Saturday, December 19, 2015

MadCap At The Movies - "Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens"

The internet has been utterly and completely alive with positive buzz for this film. And, in the words of Han Solo, I'm here to tell you one thing, my readers. One thing.

It's true.

All of it.

However, due to Harrison Ford kindly asking that everyone not spoil the film, I will endeavor here to give only the most basic of details so as not to ruin the plot for anyone.  That being said, let's dig into The Force Awakens for a more in-depth review.

The film picks up after the last trilogy that people actually care about, and telling us that it is roughly thirty years after A New Hope with the Empire having fallen apart and given way to a new group known as the First Order...who are basically the Empire.  Controlled by the shadowy and enigmatic Snoke (Andy Serkis), lots of Stormtroopers and Death Star chic going around...yeah, might as well be the Empire.  To combat them, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) has formed a Resistance against them...which is pretty much just the Rebel Alliance anyway, so I'm not really sure why the change.

...oh, right, the New Republic exists now.  Not that they do much.

Regardless, the big news is that Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has gone missing and both the Resistance and the First Order are looking for the last piece of a map to find him.  This map ends up in the possession of the adorable little droid BB-8  (who you've seen rolling around in all the adverts) so he/she/it can get it back to the Resistance, which eventually leads him into the company of Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Finn (John Boyega).

I like both of the new leads, Rey in particular goes through the most character development in the film, but I'll save that for those who see it.  In the beginning, she's nothing more than a scavenger living on Jakku with many details that are spoilerific.  To say nothing else, she is a good actress and I look forward to seeing more of her in the future as her character continues on said development.

Finn, too, is a pretty good character.  A stormtrooper for the First Order, he defects and tries to escape at first, but later joins the good fight as we've come to expect from our heroes.  Again, any further is going into territory of the spoilers but, needless to say, I rather enjoyed him in the film and Boyega really sells the emotions of his character quite well.

And now we come to the original cast - awesome.  Unlike Harrison Ford's last attempt to return to a franchise after twenty years, it is awesome to see the man back as Han Solo.  He's an older, wiser roguish space pirate now, but a roguish space pirate he remains.  The man who will flee at the first sign of trouble but, in the end, will always come back and do the right thing no matter the personal cost.

Chewbacca is Chewbacca. And Chewbacca is freaking awesome.  No further explanation needed.

Then we have Leia serving as the General of the Resistance.  Much like her role in A New Hope, she...doesn't actually do much besides have some scenes with Rey and Finn and chat with Han about their past (the chemistry from Empire and Jedi is still very much there, by the way), but it is very nice to have her around if just to help give some continuity.

And, at last, we come to Luke, who I almost forgot...except for the fact that he's the reason that this whole adventure even happened to begin with.  I've been told that Mark Hamill is due to have a much, much greater role in Episode VIII, but his appearance in this film would be like a Hitchcock cameo if not for its placement. Without wishing to spoil it completely, if you come into this film hoping for a lot of Luke, you're going to be disappointed. I know I was.

And now we come to Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), the Darth Vader expy who apparently has a great boner for the seven foot tall asthmatic warrior of the Dark Side. He's angsty...apparently feeling the "call of the light" in an ironic twist on the whole corruption by the Dark Side, but believes he'll be stronger by living up to the standard set by his idol, Darth Vader.  And while he has no menace at all, much like Anakin in Attack of the actually seems intentional here, rather than hilarious as it was in that film.  He's conflicted, he's going through his own development.  The story is as much about him as it is about Rey and Finn.  And that's good, really.

The writing by Lawrence Kasdan helps a lot, considering he wrote Empire, which everyone pretty much universally agrees is the best of the Original Trilogy.  Of course, there are some bits where you can feel the hand of J.J. Abrams on the film in dialogue and action, but those can't really be gone into without spoiling by pointing out specific scenes.  Needless to say, if you've seen an Abrams film, you'll know it when you see it.

Now, there are a few things I don't particularly care for - such as the treating of characters like Luke, Han, and others as if they're mythic.  I understand why it was done, from a standpoint of storytelling, but it doesn't make sense from a reality standpoint considering Luke, Han, and Leia were among the most wanted if not the most wanted individuals by the Empire during the Galactic Civil War and they're living in a high-tech setting where shit like that doesn't just go away by any means. Yes, they're mythic to us because of Star Wars being a long-running series that is beloved by so many. Yes, myths and legends may have sprung up about Luke Skywalker himself, but saying that the man himself is a myth when there is very verifiable evidence of him existing is really, really, really unnecessary and, let's be honest J.J., kind of lame.

