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 Ten Films and TV Shows of 2019

2019 proved to be a smorgasbord of genre offerings on film and TV as have been most of the years in this concluding decade. Many of the films and TV shows on this list have been widely acclaimed, one of the films became the highest grossing film of all time, another looks to be revered at the Academy Awards, while a couple of the TV shows have caught the public zeitgeist. Here are the best films and TV shows of 2019. Of course, this list is purely subjective, so apologies to anyone wondering why Cats did not make the list. 😀

Onward to 2020 and the rest of the coming decade!

Films

Mcbride at space elevator

10. Ad Astra

This space drama starring Brad Pitt as an astronaut searching for his father was quietly involving as it took audiences into a tour through the solar system. For the most part, it was a grounded and breathtaking look at space travel in the near future. It stumbles in the third act, but what came before was quite memorable.

9. How to Train Your Dragon: The Hidden World

Visually arresting while staying focused on its emotional core and story, the third and final How to Train Your Dragon film capped off a wonderful trilogy. Thanks to this film, the trilogy achieved the difficult distinction of being part of a trilogy where all the films in it were great.

8. Alita: Battle Angel

The stylish live-action adaptation of the classic manga became a cult classic for good reason. Stunning visuals and a brilliant mo-cap performance by Rosa Salazar as Alita were the best highlights in this action-packed, cyberpunk epic.

7. Shazam!

In a crowded superhero film landscape, Shazam! managed to be something unique and stood out in the field. Shazam! was witty, genuinely heartfelt and refreshing that worked as a quirky family drama, coming-of-age romp and a fun superhero film that helped to reinvigorate the struggling DCEU.

6. Toy Story 4

The fourth and final Toy Story film was just as funny, whimsical and poignant as the previous films. It introduced charming and hysterical new characters while touching our hearts as our favorite toys moved on with their lives.

5. Godzilla: King of the Monsters

Big, loud, and explosive like its marque monsters, Godzilla: King of the Monsters was ravaged by critics but enjoyed by the rest. No doubt, the plot, logic and characters were muddled and not essential, but who cared? This was supposed to be a big-budget kaiju throwdown and it delivered that with its jaw dropping effects and sequences of monsters stomping on cities and each other.

4. Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

The last (until 2022) of the Star Wars films was a rousing, loud and messy conclusion to the nine-film Skywalker Saga. Director J.J. Abrams had the unenviable task of tying up the Star Wars films, while undoing much of what occurred in the previous Star Wars Saga film. The results were not pretty, but his efforts worked with this fast-paced space fantasy that was flawed but satisfying as it celebrated all that was great about Star Wars.

black and red spidey

3. Spider-Man: Far From Home

The final film in Phase Three of the MCU successfully entertained audiences with the breezy misadventures of everyone’s favorite teenage superhero. The second Spider-Man solo film set in the MCU continued to showcase his angst and mishaps as he went on a European school trip. Aside from the laughs at Spidey’s expense, Spider-Man: Far From Home showcased his emotional growth and maturity as he faced adulthood and the aftermath of the events of Avengers: Endgame. The mid-credits scene was a genuine stunner that left us itching for the next film, which will thankfully happen.

2. Joker

Disturbing and at the same time captivating, Joker echoed other character studies of emotionally broken men like Taxi Driver or The King of Comedy. The DC film thoroughly explored the psychological deterioration of the disturbed Arthur Fleck (Joaquin Phoenix) in his dismal and empty life in the gritty streets of Gotham. The film felt more like a documentary set in the hellish streets that evoked New York City in the 1970s that happened to chronicle the origin of Batman’s greatest villain.

But what struck viewers most was the performance by Phoenix as the man who becomes the Joker (depending on one’s interpretation, Fleck may not even be the actual Joker). His portrayal made Fleck a somewhat sympathetic person, yet terrifying at the same time. The unease culminated during Fleck’s complete breakdown as he embraced anarchy and chaos, which spread like a virus throughout Gotham’s restless populace.

1. Avengers: Endgame

Some may think of Avengers: Endgame as just a direct sequel to Avengers: Infinity War, but it was much more than that. Avengers Endgame was the epic, grand finale of the massive Infinity Saga which spanned over 20 films set in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Featuring most of the characters from the past MCU films (many of them played by high-caliber thespians), the fourth Avengers film powerfully concluded the Infinity Saga that started back in 2008 when Tony Stark first emerged from a cave wearing a suit of armor.

