Learning to Let Go…

The Star Wars HeresiesGood friend of the blog, Paul F. McDonald, author of the outstanding book, The Star Wars Heresies: Interpreting the Themes, Symbols, and Philosophies of Episodes I-III (I highly recommend this book to any Star Wars fan wishing to explore the deeper meanings of the Saga), recently wrote a brief essay on his site entitled, “You Can’t Go Home Again.”  Paul examines a growing ambivalence he felt regarding Star Wars in a post-Lucas world, but how two things brought him back to full-throated Star Wars fandom: 1) Star Wars Rebels, and 2) the Force Awakens Teaser.  I certainly agreed with him about Rebels, and the news coming out of the Star Wars Anthology: Rogue One panel filled me with excitement.  But I still had a great deal of concern about the future of Star Wars sans George Lucas.  Could Lucasfilm tell the kinds of rich, deeply layer stories George had with the Saga and The Clone Wars.  There was kind of a maddening tug of war going on with the fan within me.  On the one hand there was all kinds of news coming out of Celebration that as a fan really got me jazzed, however, JJ’s statements about the themes of Star Wars and his constant catering to a particular portion of the fanbase still left me deeply troubled.

Qui-Gon and Anakin

But, Paul brought up one great point in his essay that I had to consider… one of the central themes of the Prequel Trilogy is learning to let go of the things we are attached to… and that even included George.  George is gone, and I needed to come to terms with that.  While that is something I’m going to still wrestle with for some time, looking back on the hundreds and hundres of Star Wars stories told in books, comics, and short stories I’ve collected over the years there have been plenty of Star Wars stories told by authors that have the same depth and emotional resonance as George’s Saga.  One book in particular, “Kenobi,” by frequent Star Wars novelist John Jackson Miller, is one of the finest Star Wars tales ever told and would be a worthy addition to the Star Wars film legacy.  Star Wars didn’t just have to be about George and his wishes, and although I still wish George was involved at Lucasfilm, those days are gone.George Lucas

I needed to let go…

I still stand by my earlier criticisms of JJ Abrams, and I still have a lot of concern about the film he will deliver in December.  Not because of Lucas’ absence, but Abrams abilities as filmmaker and storyteller, and his own views of the Saga which I find to be very constrictive.  But overall I have to admit the materials coming out of Lucasfilm since George’s departure  have only honored what came before, and have fit in quite nicely as part of a larger tapestry of the overall Saga.  From the remaining Clone Wars stories, to Rebels, and the books and comics, it’s clear the Star Wars Story Group, led by Kiri Hart, takes its job seriously, and will do their best to deliver quality Star Wars stories that even George would be proud to have his name attached to.

The final piece which really helped me to let go of George and just try to enjoy the Star Wars that was coming was rewatching a special video produced for starwars.com following the release of Revenge of the Sith.  The Journey was a two part video released the Summer of 85 as both a “Thank you” to George, and a “Thank you” to the fans.  While Clone Wars had been announced by George it appeared the cinematic Saga was over and George would soon retire leaving Star Wars to television.  As fans we would no longer share that communal bond in a darkened theater and would have to be content enjoying the Saga, and stories to come, in the comfort of our living rooms…. no longer joined as fans.  Looking at this video as a “goodbye,” from George really helped me say “Farewell,” to him as the guardian of the Star Wars galaxy.

The Journey Part 1

The Journey Part 2

(These videos are only available via starwars.com, but are also included as part of the bonus content for the recent Star Wars Digital Movie Collection)

I’ll still have plenty of things to say about Star Wars coming from Disney, and if I think Disney/Lucasfilm goes off the rails with certain stories I’ll still be posting my criticisms.  But now is the time for me to sit back, and enjoy the ride ahead.  I really need to heed the advise of those paragons of wisdom, once trapped on the Satellite of Love, who famously quipped: “Just repeat to yourself it’s just a show, I should really just relax.”

Mike & the Bots

 

Star Wars Rebels Season 2 Trailer!

At the Star Wars Celebration Rebels panel they debuted the trailer for Season 2 of Rebels.  Again, more great work from Dave Filoni and company.  For Clone Wars fans the trailer features the return of Captain Rex and that villainous pirate Hondo Ohnaka.  Looks to be a great season!

Star Wars – The Force Awakens Teaser Reaction

So Thursday kicked off the largest gathering of Star Wars fanatics this side of Mos Eisley… Star Wars Celebration.  To open the festivities, director J.J. Abrams, and executive producer Kathleen Kennedy hosted a Force Awakens panel complete with the stars of the films, as well as some behind the scenes people.  They finally concluded the event with what everyone had been waiting for… the new Star Wars The Force Awakens teaser trailer:

The internets went wild as Twitter feeds flooded with reactions to the two minute tease.  The general consensus seems to be overwhelming excitement… My reaction is a little more tempered.  While there are certainly some awesome elements, there are quite a few things that concern me.  Still I really enjoyed the trailer, but something felt… off at the same time.  I decided to give it a few days and watch the trailer a few more dozen times.

There’s Something Familiar About This…

JukuuThe trailer begins with like the original teaser for The Phantom Menace, in a very quiet long establishing shot, as our hero, Rey traverses the desert of Jakku on a speeder bike through a ship graveyard.  It’s a wonderful moment and evokes a very Star Wars otherworldly feel… we fade to black.  Unfortunately the rest of the trailer is hampered by a case of living in the past.