Also other things that I can't get into because they're spoilers. Technically, that was a spoiler, but steady on.

But really, this film gives you pretty much everything you want and nothing you don't.  For long-time Star Wars fans, it's a breath of fresh air and a feeling of elation at the fact that the dark times are over and we need no longer fear horrifically bad dialogue about sand or talk of microscopic bacteria in the bloodstreams of Jedi. For new fans, it could very well be their first step into a larger world. It definitely feels like a Star Wars movie and, for all its minor issues, it doesn't get ruined by them.  The nods and homages to what came before are nice (though one could argue, probably without much room for argument, that the entire film is one big nod to the original trilogy) and don't bog down the story of the new generation.

The saga goes on...and from the looks of now (and the fact that they haven't gone the Into Darkness route yet), it looks pretty glorious...

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens is now in theaters from Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures and Lucasfilm.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, December 14, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi"

Well, here it is. The last Star Wars movie, at least at the time of writing.  As of this review, only four days remain before we can no longer call the Star Wars saga complete.  This was a film that was written to be the epic ending of a saga.  Audiences in 1983 thought so, and it's considered one of the three good Star Wars movies, though admittedly it's the least highly regarded of the Original Trilogy...and even I have to admit that I see why, but I'll get into that.

The film picks up much where Empire left off, though with Han Solo (Harrison Ford) still in carbonite as Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and Leia (Carrie Fisher) spearhead a brave campaign to try and rescue him from the evil Jabba the Hutt. This plan involves them and their friends C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhem) all showing up one or two at a time.

...brilliant plan.

Needless to say the actual plot picks up with the construction of a brand new Death Star over the forest moon of Endor, which is being overseen by Darth Vader (James Earl Jones, David Prowse) and the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid), who plan to use it as a final blow against the Rebel Alliance whilst turning Luke to the dark side of the Force.

Now, as for the main plot, we have Luke accepting the truth that his father once owned a sled named Rosebud and is now the Sith Lord known as Darth Vader, and trying to redeem him.  Despite the beliefs of both Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) and Yoda (Frank Oz), Luke still believes that Anakin Skywalker can be brought back to the light side of the Force.  And, as we all know, Luke is correct and he ultimate succeeds in this venture - redeeming Anakin and seeing that the greatest evil the galaxy had until then known was destroyed, as well as proving himself worthy of carrying on the legacy of the Jedi Knights.

For Anakin, this brings about the end of his character arc. From a youth on Tatooine who Obi-Wan was surprised that the Force flowed so strongly through (remember, I don't consider the prequels canon) to a Jedi who fought in the Clone Wars to a scion of the Dark Side to ultimately finding his redemption through love for his son.  This has technically been in play since Empire, and it's been made abundantly clear that Vader has had some conflict in his interactions with Luke, his son stirring the good man he once was in him and making his decisions all the more difficulty.

The scene where Vader is stuck with a choice between his evil mentor and his dying son is one of the most beautifully done scenes in all of fiction.  Anyone who has ever worked in a theatrical production knows the hindrance that masks give, particularly ones that completely hide the face. It doesn't seem like much, certainly, but when one's face is covered it takes away all ability to show expression besides in tone.  Admittedly, with Vader, this is circumvented with the powerful voice of James Earl Jones.  However, in this scene, Vader doesn't speak.

At all.

He looks between the man who aided him on the road to damning his soul, and to his dying son begging him for help as he's roasted alive by electricity.  In that scene, in the black Plexiglas of Vader's eye lenses, you can see a myriad of emotions flow through him - confusion, sorrow, regret, rage.  And then, in a single moment, clarity as he lurches towards the Emperor, lifts him up, and casts him down the reactor shaft of the Death Star, choosing love for his son over the darkness.  It is a poignant moment, and it's all the better by the fact that Vader never has to say a word to express what he's thinking to the audience.  We can see it in that moment of indecision, and his actions immediately after. It's pretty much absolutely perfect.

So, of course, Lucas had to fuck it up by having him scream "NOOOOOO!!!!" in an incredibly hammy and unnecessary fashion.

