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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Star Wars: The Force Awakens Revives The Star Wars Saga

episode 7 poster

After a decade-long sabbatical the Star Wars saga returns to theaters with Star Wars: The Force Awakens or more accurately Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. Fans will rejoice as if they are seeing an old friend who was away for too long. The film is a direct continuation of the original Star Wars films being that it takes place years after Return of the Jedi. While it is a sequel to the original trilogy and pays tribute to those classics, Star Wars: The Force Awakens marks a new path for new fans as it introduces new players to the universe that George Lucas created nearly forty years ago.

Alright, many of you reading this are asking the nagging question: How does it compare to the other films? More importantly, is it any good?

On the whole, yes, this is a fun film that is worthy of the Star Wars title. But there is something lacking in the film. Perhaps it needs George Lucas’ direct touch. His influence is felt in the film, but it doesn’t feel like a George Lucas Star Wars film. There isn’t any way it could top the first two Star Wars films, but it’s a better made film than Return of the Jedi. As to the prequels, it’s better than the first couple of prequels, but Episode III was a better made film. The reason probably has to be that it doesn’t gel quite as smoothly with the other films. Being that it lacks Lucas’ input it feels apart from the traditional Star Wars film, but it does try its best. Thanks for that is due to director J.J. Abrams.

As a major Star Wars fan, J.J. Abrams pays proper homage to the original films and sets the saga’s course in a new trajectory with eye-popping special effects, detailed sets and thrilling sequences. It should be mentioned that although the film uses practical effects, there are times in the second half that its usage of CG sets is quite obvious, which is distracting.

old han and chewy

What truly helps the film are the new characters and the actors playing them. They are intriguing, well acted, full of fire and it’s easy to see that the actors are thrilled to be playing in the Star Wars universe. Even actors who returned to their old roles shine in the film, particularly Harrison Ford as the iconic space pirate Han Solo. Unlike Return of the Jedi where he seemed bored, here Ford plays Han as if he’s glad to put on an old pair of comfortable shoes. Han still has spunk and verve and he is one of the greatest highlights.

rey and finnAs for the new characters, Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) pop out and instantly become worthy Star Wars characters. Clearly, Abrams outdid Lucas when it came to casting when comparing this film to the prequels (Ewan McGregor aside). The only weak character was regrettably the villain Kylo Ren (Adam Driver). The actor does what he can with the role, but as a bad guy Kylo just can’t compare to Darth Vader or even many of the prequel villains. He lacks the gravitas, the poise, and even the power. Instead he’s too emotional, it’s as if young Anakin Skywalker has been outfitted with a Vader knockoff suit and told to let loose.

Kylo Ren

As mentioned earlier, it is difficult to pinpoint why this film, despite its merits, feels off. It probably has to do with its pacing and story. Characters come and go without explanation, sometimes they’re missed, sometimes not, which is a problem. There are times when Abrams is in too much of a hurry with the characters and just wants them to go from point A to point B without any nuance or proper buildup. Worst of all, the bare bones of the story strongly echo the very first Star Wars film. Some may call it an homage, but others will rightfully call it for what it is: lack of originality.

Spoilers: The film centers around the pursuit rey and bb8of a droid called BB-8. At the start of the film, Luke Skywalker has been missing for many years and the Republic and its Resistance force along with the First Order (the remnants of the old Empire) want to locate the last Jedi for opposing reasons. On the planet Jakku, BB-8 is given a map by his owner Poe, an ace X-wing pilot, before he’s captured by Kylo Ren. The map happens to details how to locate Luke. Rey, a lonely scavenger on Jakku, finds the droid and feels compelled to return BB-8 to its owner. The Resistance pilot is able to escape thanks to Finn, a stormtrooper who develops a heart and turns against the First Order. Finn is separated from Poe, but eventually meets Rey and the droid. With the droid a hot commodity, the three escape the planet on an old junk ship the Millennium Falcon with the aim of returning the droid to the Resistance. Pursuing them are Kylo Ren and the First Order, who have constructed a massive planet-killing weapon out of a planet. Along the way, the trio encounter ship’s previous owner, Han Solo and his first mate Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and at this point Rey and Finn become more embroiled in the galactic conflict as they play pivotal roles in it.

xwing fight

There are many questions the film leaves unanswered by the time the lights come back. However, the fact that the film builds up enough interest about the makeup of this universe is a good sign. Hopefully, the next episodes will satisfactorily answer the questions.