In fact, that’s the whole premise of the trailer… to convince older fans that Star Wars is safe again…

and the last thing Star Wars needs to be is safe…

Vader Helmet Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015 Star Wars: The Force AwakensPh: Film Frame©Lucasfilm 2015 X-Wings Trooper Snow PlanetWhile reflecting on the trailer a good couple of days I’ve come to the conclusion that director JJ Abrams is doing his damndest to convince audiences that his new Star Wars film is fresh, while all the time catering to the nostalgia of older fans, and ultimately fails miserably on the first count.  The trailer is little more than a 70s/80s retro fest with nearly shot for shot recreations of the Death Star II exhaust port chase, a recreation of a famous publicity shot, and constant call backs to the Original Trilogy.  Originally I was going to do a point by point breakdown of different shots, and I may at a later date, but to summarize, there’s a lot in the trailer I really like, but there’s a disturbing tendency on JJ’s part to play it safe and simply cater to fans, and that’s not what the Saga needs right now.  What Star Wars needs is a fresh voice with bold ideas who understands what came before and wants to continue telling stories rooted in myth while approaching it from a new angle.

Does JJ “Get” Star Wars?  image

What particularly disturbed me about the Celebration Force Awakens kick off panel were comments uttered by Abrams himself which really made me question whether or not he even understood what Lucas was trying to accomplish with the entire Star Wars Saga, let alone the Original Trilogy. At one point Abrams regurgitated the Prequel basher talking point that Star Wars is really at its heart, a Western, which of course implies that Lucas really doesn’t get Star Wars at all and the appeal of the franchise.  Somehow, Star Wars is a space Western and if Lucas just would have kept Star Wars limited to that box the Prequels wouldn’t have gone off the rails (so the theory goes).  This whole mantra of Star Wars as Western source seems to have begun by a group of Lucas bashers who created, what they call, the “4 Star Wars Rules.”  Apparently on some level Abrams subscribes to this theory.

While talking about his experiences shooting in the desert of Abu Dhabi he said, “Star Wars is as much Western and fairy tale as it is anything else.  One of the things you expect and want to see is these tangible, beautiful John Ford landscapes…”  A nice sentiment JJ, but you are simply talking out of your butt.  Any first year film student will ArtooThreepiotell you the “John Ford look” is all about Monument Valley found at the border of Arizona and Utah.  Monument Valley is an area dominated by sandstone buttes and mesas… not rolling endless sand dunes.   I suppose you could argue he’s talking about the sequences in the valleys of the Jundland Wastes, but that seems a stretch as most people think desert planet when they hear the word Tatooine.  In fact there’s very little in the way of John Ford to be found in A New Hope, but there’s a lot of it found in Attack of the Clones.   Instead what Lucas did in A New Hope is adopt a very David Lean look from Lawrence of Arabia to inform the visuals of the desert planet.  With a big, endless desert framing most of his shots.  However, Lucas clearly channels his inner John Ford in Attack of the Clones:

CCMWVYrUkAAROgi CCMWVY1VIAA0xmL  CCMdzZCUsAAZ9PBCCMdzZBVEAAjKKi

(NOTE: Thanks to Mike Klimo of Star Wars Ring Theory for recently posting these screengrabs on his Twitter feed.  They’ve been very illuminating)

Even the plot of A New Hope has almost nothing to do the Western genre.  Sure there are elements of the American Western sprinkled throughout; Han is certainly a space cowboy, Mos Eisley, and especially the cantina have a very Western frontier town feel to them, but they are just elements of the whole.  A New Hope, like Star Wars in general is an amalgam, a pastiche of the influences of Lucas’ youth and interests as a filmmaker, borrowing heavily from sources such as Flash Gordon, Tolkien, Greek myth, Japanese cinema, Medieval adventure tales, layering it all with a spiritual element gleaned from the world’s major religions.  A New Hope has far more in common with Flash Gordon serials (which Lucas originally wanted to adapt) than a Western, and the plot borrows liberally from Akira Kurosawa’s classic samurai film, The Hidden Fortress.

Abrams failure to grasp this raises a whole lot of concerns on my part.  I’m just not sure he really understands the mythology and legacy behind Star Wars.  He certainly understands his feelings of Star Wars as a child, and how that impacted him as a youth, but there’s so much more to the Saga than one’s childhood memories and fantasies.  That’s a large reason that while on the one hand I enjoy the trailer immensely, on the other I worry that The Force Awakens will be little more than a nostalgia fest; something Abrams is intimately familiar with.

Han & ChewieFor a lot of fans, the final shot of Han & Chewie aboard the Millennium Falcon was the “money shot” and sent them over the moon as fanboy/fangirl chills ran up their spines.  The waves of nostalgia washed over them and they were filled with a sense of awe as their dreams were finally realized… George no longer had his hands in the Saga, all of their wildest Star Wars dreams could be realized.  For a brief moment I was even hit with a feeling of being that child who grew up with Star Wars back in 1977, waiting anxiously for the next installment and contenting myself with reading another issue of Marvel’s Star Wars in the meantime.  It was a wonderful moment, but as soon as the screen faded to black I realized that something about it felt very off to me.  I pondered about that shot for a good chunk of time until I realized I had seen all of this before… because I had a poster of it on my wall.