Way to go, George. Way to go.  It's stuff like this that makes the internet hate you.

Though that's not the only problem with this film, and not even one that can be traced back to the original film.  That's right, there's actually just one major problem that people have with this film and it's a simple one - Ewoks.

I get it.  I do. They're all furry and cute and marketable and not the badass Wookiee warriors that were the original plan (that idea being relegated to Revenge of the Sith and really kinda sucking there, oddly enough).  But you know what they aren't?  Gungans. And I think we can all be very, very happy about that fact.

Still, that one major and one minor issue aside, I love this movie.  It brings a tone of finality to the entire Saga that is worthy of what it is and what it means to so many.  The final scenes of the Rebels partying with the Ewoks on Endor and - in one of the few edits I do like that Lucas made - the montage of various worlds celebrating the downfall of the Empire is the very definition of triumphant.  And as before he goes to join his friends in the celebration, Luke has one last look to Obi-Wan, Yoda, and a restored Anakin, and while they are gone, they will always be with him.  The future looks bright and, as the first of the new Jedi Knights, Luke Skywalker will be ready for whatever comes next., see you all in four days to find out just what comes next.

Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi is now available from 20th Century Fox and Lucasfilms.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.

Monday, December 7, 2015

MadCap's Reel Thoughts - "Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back"

Empire Strikes Back is considered the greatest film in the Original Trilogy and the greatest film in the Star Wars saga by many. And, really...I can't disagree. So, there. That's it.

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is now ava-

...okay, okay, I'll go into a little more detail.

A few years have passed since the destruction of the Death Star at the end of A New Hope and the once victorious rebels are on the run from the Empire, bunking down on the ice planet Hoth. There, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) receives a vision from his deceased mentor Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness) to see out the Jedi Master Yoda (Frank Oz). Meanwhile Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) must avoid the Empire after the Battle of Hoth, eventually finding their way to Cloud City and the care of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) who is totally not a traitor and will not hand them all over to Darth Vader (James Earl Jones).

Which, of course, inevitably it does and inevitably Luke comes looking for his friends and learns a terrible secret that Obi-Wan never told him - Darth Vader took his father's sled and his sword and the calls were coming from inside the house because Vader can see dead people!!!

Okay, yeah, you know the twist by now. People who have never even seen this movie know the twist by now - Darth Vader is really Anakin Skywalker, Luke's father.

Mind you, much like Shamalyan's two good twists in his two good films (I'll leave you to figure out which ones) the clues that were there helped to build it up and are appreciated much more on repeat viewings - in this case, Luke's encounter in the Dark Side cave on Dagobah with the illusory version of Vader.

This film is all about realizing that the past isn't dead and will come back to bite you. Pretty much what Randy said in Scream 3 except this isn't under trilogy rules...strictly speaking. And, being that I was born in an era when all three movies had come out, I can only imagine what it must have been like to have that as the final reveal of the movie and having to wait three years before finding out if Vader was telling the truth.

The film also actually ends on a rather depressing note. Sure, they've all survived, but Han is in the hands of Boba Fett and is going to be taken to Jabba the Hutt and they are still on the run from the Empire, who have effectively won the day by forcing the Rebels to scatter off to a distant corner to lick their wounds. But still, there's that feeling of optimism that they will triumph and will eventually defeat the Empire once and for all...which they will do in the latest and, until December 18th, the last chapter in the Star Wars saga.

Other than that, there's really not that much ground that can be covered. I loved the furthering of Luke's Jedi training by Yoda, adding more layers of mysticism and enchantment to the Force that the prequels were all too happy to just take a giant, steaming dump on. I loved the romance building between Han and Leia, Lawrence Kasdan's writing and the chemistry between Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher just making things oh so fiery and with nobody talking about sand. I loved Lando and all his sway coolness, as well as his arc in remembering the right side and fighting against the oppression of the Empire.

Literally, there's just about nothing I can hate about this movie. To do that, I'd have to be some kind of crazed, nitpicking jackass and that's just not this particular instance. It's gold, pure and simple.

Now Return of the Jedi, on the other hand...

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back is now available from Lucasfilms and 20th Century Fox.

For the latest from the MadCapMunchkin, be sure to follow him on Twitter @MadCapMunchkin.