without the off-key imagery of time flowing backwards in several spots, Tenet looks like another provocative, mind-bending action-packed fest from the auteur.

Other Upcoming Films:

 Bill and Ted Face the Music (August 21): The Wild Stallyns are back in another goofy time travel adventure; Bloodshot (March 13): Vin Diesel stars in the first live-action Valiant superhero film about a mercenary with nanite blood; Eternals (November 6): The other MCU film coming out this year will showcase the history of the MCU spanning millennium and characters; Ghostbusters: Afterlife (July 10): A new take on Ghostbusters which hopes to recapture the nostalgia for the original films; The Invisible Man (February 28): Elizabeth Moss portrays a woman haunted by her supposedly dead abusive lover who is actually alive and invisible;

Malignant (August 14): Writer and director James Wan adapts his graphic novel about a man with an alien tumor that gives him superpowers;  Morbius (July 31): Sony brings to life another Spider-Man villain turned anti-hero; The New Mutants (April 3): Just when we thought the final Fox X-Men film was dead and buried, we find out it will actually be released; Onward (March 6): The first Pixar film of the decade features two elves who are brothers that set out on a trip to revive their dead father; Raya and the Last Dragon (November 25): In this Disney animated film, a warrior searches for the last dragon; Samaritan (December 11): Sylvester Stallone stars as a long-lost superhero;  Sonic the Hedgehog (February 14); Internet rage changed the look of the popular video game character, now it’s up in the air if the film will actually be good;  Soul (June 19): The second Pixar animated release features a new soul who discovers the afterlife; Venom 2 (October 2): Tom Hardy returns in the sequel to the surprise superhero hit about the anti-heroic alien symbiote; Underwater (January 10): Scientists are trapped on the ocean floor and are preyed upon by mysterious creatures; The Witches (October 9): Robert Zemeckis directs this adaptation of the Roald Dahl fantasy book; After Yang (TBD); A father and his daughter try to save her robotic nanny; Stowaway (TBD): This variation of “The Cold Equations” takes place on a journey to Mars;  Voyagers (TBD): Reportedly this film is marketed as Lord of the Flies in space.

 

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

The 10 Most Anticipated Upcoming Streaming TV Shows

The streaming wars is at a fever pitch with the unveiling of Disney+, Apple TV+, and of course, the current TV streaming king Netflix going full out with its offerings. A great benefit for us fans are the plethora of genre shows that various streaming services are producing. The most talked about sci-fi streaming show is The Mandalorian, the first live-action Star Wars show, but there are other upcoming shows that could rival The Mandalorian’s buzz and production values. Here are the most anticipated shows. Keep in mind this list will only cover upcoming original programs. So no revivals like The Orville or The Expanse. With that out of the way, let’s get started…

10. Dune: The Sisterhood (HBO Max):

A companion piece and prequel to next year’s Dune, this series will focus on the Bene Gesserit. Dune director Denis Villeneuve will direct the pilot and executive produce it along with Frank Herbert’s son Brian.

9. Foundation (Apple TV+):

Isaac Asimov’s classic science fiction saga about attempts from exiles in the far future to preserve their galactic civilization will finally be adapted into live-action. Rivaled only by Dune, Foundation might be a big draw to the streaming service with fans if adapted correctly.

8. Raised By Wolves (HBO Max):

 

The premise alone is reason enough to pique anyone’s interest. Two androids carefully raise human children on a mysterious world and have to deal with belief systems and other hardships. Ridley Scott is one of the show’s executive producers.

7. Avatar: The Last Airbender (Netflix):

Due to be released in 2020, this live-action adaptation of the revered Nickelodeon animated fantasy series looks to avoid the controversy and failure of the 2010 live-action film. Unlike that film, this series won’t whitewash the characters and will be executive produced by the creators of the original show.

6. Green Lantern (HBO Max):

Greg Berlanti is noted for his numerous DC superhero TV shows on the CW and for his harder-edged Titans on the DC Universe streaming service. He will spearhead this attempt to reintroduce the ring-wielding superhero to general audiences and hopefully make everyone forget the 2011 film that starred Ryan Reynolds. Thankfully for him and us, he is busy with Deadpool these days, which is a role that fits him well.

5. The Lord of the Rings prequel (Amazon Prime):

Amazon secured the elusive rights to produce this prequel series which takes place before The Fellowship of the Ring. It’s already noted for being the most expensive TV series ever produced with an estimated cost of over $1 billion. Surely, the budget will make the prequel look like a big-screen epic that will dwarf the competition. But will it be as popular as Game of Thrones? Or match it in quality (complaints about the last season aside)?

4. Battlestar Galactica (Peacock):

This will be yet another reboot of the popular space epic about humanity fleeing their ravaged civilization on a desperate quest to find planet Earth. Some may be disappointed this version of Battlestar Galactica won’t be a direct continuation of the lauded Syfy version from the last decade, but there is the promise it may offer a unique take of the star-spanning story and create a new generation of fans that will revere it as much as the original and the first reboot.

3. Obi-Wan Kenobi (Disney+):

Ewan McGregor will reprise the role he made his own in a Star Wars solo series. Many have clamored for years for more of McGregor’s Obi-Wan Kenobi, the noble Jedi Knight that survived the Clone Wars and watched over Luke Skywalker while he was in exile. Originally planned as a feature film, the project has morphed into a TV show on the Disney streaming service. This is the best of both worlds because as we can see with The Mandalorian, the Star Wars show will feature film-quality production, acting and effects and be able to tell fleshed out stories about Kenobi that will hopefully explore the character and his life.