Han & Chewie

JJ was up to his old tricks… The shot is nothing more than a recreation of that iconic poster, and while it’s a nice nod it really speaks volumes about one of Abrams’ biggest weaknesses, and accentuates a growing concern I’ve had for months.

You see, one of the biggest knocks on Abrams has always been his lack of creativity as a filmmaker.  He’s always been involved in projects that on some level are derivative of other works.  Three of his past four motion pictures have been sequels of franchises, with the one exception, Super 8, being a complete knock off of a 1980’s Steven Spielberg film.  Even the TV series he’s produced have borrowed liberally from other works.  One of my favorite shows he produced, Alias, is nothing more than one part The Girl From U.N.C.L.E., one part X-Files, with a heavy dose of Dan Brown mythology.  When you look at the totality of his work there is really nothing there that screams “visionary,” or even suggests an artist who really has the ability to oversee the relaunch of a massive franchise… just look at his very hit and miss results with Star Trek.

JJ ArtooUltimately, his lack of his own creativity is his downfall as a filmmaker.  While Lucas could take all of these wildly divergent elements from myth, pop culture, and religion and massage it into it’s own self contained universe which felt original yet familiar. Abrams, on the other hand, has shown no such ability as an filmmaker.  His work routinely feels like a homage to another artist’s work, or a series of ideas slapped together in an effort to feel original, but wind up coming across as derivative.  This trailer does nothing but reinforce that point as there is no original substance to be found.  The one thing I can say about Lucas was he had an ability to tease you with new locales, strange aliens, and situations in each of the five teaser trailers that followed A New Hope.  Whether it’s battles in the snow, the forest, a high speed race through the deserts of Tatooine, raging storms over a water planet, or a deadly lightsaber duel on an erupting volcano, Lucas was always able to tantalize with new ideas.  JJ’s tease is little more than a complete rehash of the Original Trilogy with a new young trio surrounded by visuals and designs that are all comfortable and familiar.

And that leads to my biggest gripe and concern… I’m not convinced this film will be terribly original, and will in fact be little more than a soft reboot of the Saga, allowing Disney to distance itself from George’s Saga, and move forward, and frankly Disney has found the perfect guy for THAT job. While Abrams talks a lot about “moving the Saga forward” I’m not so certain with this trailer that Lucasfilm is really going to attract interest from young audiences.  The trailer really caters to older Star Wars fans, and if you are a young person who is not already invested in Star Wars there’s little in this trailer to suggest something new or fresh about the Saga.

We’re Going Back… To The Past!!!

Back-to-the-Future-Doc-BrownThere was an alarming exchange midway through the panel in which Katleen Kennedy seemed to suggest that fans reaction is a very important part of the storytelling process.  Of course she added the caveat that Lucasfilm will still tell the stories it wants, but there certainly was a not so subtle subtext running throughout her comments that said, “We’ve heard your cries.”  Well sorry, but fanboys should have pretty much no say so in the future of Star Wars.  Many of these “fans” are the same Lucas bashers who wanted boderline evil Anakin betraying the Jedi and exterminating them in a three arc story, forgetting the wise words of George, “…a monster becoming a monster isn’t a story.”   Storytelling by committee, and more importantly, by consensus is not art, it’s just catering to the mob.  It seems pretty safe to say that JJ’s mandate is to push every fanboy button, and weave a very safe Star Wars film which takes little to no risk, all in the hopes of avoiding controversy.  He will cater to their every whim; in fact JJ appears to be all in…

During his Force Awakens panel Abrams once again began to engage in Star Wars historical revisionism found among Prequel/Lucas bashers suggesting that his films were going to be more “tangible” and “real” because they built sets for the actors to interact with. Of course this is meant to imply that George moved away from this tradition and simply shot all of his films on digital stages in front of green screens.  Of course this completely ignores the dozens of sets and locations used for the filming of the Prequel Trilogy.  Lucas too desired a tangible look for his films, however he had to go another course.  Instead of dealing with a galaxy in the middle of a war he was examining a Republic in a state of decline, that is ultimately pushed over the ledge by Palpatine.  So on the one hand the universe had to be shiny, a little less used looking, while on the other hand still staying true to the rules he established in the universe.  I think he did a pretty darn good job:

imageimageimageimageimageimage

As you can clearly see these are real sets, designed and constructed by a group of talented artists who took weeks, and months to develop designs which could tell the story Lucas was trying to tell.  Each one of the Prequel films is filled with beautiful sets and locations, certainly enhanced with special effects, but if you don’t believe Jjj-abramsJ will be incorporating the same techniques, I’ve got some lovely beach front property in Yuma I can sell you. However, what really grinds my gears is that JJ is so willing to cavalierly dismiss the work on those films, all for the benefit of throwing around a few buzzwords that get fanboy hearts aflutter.

I used to work as an intelligence analyst back in the day with a focus on international politics… so words are really, really important to me, and what’s left unsaid, or implied by the words you are using is as important as what you actually say, or what you meant to say.  During one portion of the interview section of the show JJ states that the mandate he had was to “set a standard” and that everything had to feel real.  That’s a good enough sentiment, but then he takes it a step further; unnecessarily so: “You knew people were in those places.  The way the light interacts with the set.  You want it to be legitimate, and authentic.”  Abrams is clearly separating himself from Lucas here, and is making it clear, although unstated, that he’s going to make a movie for older Star Wars fans who felt burned by the Prequels.  To make matters worse he’s actually implying through his words that what George did in Episodes I-III was “inauthentic” and “illegitimate.” As if Lucas totally dismissed the use of practical sets and locations. I think as I’ve shown in the pictures above that was certainly not the case with the Prequels.