Thankfully, as the first of a trilogy, Star Wars: The Force Awakens isn’t an embarrassment like Episode I even though stalwart fans of the original films will have their complaints. Nevertheless, it’s great that Star Wars is back and this film offers enough thrills and joy for old and new fans.

José Soto

2016 Hallmark Sci-Fi Ornaments

2016 ornaments hallmark

As fans scour stores for popular Hallmark ornaments (the Groot and Star Wars: The Force Awakens ornaments are already hard to find), collectors are already salivating over the known (to date) Hallmark ornaments slated for 2016. The usual suspects are represented in next year’s offerings and there will be some surprises that will be noted in updates here throughout next year.

Star Wars

It’s not surprising that the mega-popularity of Star Wars has spilled over into the world of ornaments. Expect some to be made based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the announced ornaments based on the new film are for BB-8, Han Solo, and the T-70 X-wing fighter. There will be more ornaments but are unknown at this time. Other ornaments include a stormtrooper helmet, Darth Vader interrogating Princess Leia in the first Star Wars film, and finally, believe it or not a tree topper of the Death Star.

vader leia ornament new xwing

Star Trek

As the great sci-fi franchise celebrates its 50th anniversary next year, it’s a given that there will be tons of merchandising lauding that event. The same will go with Hallmark which will release a gold original Enterprise ornament, and another called “To Boldly Go…” will be a diorama featuring the famous trio together; Kirk, Spock and McCoy. Hallmark will also put out an ornament of the salt vampire seen in the very first Star Trek episode “The Man Trap” and one of Chekov. Finally the Itty Bitty plushie craze hits Star Trek with several Itty Bittys of the Star Trek characters will be released.

enterprise ornament 2016

Sci-Fi & Superheroes

The superhero ornaments to be released in 2016 will be highlighted with a diorama featuring Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman as seen in next year’s Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. No word yet on what the Marvel superhero ornaments will be about except for Spider-Man, of course, and most likely the characters featured in Captain America: Civil War. A Falcon ornament would be cool if they made one. Better yet a diorama featuring Cap and Iron Man going at it would be perfect.

UPDATE: More ornaments have been announced and they include the new Batmobile from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, Supergirl, Venom and Captain America and Iron Man from Captain America: Civil War. They look great!

superhero 2016 ornaments

Due to the success of the Daryl Dixon ornament, Rick Grimes will get his turn as the second ornament based on the hit TV show The Walking Dead will be released next year. To date there haven’t been many sci-fi/fantasy offerings  announced just two Harry Potter ornaments (Hedwig the owl, and Ollivanders ), He-Man, Grimlock the Dinobot, the Thunderbirds and the Alien Queen xenomorph which terrified audiences back in Aliens. It would make sense to do an ornament since 2016 is the 30th anniversary of that classic.

potter ornaments

Be sure to check back here with future updates when more ornaments are revealed.

Waldermann Rivera

 

D23 Expo Highlights: Star Wars, MCU, Theme Parks & More

launch bay

Disney had their own version of Comic-Con this past weekend with their D23 Expo held in Anaheim. As can be guessed, the convention was related to all things under the Disney umbrella and what’s coming up. The highlights from D23 Expo dealt with exciting theme park and genre film developments.

Star Wars

Many fans were disappointed that there wasn’t a new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, but were titillated with the reveal of a Drew Struzan movie poster for the film and an official cast photo for the first Star Wars Anthology film Star Wars: Rogue One. There was also confirmation that Colin Trevorrow, the director of the mammoth hit Jurassic World, will direct Star Wars Episode IX. But the juiciest revelations had to do with the expected and highly anticipated Star Wars Land to be built in Disneyland Park and Disney’s Hollywood Studios.

photo2

Ever since Disney bought Lucasfilm and all of its intellectual property from George Lucas a few years ago, fans have impatiently waited for some kind of expansion of Star Wars in the Disney parks beyond Star Tours. Yes, the famous simulator ride had been updated with new, random scenes recently, but aside from Jedi Training Academy and the popular Star Wars Weekends, it seemed as if Disney hadn’t really paid a lot of love to its newest IP acquisition. Meanwhile, its rival Universal Studios Orlando stunned and dazzled Harry Potter fans with its meticulously developed Harry Potter lands in their parks.