2. The Marvel Cinematic Universe shows (Disney+):

If the announced TV shows featuring established heroes and villains from the proper Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) were to be listed individually, there wouldn’t be room for anything else! Unlike past Marvel TV productions, the upcoming shows are produced by Marvel Studios and will star the actors from the MCU films. Also it has been promised that these shows will tie-in closely with the MCU. There are many announced TV shows which range from an animated version of What IF? to direct continuations of situations from the films like The Falcon and the Winter Soldier to new IP like Ms. Marvel and She-Hulk. The ranking of the most anticipated shows goes like this: The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, What If?, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, WandaVision, Loki, Hawkeye and Ms. Marvel. They all sound promising and any true MCU cannot wait until next year when the first one (The Falcon and the Winter Soldier) premieres on Disney+

1. Star Trek: Picard (CBS All Access):

The recent Star Trek TV revivals spearheaded by CBS All Access got a much-needed boost with the announcement that Star Trek legend, Patrick Stewart, would reprise his iconic role of Jean-Luc Picard. From what we’ve seen of the trailers, the upcoming Star Trek show looks like a winner. What makes Star Trek: Picard so anticipated is that not only does the show brings back Picard, but assorted characters from the ’90s Star Trek shows and its a direct continuation of the original Star Trek timeline. This makes it clear the show is not a reboot and it gives fans what has been wanted for some time now: A Star Trek show that takes place in the future of the ’90s TV shows.

Other Shows:

Always (Netflix), Cassian Andor (Disney+), Amazing Stories (Apple TV+), Brave New World (Peacock), Lysey’s Story (Apple TV+), Cowboy Bebop (Netflix), DC’s Strange Adventures (HBO Max), Marvel’s Helstrom (Hulu), Station Eleven (HBO Max), The Witcher (Netflix)

Spidey’s Back At The MCU! (For Now)

 

Ok everyone, take a deep breath, the nightmare is over. Spider-Man will remain at the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) for at least two more films.

After weeks of anguish (let’s admit this is solely a First World problem!) we can all rest easy because Sony Pictures and Disney/Marvel Studios were able to reach an agreement over Marvel Entertainment’s most popular superhero. As we know this all started weeks ago this past summer when after the MCU-set film Spider-Man: Far From Home killed it at the box office, it was reported in the trades that Spider-Man, whose film rights lie with Sony, would no longer be in the MCU. This news exploded the Internet and outraged fans who blamed both Sony and Disney for being so greedy at the expense of fans. There were many reasons why negotiations fell apart back then and frankly both sides were at fault. But despite Sony’s announced plans for the Wall-crawler in their own start-up cinematic universe, many swore to boycott Sony films and even Disney suffered a black eye in the midst of their announcements for their upcoming MCU films.

What was worse was that Spider-Man: Far From Home ended in a cliffhanger where Spider-Man’s secret identity was revealed to the world while he was framed for murder. This led to questions over how this would be resolved in an MCU-film, if at all. That in turn led to anxiety over who would be calling the shots in a Spider-Man film now that Marvel Studios head Kevin Feige would not be around to oversee future Spider-Man films.

As time went on, people clung on to desperate rumors about last-minute deals and of Sony being purchased. All of this did not amount to anything, until today when both studios jointly announced that they reached a new agreement where Disney will earn 25% of the next film’s earnings instead of the current 5%.

Spider-Man will conclude his trilogy in an MCU film coming out on July 16, 2021 that will resolve the cliffhanger. Hopefully this film will feature the long-overdue debut of Kraven the Hunter, who would make sense as a villain given his namesake and Spider-Man’s fugitive status. Spidey will also appear in one other MCU film, which presumably will be his final MCU appearance. The question is which film? Captain Marvel 2? Maybe he will be in the rumored Young Avengers film. Or he can help introduce the Fantastic Four because of his close ties in the comic books to the superhero team. This would be a perfect way to show, at least once, the rivalry between him and the Human Torch, which was the highlight of their joint appearances in the comics.

At the same time, it is inferred that the superhero will be featured in Sony’s upcoming films like Venom 2 or any of the Spider-Man spinoff films they have planned. It was not clear either if actor Tom Holland would play the Wall-crawler in the Sony films, although it would not be the end of the world if the character was recast while Holland played Spidey in the MCU. It worked for DC when two different actors played the Flash at the same time on film and TV. Now, as to how good those films will be and how they will affect Spidey’s popularity is anyone’s guess, but Sony’ has a very mixed track record with their Spider-Man films.

For all we know, the agreement could very well be a stop-gap measure until a newer deal can be ironed out when the time comes. Perhaps, Sony might really be sold down the line, which would mean Disney gets the film rights to Spider-Man for free (and no Disney will not spend $10 billion dollars, as was recently rumored, for the character. After their Fox acquisition and setting up Disney+, the company is not going to spend that much money for just one character). Or Sony and Disney will be able to extend Spidey’s appearances in the MCU. But even if this does not happen and we are left with just two more Spider-Man appearances in the MCU, at least the new agreement gives fans a sense of closure and will prepare us for Spidey’s eventual departure.