Lucas & DanielsAlso understated in the Force Awakens panel was any mention of Lucas, or even a hint of his involvement in the production. I think George’s name came up a whopping two times in the entire panel, despite the fact Lucas created this large sandbox that all of these people are playing in now. I’m really beginning to suspect that George’s statements from January that Disney had jettisoned his treatments for the Sequel Trilogy and were doing their own thing is true. Early on we were told Lucas and Abrams were meeting regularly, and Lucas’ son even suggested that George and JJ were texting daily. Then Star Wars scribe Michael Arndt, who was writing scripts based on George’s treatments was let go, and then Disney Studios honcho Alan Horn implied in a Q&A that he wasn’t aware of Lucas’ involvement in the project any more. That would certainly explain why Lucas is even barely given a mention at Celebration; even Lucas’ good friend Kathleen Kennedy only mentioned his name in passing while recounting how she became head of Lucasfilm.

imageFrankly, this troubles me a great deal. Much has been made of Abrams ability to weave a mythology in his television shows like Alias and Lost, but in the case of both shows, that mythology became a muddled mess as the shows wore on. Both shows did not find their footing again until AFTER Abrams had left the productions. Add to that his inability to understand the roots of the mythology behind the Star Wars Saga, and there is cause for concern. So excuse me if I have a lot more faith in the guy who actually created the universe, than a sometimes very talented filmmaker (Super 8) who is often prone to make materials that are devoid of real depth and miss the point of the source material (Star Trek Into Darkness).

Again, to be clear, I did enjoy the trailer, with certain reservations. My biggest concerns are not necessarily with the content of the trailer itself, but with Abrams’ apparent inability to grasp the magnitude of the depth of story telling that Lucas presented in his six part Saga. For all of Abrams’ talk of wanting to move the Saga “forward” for “a new generation,” this trailer seemed needlessly mired in the past, and shows little in the way of anything new or fresh. The trailer seems to be catered to a certain subset of fans who are still bitter at George Lucas for not giving them a Prequel Trilogy that had been brewing in their minds for nearly 20 years. Ultimately it feels like a trailer by put together by a marketing group:

Stormtroopers… check
Star Destroyer… check
Millennium Falcon in a fight… check
Vader… check

I really want The Force Awakens to be a film that launches fandom for a whole new generation of fans, but from what I’ve seen it looks like I’m stuck in a 1980’s time warp.

Force Awakens

The Force Awakens Teaser Observations – Themes & Other Observations (Spoilerish)

Force Awakens

NOTE:  There could be SPOILERS ahead, but this is largely my speculation, so be warned:

Another day, another watching the Star Wars: The Force Awakens teaser trailer another dozen times.  The trailer has really started to grow on me with each subsequent viewing, especially as I started to analyze what the trailer is telling us about the state of the galaxy, and delve a little deeper into thematic elements revealed in this brief 88 second preview.

1. John Boyega – Hero On the Run

As the trailer opens we reveal the desert sands of Tatooine (I don’t buy for one minute that we are going to be introduced to yet ANOTHER desert planet), as ominous music rises and a menacing voice says: “There’s been an awakening… Have you felt it?”  Suddenly, Boyega jumps up in distress, clearly disheveled, and on the run.

WP4Phone_20141129090218One of the reasons I believe this is a revisit to Tatooine is that like many legends, and a number of the world’s major religions, they are all born out of the wilderness; or the desert to be more specific.  In the Star Wars universe, Tatooine is that vast wilderness in which our myth finds its genesis.  The story of Anakin, and later his son Luke, all originate from the desert wastlands of that planet that is farthest from the “bright center” of the universe.  So once again, our hero will emerge from the wilderness to take on his/her task.

I also believe there is a specific reason John Boyega is the first person we meet in the trailer; it will be his “Hero’s Journey” we follow throughout the Sequel Trilogy.  Somehow the Force has chosen to return through him.  As we’ve seen in both the Prequel Trilogy and The Clone Wars, the Force is not simple some inert energy field surrounding all living things which is passive and is simply a tool to be used by someone with a connection to the Force.  It is in fact an active agent; a sentient thing with its own will which it reveals to those who are willing to listen.

Mark HamillSomewhere in the galaxy there is a growing malevolence, as our dire narrator reveals later in the teaser; so it is very like the Force is calling out for a champion to restore balance to the Force once again.  This of course begs the question, where is Luke, the Jedi who restored balance to the Force?  As I speculated in an earlier piece, I believe Luke probably came to some realization that the Jedi way, while noble in its goals, was not necessarily the right way.  The Jedi taught that attachment was forbidden, but Luke’s unconditional love for his father, which is an attachment, ultimately saved the universe.  So clearly, something about the Jedi Code as we know it is amiss.