That all changed with the announcement. Finally, Disney will have a worthy answer to Harry Potter with an equally revered IP. The Star Wars Land (note: it wasn’t called that in the announcement) will be 14 acres, which will feature a cantina and an immersive Star Wars environment on a new planet similar to what Universal did with Diagon Alley and Hogswart. There will be two new E-ticket rides, one will allow visitors to pilot the Millennium Falcon (most likely some kind of simulator ride), while the other will be based on Star Wars: The Force Awakens. There will be another update to Star Tours that will include a destination from Star Wars: The Force Awakens, an updating of Jedi Training Academy, and an interactive experience called Star Wars Launch Bay. This attraction will be in pavilions in both parks that will feature meet and greets, exhibits and stores, of course. The only drawback to these ambitious plans is that when it came to the time table for all of this the only answer was “coming soon”. Just thinking out loud here, but Disney should take heed on how quickly Universal builds its new attractions. Some of us would like to have something open before this decade ends!

Marvel Cinematic Universe

strangeThe two items that are keeping fans salivating had to do with Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange. With the latter, Marvel Studios guru Kevin Feige introduced concept art (Doctor Strange begins filming later this fall) that featured a classic look for the sorcerer that includes his red cape and Eye of Agamotto. A trailer for Captain America: Civil War was unveiled, which, of course, no one that didn’t attend D23 Expo could see. There are tons of fake “leaked” trailers out now on YouTube and the smattering of legit ones are taken down too fast to bother linking to, but rest assured as soon as its released to the masses, you can see it here. Based on the descriptions, it sounds like an awesome film and it could be part of the reason why DC/Warner Bros. moved their own superhero civil war flick to another date.

Theme Park News

The other major announcement regarding the Disney theme parks was that Disney’s Hollywood Studios will build a Toy Story Land for the young and young at heart. At 11 acres, this land will have two new rides (a spinner ride and a family coaster), expand Toy Story Mania, which is probably the best news because the wait times for that attraction is beyond ridiculous (and frankly not worth the wait). No time frame was given as to when this will happen. But based on the other big construction needed for Star Wars Land, Disney might as well shut down Disney’s Hollywood Studios until all of this is finished. They may finish ahead of schedule that way, make fans even happier, who will more likely spend money sooner.

toy story land

Speaking of slow construction, the Avatar Land in Disney’s Animal Kingdom is still chugging along. At least with this expansion we have an actual opening date (2017). For anyone that doesn’t know, there will be two attractions based on Avatar, one is similar to the popular Soarin’ ride and will allow visitors to fly over the skies of Pandora, and the other attraction will be a boat ride.

iron man ride

Here’s some news that will rankle North American Marvel fans, Hong Kong Disneyland will have an Iron Man ride. Similar to Star Tours, the Iron Man Experience will feature the Golden Avenger facing off against the forces of Hydra in Hong Kong. Sounds great for anyone who has an updated passport and the money and time to burn. Look, we understand that there can’t be any Marvel rides in Walt Disney World, but couldn’t they have this slotted for Disneyland? That agreement between Disney and Universal only applies to rides east of the Mississippi.

Upcoming Films

Disney had presentations for its upcoming film slate and the announcements were fast and heavy. New animated films include Gigantic, Moana, Zootopia, live-action versions of Beauty and the Beast, Ghost in the Shell, and The Jungle Book, a remake of Pete’s Dragon, Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, and Alice Through The Looking Glass. Part of the presentation focused on Pixar, which showcased The Good Dinosaur and announcements for Cars 3, The Incredibles 2, Finding Dory, Coco (based on the Dia de los Muertos festival), and Toy Story 4. This fourth film in the franchise will be more of a love story and will be about Woody looking for his lost love Bo Peep. The Pixar stuff is exciting except for the third go around with Cars. But marketing types at Disney would disagree with that!

release schedule

All these announcements and presentations at D23 Expo confirm that Disney isn’t resting on its laurels. The next few years will be exciting times for fans, at least when it comes to films. The theme park components will pay off at a much later date.

 

Comic-Con 2015 Highlights

deadpool hikerAnother Comic-Con has made its impact with genre fans from all over the world. As exciting as it was for those lucky enough to attend the annual gathering at San Diego, there wasn’t any Earth-shattering news to come out of the convention. Nonetheless, many presentations and speakers were able to whet the appetites for fans at what lies ahead.