Avengers: Endgame is so much more than your typical comic book film with topnotch effects and fight scenes. Though it has plenty of those! This film took the time to explore the emotional aftermath of the heroes’ failures during Avengers: Infinity War and their long road back to redemption. From there, the film becomes a hysterical and exciting time travel romp rivaling the best of the Back to the Future films before culminating in an action-jammed third act. The final act of the film was already renowned for having the greatest superhero battle ever shown on film that doubles as a who’s who of superheroes against the forces of Thanos. However, Avengers: Endgame’s heart-tugging and fitting coda left an everlasting impression among viewers as it reflected on and ultimately celebrated the heroes and achievement of the MCU.

Honorable Mentions:

Brightburn; Captain Marvel; Crawl; Dark Phoenix; Doctor Sleep; Glass; It: Chapter Two; Jumanji: The Next Level; Replicas; Us; Zombieland: Double Tap

TV Shows

10. Undone

A beautifully animated and captivating series used rotoscoping to illustrate the fluid reality experienced by its main character Alma (Rosa Salazar). After a near-death experience, she gains the ability to move through time and reality as she helps her dead father solve his murder. The animation was quite unique, but its character study was even more provocative.

9. Watchmen

Less of a sequel to Alan Moore and David Gibbons’ seminal comic book and more of a spinoff, Watchmen was highlighted by its timely and relevant storylines set in an alternate world that surprised audiences.

8. The Handmaid’s Tale

The third season of this dystopian look at America under a brutal theocratic rule was as haunting as ever. Still, despite its harshness, the show changed gears with new characters and new aspects of society while providing glimmers of hope to keep us watching.

jon kills daenerys

7. Game of Thrones

Yes, the final season of Game of Thrones was a letdown compared to the other seasons of this landmark fantasy show. It was rushed and left many unanswered questions. Nevertheless, Game of Thrones’ final season managed to conclude its sprawling epic tale of warring kingdoms with terrific, unmatched production values, effects and acting.

6. Stranger Things

The loving tribute to 1980s genre flicks continued to entertain viewers in its third season. The characters, including Eleven, were allowed to grow and mature as they faced off against interdimensional threats to their small town in Indiana. This growth and breakout new characters were the true stars of Stranger Things, not the monsters.

5. The Expanse

The decade’s best sci-fi TV show got a new lease on life in its fourth season thanks to Amazon Prime. The story of mankind’s first clumsy steps into becoming an interstellar civilization was just as enthralling as previous seasons thanks to above-par scripts, excellent special effects and its grounded and realistic aspect.

4. The Boys

Amazon Prime’s entry into superhero TV shows popped out with its black humor and graphic violence as it illustrated the seedier and more cynical side of superheroes. Graphic nature aside, The Boys was well put together and offered an engrossing behind-the-scenes look at superheroes (if you can call them that).

3. Doom Patrol

Superhero TV shows have stepped up their game and pushed boundaries. Then there is Doom Patrol, which as the best superhero TV show of 2019 added the weird to weirdness. Doom Patrol embraced its quirky and bizarre comic book roots and enthralled us with goofy, misfit characters and outrageous and unconventional scripts.

baby yoda and mando

2. The Mandalorian

The first live-action Star Wars TV show is easily the flagship show on the Disney+ streaming service and for good reason as it has caught the attention of the world thanks to Baby Yoda. The Mandalorian will help keep interest alive in the Star Wars franchise thanks to its simple and effective story of an enigmatic bounty hunter and the infant child he cares for.

As an ode to Sergio Leone spaghetti westerns and Lone Wolf and Cub, The Mandalorian is a mesmerizing space western with intriguing characters, namely the mysterious Mandalorian with no name, and exciting stories. And that Baby Yoda is so adorable!

1. Star Trek: Discovery

2019 had many memorable and outstanding genre TV shows. Many of which will stand the test of time. But Star Trek: Discovery comes out on top simply for exceeding expectations after its mixed first season. In its sophomore season, Star Trek: Discovery went back to basics and embraced its traditional Star Trek roots. By doing so, the TV show delivered many standout episodes, some of which can be considered to be classic Star Trek stories.

Star Trek: Discovery was also buoyed by a breakout performance by Anson Mount as Captain Christopher Pike, cinema-level effects and photography and fascinating storylines. Not every episode was great but they were solid entertainment, while others were instant classics. This season also confirmed beyond doubt that the show was clearly set in the actual prime Star Trek universe, which was a relief for many. In many ways, the second season of Star Trek: Discovery helped revive interest in the Star Trek franchise, which will hopefully be fueled by the upcoming Star Trek: Picard.

Honorable Mentions:

Arrow; Carnival Row; Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance; For All Mankind; Legion; Lost in Space; Love, Death & Robots; Runaways; Star Trek: Short Treks; Titans; The Twilight Zone; The Witcher; Years and Years

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)