I never once bought the Expanded Universe notion that Luke would immediately set out to recreate the Jedi Order we saw in the Prequels; he would want to do something different.  Even after Jedi (back when we thought the Empire was destroyed), I wondered if Luke would be more like Sanjuro Kuwabatake, the ronin Samurai we saw in Akira Kurosawa’s classic films Yojimbo and Sanjuro, dispensing justice and defending freedom throughout the galaxy.  He would probably pass on that knowledge to another, like his sister, but would be looking to the galaxy at large, standing up to evil wherever he finds it.  Maybe this is the reason Luke is largely absent during this 30 year period of civil war; there are other injustices in the universe to be fought than a seemingly never ending war.  But this raises more questions…

2.  The Dark Side – They Always Have the Coolest Lightsabers:  

WP4Phone_20141129104649Who exactly is the hooded figure with his red bladed lighsaber longsword (affectionately called “Excalisaber” by Lazy Padawan).  Could he be a fallen pupil of Luke’s? We’ve established in The Clone Wars that there is no life after death for the Sith.  So this is not some resurrected Sith Lord, and if Luke is the last of the Jedi, and the Sith were destroyed in Return of the Jedi, then Luke has to be the catalyst for bringing about the reemergence of the Dark Side in some way.

This of course makes for some classic mythological storytelling, recalling the story of Lucifer and his expulsion from Heaven,  Maybe this dark agent is the son of Luke who has chosen another path, once again echoing the fall of Anakin, but in this case it would be the father who redeems the son.  There are many exciting story telling possibilities here which completely fit in with the type of modern myth George Lucas was trying to tell.

And while I was fairly ambivalent about the villain’s new lightsaber with its mini-saber cross guards, the design has really grown on me in the last few days when I view it in the context of a larger story.  The design is a call back to the classic broadswords/longswords prevalent in Medieval lore.  While Lazy Padawan jokingly referred to it as “Excalisaber” the name is very appropriate.  The sight of the red blade igniting in a wintery forest setting evokes images of knights and castles… a feeling of something ancient; something that was lost to the mists of history, but has been found again.  This Black Knight lies in wait, ready to pounce on our heroes, armed with his sword imbued with the power of some dark magic.  It’s a great visual which really works in the Star Wars setting.

3.  Daisy Ridley… Luke Skywalker was once a girl:  

Luke girlI really love the design aesthetic of Daisy Ridley’s character as it very reminiscent of early Ralph McQuarrie designs for Luke, back when George Lucas was toying with the idea of making his lead a young woman. Daisy jumps on her speeder bike in an outfit which closely resembles some early production paintings, right down to her riding goggles.

What I really love about this sequence is the determined look on her face, and this feeling I get that she is one who is quick to action.  Whether or not she is the child of Han and Leia, I think she serves a similar role as Han, and both literally and figuratively drives John Boyega’s character into the fray, and really kick starts his Hero Journey.

WP4Phone_20141129090235I really do hope she turns out to be Han and Leia’s kid, but even if she’s not she will be a crucial player in the events of the Sequel Trilogy.  But I appreciate the efforts of Abrams and Kennedy to go back and use some of McQuarrie’s discarded designs for inspiration.  To me McQuarrie, John Barry, Norman Reynolds, and Joe Johnston were the key figures who created the visual language of the Saga from a production level.  Their work inspired and informed the work of Gavin Bocquet, Doug Chiang , and Iain McCaig for the Prequel trilogy.

4. Music – How Could I Forget John Williams

One of the aspects of the teaser trailer I forgot to mention in my previous reports was John Williams brilliant music.  There are some wonderful new bits of music for the first minute of the trailer before a new re-recording of the Star Wars theme takes over.  it’s a very interesting mix of an older Williams style from the 70s mixed with a more familiar sound from Williams work over the past two decades.

WilliamsThe trailer begins with dissonant strings playing as we look at the Tatooine skyline.  The piece sounds very similar to a short bit of music he wrote for Close Encounters of the Third Kind: Special Edition during the Gobi Desert sequence.  Then we cut directly into the action with a very busty bit of music which felt like an action piece from the Prequels.  The tone takes an ominous turn with the appearance of our villain.  The Falcon and the Star Wars Main Theme bring us home to a rousing conclusion.

While it was just a short snippet of music, Williams once again demonstrates that his compositions for the Saga are almost like a character unto itself.  It’s the Greek Chorus, informing us how we should feel as an audience, who we should fear, and who we should cheer for.  He has built an enduring legacy with the Saga, and the film composers who take up the baton from this music icon for the spin off films, and future episodes of the Saga will be hard pressed to fill the enormous void his absence will leave.

Overview: That should about wrap it up for my analysis of the trailer for now.  I may take another analytical look as more information about the film is revealed, but for now, until we get a full blown teaser trailer, I’ll just be satisfied watching this teaser a few more times.

May the Force Be With You

The Force Awakens – Trailer Observations

Well the first Official Teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has dropped, and I’ve watched it a dozen times or so.  So here are some quick observations:

1.  LOVED, LOVED, LOVED the shot of the X-Wings skimming over the water, looked fantastic, and suitably epic!

2.  Nice to see the Falcon again, not necessarily sure I’m a big fan of that particular shot.  A little too much shaky cam for my taste.

3.  Speaking of shaky cam, just looking at the Stormtrooper landing sequence it is VERY evident this is a J.J. Abrams film, and will look very modern compared to the other six films.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing as fans need to remember these films are being made for a younger audience and there are certain expectations they have.  Abrams like to use shaky cam to give the audience a “you are there” feel.  I’m sure he will dial it back compared to Mission Impossible III, but he’s not going to change the way he makes films.