TV Shows

New trailers for The Walking Dead and Fear The Walking Dead made their debut and whetted the appetites for followers of the zombie phenomenon. While Rick Grimes (Andrew Lincoln) has leadership headaches in season six of The Walking Dead, we all finally get to see how the walker apocalypse got its start with the prequel spinoff.

While Marvel Studios was conspicuously absent this year, we did get news about their TV shows Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and Agent Carter. The most intriguing was the tease that one of the actual Avengers (and Maria Hill doesn’t count!) may appear in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. That being the Falcon (Anthony Mackie), which is terrific news since he is so popular.

As for their natural rival, DC, we found out that Jay Garrick will indeed be featured in The Flash and portrayed by Teddy Sears, plus Wally West is coming to the popular show as well as a new villain Zoom. Also, Hawkman himself will appear in the upcoming Legends of Tomorrow. Do we smell another spinoff coming?

Movies

The three big movie-related revelations at Comic-Con were about Fox’s Marvel movies, Star Wars: The Force Awakens and DC/Warner Brothers’ superhero films. The clear winner was DC who presented a teaser for the Suicide Squad, announced that there will be a Green Lantern Corps. film  and that Ben Affleck will direct and star in a Batman solo film, and showed a near-perfect trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. But let’s go over the first two revelations.

Fox presented teasers for next year’s Deadpool and X-Men: Apocalypse, as well as next month’s Fantastic Four. While the new X-Men presentation was fascinating, what brought the house down was the first look at Deadpool. The teaser featured many of the same scenes from the ashcan trailer that made the rounds in the Internet to sell the idea of a Deadpool film. But added to that were the basic origin stuff of how Slade Wilson became the Merc with a Mouth. Overall, the trailer clearly shows that this will be an R-rated film to the delight of fans.

Just as delightful to watch was the Star Wars: The Force Awakens panel that was highlighted by a reunion of the Original Trilogy stars, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher. A behind-the-scenes video was released that had new footage from the upcoming Star Wars film and one point that seems to be hammered into the video is the reliance on practical sets and effects so as to set it apart from the prequel films.

Arguably the most popular presentations where done by DC/Warner Bros. with their two comic book films due next year. The Suicide Squad trailer was fairly standard with Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie) winning over drooling fans as expected. The images were buttressed by Will Smith’s take of Deadshot, who added some gravitas to what looked like a costume parade. However, Jared Leto stole the entire trailer at the end when he showed up as the Joker. He seemed just as manic and deadly as he appeared in the photos.

What set the DC presentation apart was the winning trailer for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It showed that there will be real repercussions for the events in Man of Steel where Superman (Henry Cavill) and his foes effectively destroyed Metropolis. We find out that Bruce Wayne (Ben Affleck) was present in Metropolis during the climatic battle and witnessed firsthand the threat that meta-humans pose. His hatred for Superman seems natural and justified. Meanwhile, Superman has to contend with either being revered as some kind of god and feared and hated by others. All the protesters with the signs calling him an illegal alien is very topical. The final and winning touch to the trailer was the premiere of Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman. It didn’t show much but she looked beautiful and powerful. Thanks to the trailer Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice has become the must-see film of 2016.

Marvel Studios MIA

DC’s presentations sucked all the air out of the convention for the other properties, even the Fox Marvel movies. What could’ve countered this was if Marvel Studios had bothered to make a presentation at Comic-Con. Instead, they stayed home and it remains to be seen if a price will be paid for this absence.

They had their reasons for staying out of Comic-Con, Ant-Man will be out in a few days and their other films may not be ready yet. Then there’s the fact that there may be presentations at next month’s D23 Expo, which will solely be about all things Disney. batman armorOr perhaps Marvel Studios will have another special presentation like they did last fall where they announced the full slate of the Phase Three MCU films. Except this time we’ll get actual footage from Captain America: Civil War and Doctor Strange.

Be that as it may, it is still probably a strategic mistake to take the year off Comic-Con. While the MCU films are riding a wave of popularity now, this year’s convention showed that genuine competition is coming and Marvel Studios needs to stay alert. Some cracks in the armor showed with Avengers: Age of Ultron and Ant-Man’s potential for success is unknown. If they didn’t want to show any footage, they could’ve at least shown some props or artwork from the upcoming films. Instead we got to see cool props from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice like the Batman armor. Score one for DC. 🙂

Lewis T. Grove