4.  Bad guy’s lighsaber… jury is still out for me.  I’m not sure if I’m a big fan of cross guards on the hilt of the lightsaber blades as they seem unwieldy, but it is growing on me.

5.  Rollerball R2 unit.  I suspect older fans who hate “cute” elements in their Star Wars are going to hate this character.

6.  John Boyega OWNS the screen in the few seconds he appears.  I definitely wanted to know more about him.

Overall it’s a solid teaser, but I was left a little underwhelmed.  Compared to the Episode I & III teasers it was lacking.  The Episode II “Breathing” teaser was outstanding, and Empire’s teaser had me going back to the theater again, and again.

One of my biggest takeaways from this teaser is that J.J. is desperately trying to surround this film with an air of mystery, but this trailer comes across as less of a mystery and more like a series of random shots strung together that tell us little. The great thing about the teasers for the Prequels is that they hinted at just enough of a story to give the audience a tease of the upcoming adventure, but still managed to shroud it in mystery. J.J.’s Mystery Box can be frustrating at times.

On the other hand, I do appreciate the fact that J.J. avoided turning the teaser into a nostalgia fest, and instead of dwelling on the past chose to introduced the new characters that will propel the Saga going forward.

 

Rebels – Gathering Forces

Fair warning: This episode just aired on DisneyXD tonight and is also available through the DisneyXD app so there are spoilers ahead!!!

Episode 8 – Gathering Forces – Great Moments Overshadowed By a Weak Plot

Ezra Gathering ForcesLast week’s episode, Empire Day, was perhaps the best episode of Rebels to date, and left viewers with an exciting cliffhanger.  Agent Kallus and the Inquistor were in hot pursuit of our heroes, and in danger of capturing them once and for all.  Meanwhile, the renegade Rodian Imperial worker, Tseebo, was about to reveal to Ezra the fate of His mother and father.  Unfortunately, Gathering Forces is an episode which looses focus on the central plot established in Empire Day, and instead focuses on Kanan’s command decision to confront the Inquisitor along with Ezra.  While that subplot works brilliantly on its own, as a conclusion to this two-pary arc, it feels rather clunky and forced.

Our story begins right in the middle of the action where we were left at the conclusion of Empire day.  Our heroes, aboard the Ghost are trying to desperately outrun a group of T.I.E. fighters led by the evil Inquisitor.  The ship is being pummeled by blaster fire and shields have nearly collapsed as Kevin Kiner’s score ratchets up the intensity.  During the battle the Inquisitor manages to launch a tracking device which attaches itself to the hull of the Phantom, a small craft docked on the Ghost.

star-wars-rebels-REB_IA_6354Chopper has been knocked out of the fight and it is up to Ezra to affect repairs so the ship can jump to lightspeed, however Ezra’s skills are a bit limited, but the timely arrival of Tseebo to the cockpit saves the day, and the ship blasts to hyperspace.  However, the crew’s sense of relief is short lived when Tseebo reveals that the Imperials have placed a tracker on the ship.

Hera and Kanan debate the next course of action with Hera recommending the crew stay together to ensure Tseebo is safely delivered to their Rebel contact, the mysterious Fulcrum. However, Kanan believes the best course of action is for he and Ezra to take the Phantom and drop out of lightspeed at the abandoned asteroid base featured in the episode Out of Darkness.  Hera is not convinced (and neither was I… more on that later), but ultimately relents, so Kanan and Ezra prepare to take off as a diversionary tactic.

Meanwhile Ezra is growing increasing frustrated with Tseebo’s presence on the ship.  He soon reveals that Tseebo was in fact responsible for Ezra’s parents disappearing, and had failed in his task to take care of Ezra for his parents.  Ezra clearly resents the impact that Tseebo has had on his life, but quietly admits that if he had not been orphaned he would never have learned how to survive.  Tseebo’s story is made even more tragic as he reveals that all he wants is forgiveness from Ezra, but that appears to be something that is not coming soon.

640px-Gathering_Forces_4

In an exciting sequence, the Phantom is detached from the Ghost while still in hyperspace.  Eventually Kanan manages to gain control of the little craft and sets down at the old abandoned Clone Wars era asteroid base.  Kanan informs his young Padawan that he will have to use his training and reach out and control the minds of the vicious shadow beasts before the Imperials arrive.  However, Ezra is filled with fear, and at first cannot control the creatures, but in this moment Kanan uses his fear of the beasts to conquer his real fear… that he will learn the truth about his parents.  He is finally able to summon up his courage and overcome that fear, and in a very powerful scene reaches out to Tseebo through the Force and tells his old family friend that he is forgiven.  Having overcome this fear Ezra is now able to control the shadow beasts.

Just then, the Inquisitor and his troops arrive only to find Ezra and Kanan defended by a large den of dark critters… all hell breaks loose.

star-wars-rebels-REB_IA_6451Kanan and the Inquisitor face of in a quick, but intense duel with the Inquisitor quickly getting the upper hand, and almost toying with Kanan along the way.  With a powerful Force push he hurtles the Jedi away, and turns his attention to Ezra.  Alone now, and once again faced with fear, and now anger as he sees his Master unconscious at his feet, Ezra channels his power to a much darker place.  The Inquisitor even eggs the young apprentice on, and goads him into tapping into the Dark Side.  Ezra does just that, summoning what appears to be the queen of the shadow beasts, and enormous creature which dwarfs the other creatures.  Ezra commands the beast to attack the Inquisitor.  Meanwhile, Ezra gathers up his Master and they run to the Phantom making their escape, and disabling the Inquisitor’s shuttle in the process.

Meanwhile, back on the Ghost, the crew delivers Tseebo to Fulcrum (whom we never meet), and we are once again left to wonder the fate of Ezra’s parents as we cut away right at the moment Tseebo is about to tell Hera what happened.  It’s a frustrating tease which really feels drawn out now for no good reason.  Finally, Kanan and Ezra are reunited with the crew, but Ezra has a lot on his mind and doesn’t appear to be quite ready to hear about his parents just yet.  In the poignant final scene of the episode, Sabine presents Ezra with a gift for his birthday (member last episode we learned Ezra’s birthday was on Empire Day); a cleaned up holographic picture of Ezra with his parents before the Empire arrived at Lothal.  Those were clearly happier times, and it’s a fitting conclusion to the arc.

The Good:

star-wars-rebels-REB_IA_6480Gathering Forces concludes with a great light saber duel between Kanan and the Inquisitor.  The choreography of the fight is very dynamic with the Inquisitor uses a technique very akin to traditional fencing versus Kanan’s slightly less elegant style.  This works perfectly with the Inquisitor’s arrogant attitude and leaves the viewer with the impression that the Inquisitor is simply toying with Kanan and has the upper hand.

Ultimately the Inquisitor dispatches Kanan with minimal fuss, leaving Ezra alone to handle the dangerous Dark Side Force user.  In a very powerful moment, Ezra reaches out with the Force in his anger and rage and summons the queen of the shadow beasts and directs it to attack the Inquisitor.  There’s some great animation as the air literally seems to stand still as wave of the Force call out to the creature, and Kanan’s face is filled with dread as he knows exactly what power his young Padawan has tapped into.

Freddie-Prinze-JrThis episode is also chock full of terrific performances; Gathering Forces may very well be the best acted episode of the series to date.  In particular, Taylor Gray, Freddie Prinze, Jr., and Jason Issacs turn in some tremendous work building up the drama and tension of the episode’s terrific finale.  Issacs turns in his usual deliciously villainous work with the Inquisitor, spewing out his venomous lines with a nasty haughtiness which really makes you love and hate him simultaneously.

But Freddie Prinze, Jr. in particular  really seems to have found his voice in Kanan and brings a tremendous amount of depth to the role in Gathering Forces.  His love of Samurai and martial arts films really comes through in his work as Ezra’s Master.  Yet there is also edginess to the role which suggests that in many ways he’s flying by the seat of his pants, and is probably in a little over his head.  Kanan is slowly emerging as my favorite character of the show, and a great deal of that is in part to Freddie Prinze, Jr.’s  acting chops.

The Bad:

star-wars-rebels-REB_IA_6454Unfortunately, Gathering Forces is saddled with a fairly ridiculous plot which strains the limits of logic, and makes Kanan come across a little selfish.  The crew realizes their ship is being tracked by the Empire through hyperspace with a device attached to the hull of the Phantom, the small craft which is docked with the Ghost. Hera immediately concludes they should ditch the Phantom leaving it for the Imperials to find while they continue to make their way to rendezvous with Fulcrum and deliver Tseebo and his secrets to the Rebels.  Kanan immediately overrules this and decides that it would be best for him and Ezra to leave the ship in the Phantom and lead the Imperials on a wild goose chase.  Kanan suggests that the Inquisitor won’t stop pursuing the Ghost as long as the two Jedi are on board

However, this really makes no sense, as we’ve seen no evidence in the show at all that the Inquisitor can track our heroes’ location through the Force.  He may get odd premonitions, but nothing that would lead him to discovering the Ghost crew had pulled one over on him until they were far away.  Also, as we’ve seen through numerous episodes, the crew works better when they are a team, and all work as one.  Whenever characters get separated from the rest of their comrades, that’s when the trouble starts, and you can see that as a theme in practically every episode.  A united family makes a stronger force for good than a fractured one.

Rebels-Questions-from-the-Past-SW_f9772f18Ditching the Phantom makes the most logical sense, and allows our intrepid band to complete their mission in the shortest amount of time possible.  Remember, Tseebo and the Imperial secrets he holds in his cybernetics are vitally important.  But Kanan’s decision to make his “last stand” at the abandoned asteroid base only makes matters worse and is a very questionable decision too.  Regardless of the crew’s experiences in Out of Darkness, the Empire is unaware of this location and it could still be of use as a secret location for drop offs with Fulcrum.  The crew would simply need to be cautious, and now that they are aware of the danger it would still be a suitable location to conduct drop offs.  But now that option is completely off the table as the Imperials know of the location.

Kanan’s decision to leave the Ghost and take the Phantom simply comes across as a little reckless and a decision based more on emotion and a desire to confront the Inquisitor and stop him.  That doesn’t seem very Jedi-like.  Rather than focus on the mission of delivering Tseebo and the Imperial secrets he stole to their Rebel contacts, Kanan is almost going out of his way to place himself and his Padawan in harm’s way.  And to make matters even worse he really places Ezra is a very dangerous spot by making him try to control the shadow critters who inhabit the mountain at the asteroid base.  So, far we’ve only seen Ezra fail at trying to control one lone, wild Lothal cat; this is not the time to test his young apprentice, especially as the Imperials are fast approaching.  I simply found the plan to be foolhardy and reckless given the stakes if the crew failed to deliver Tseebo safely.

Rebels-107-Gathering-Forces_9d8960e2Ultimately, what really bothered me about Gathering Forces is that the episode did not feel like the conclusion of the story which started in Empire Day.  Once Ezra and Kanan leave the Ghost this almost come across as a one off episode, and the payoff to the story that was being laid in Empire Day comes across as an afterthought.  We gets hints and suggestions to who Fulcrum is, we are teased, once again, regarding the fate of Ezra’s parents, but ultimately there’s no conclusion as we divert attention from the main plot of delivering vital stolen Imperial data to the Rebels to a lightsaber duel on a remote asteroid.  It makes for a poorly thought out conclusion to the story, as if the writers really didn’t know how to wrap up the story, or had simply run out of time to tell a self contained episode and padded the story to stretch it out to two episodes.

Unfortunately Kanan’s plan leads to another beef I’m beginning to have with the show… the reuse of character and location models.  The decision to return to the abandoned asteroid base almost comes across as a cheat, and a means to finish the arc on the cheap by reusing a location they’ve already visited.  Now to be fair, in the early days of an computer animated series your are going to reuse characters and locations until you can build up enough assets to populate worlds with a variety of animals, plants, and locations.  But Kanan’s plan already felt needlessly forced, and this just highlighted the frequent criticism among some fans that the show appears to be made with a modest budget compared to The Clone Wars.  This is not necessarily a fair comparison, but Clone Wars raised the bar so high that it makes the show’s visual shortcomings stand out like a sore thumb.

Rebels_112414_1600Having said all that, Gathering Forces has some of the most stunning visuals of the series to date.  In particular the lightsaber duel on the asteroid base is a visual treat as is the opening space battle.  There are some terrific, visually dynamic moments in the episode that are almost on par with the films, and it is clear Dave Filoni and crew understand the visual language of Star Wars, there are just some areas they need to tighten up to reach the visual quality of storytelling they aspire to.

Overview: Gathering Forces is one of the most frustrating episodes of the show to date.  There are some really great character moments in this episode and the final confrontation between the Inquisitor, and our Jedi duo, Kanan and Ezra, is superbly crafted.  However, Kanan’s plan to save Tseebo makes no logical sense and comes across as just an excuse to set up a story which will end in a lightsaber duel.  The result makes Gathering Forces feel less like a continuation of Empire Day, and more like a self contained episode which just happened to reference it.  Loose plot threads are left everywhere, and we are never really given a proper payoff for Tseebo in the episode’s conclusion.  Unfortunately, his story and the fate of Ezra’s parents will have to wait for another episode.

NOTE:  If Gathering Forces was a standalone episode only focusing on Kanan and Ezra’s confrontation with the Inquisitor this would have rated much higher, as those elements alone work quite well.  However, I’m grading this as part two of an arc, and compared to Empire Day this episode is simply a weak conclusion.

7 of 10

Rebels Logo

May the Force Be With You

Disney… You’re Killing Me Smalls Pt. 2 (This Time With Good News)

The DisneyXD Yo-Yo

STAR WARS REBELSSo last week’s ratings for the November 4th airing of Breaking Ranks posted with no fanfare from Disney, and for good reason.  Once again the show took a nose dive shedding over 300,000 viewers from a near series high of 946,000 viewers the week before.  The numbers were hard to find as the show made barely a blip on any of the standard websites covering TV ratings news.  However, I was finally able to dig up the number, but no demographic breakdown, but it appears the youth numbers must have been pretty good as the 18-49 year old demographic only posted a 0.1 rating.  But once again the show dropped 30% of its viewers and seems destined to continue this trend of good news bad news for Disney’s struggling boy-centric network.

But then I found something fascinating…

They said, “Disney Channel is the place ya ought to be…”

The outstanding ratings analysis blog, TV-Aholic, posted Friday’s cable numbers… and they were very illuminating…

On Friday, November 7th, the Disney Channel aired a 1-hour bloc of back-to-back episodes of Rebels following an airing of the animated film, Despicable Me:

Friday Ratings

Yes, you read that right, Star Wars Rebels was the #6 and #8 rated cable program during primetime on Friday evening pulling in very Clone Wars like numbers.  It should be noted the show aired in the same time slot Clone Wars initially did during its early run on Cartoon Network.  The 9:00 PM airing pulled in over 2 million viewers, and even the 9:30 broadcast was able to maintain a large chunk of those viewers despite being pitted against the Discovery Channel’s hit reality show, Gold Rush, and an ESPN broadcast of NBA basketball.  Clearly the show demonstrated it can pull in mass viewers when aired on another night, and on another network.Disney XD

The Future

Clearly Disney has little expectations for ratings on DisneyXD, and like the Marvel properties, views the brand as nothing more than a a means to lure viewers to their struggling cable channel.  But it’s obvious that Rebels can bring in solid numbers on Disney Channel proper, so airing on DisneyXD is nothing more than “playing with house money.”

The Disney Channel has announced plans to begin airing reruns of Rebels on Saturdays at noon beginning November 29th, so it will be interesting to see how those Friday numbers translate.  However, it should be apparent to Disney executives that the Disney Channel is a natural home for the show.

rebels-logo-big.png_posterMay the Force Be With You