The Rise of Skywalker (spoilers within!)

The Rise of Skywalker

So folks, I went to see the latest Star Wars movie, The Rise of Skywalker, last night. The finale to the nine-movie saga of the Skywalker series, there was a lot of hype for this film in the run up, and I was getting a bit concerned that it might not live up to that, when it came down to it.

The story of the film picks up around a year following the last movie. There have been reports of the return of Emperor Palpatine, and Kylo Ren has obtained a Sith wayfinder device that he uses to travel to the planet Exegol, and finds the weirdly reanimated Sith Lord, who reveals that the whole First Order has been part of his plan, and that he created Snoke as a puppet to lure Ren to the dark side. Palpatine has an entire Sith fleet in orbit around the planet, and he promises to turn over the whole of his Final Order to Ren in exchange for the death of Rey.

Poe, Finn and Chewie gain intel from a spy in the First Order that confirms Palpatine has returned, and return to the Resistance with the news. Rey has read of a device within the Jedi texts she had from Luke, which can lead to the lost Sith world of Exegol. Luke had traced such a device to Pasaana with the help of a mysterious contact, and so Rey, Finn, Poe and Chewie travel there to pick up the trail. There, they meet Lando Calrissian, who helps them escape a First Order patrol, but through their Force bond, Kylo Ren discovers Rey’s location and travels there to confront her. Poe and Finn discover a Sith dagger on the that C-3PO translates, although he is forbidden from speaking the words due to his programming. However, the First Order captures the Falcon, and Chewie with the dagger – while attempting to bring the prison transport back to the surface, Rey accidentally destroys the ship with Force lightning. The Resistance heroes escape on the ship left behind by Luke’s contact.

Poe suggests they travel to Kijimi, where they can get the text out of Threepio’s memory. Unfortunately, this will come at the cost of wiping his memory completely. They go through with it, and while there Rey senses Chewie is alive on the First Order ship in orbit, which arrived following the Knights of Ren having tracked them. While Kylo Ren travels to the surface to find Rey, the Resistance fighters travel to the ship with the help of an old contact of Poe’s, Zorii Bliss. While Finn and Poe rescue Chewie, Rey recovers the Sith dagger and receives a vision of Luke’s contact killing her parents with it. The First Order discovers Finn, Poe and Chewie, but they are aided by General Hux, who reveals himself as the spy. Kylo Ren reveals to Rey that she is the granddaughter of Palpatine, who had ordered her killed as a child as he feared her power. He asks her to join him, and together they can defeat Palpatine, but she escapes with Finn, Poe and Chewie. Hux is executed by Allegiant General Pryde, who speaks to his former master, the Emperor, and orders the destruction of Kijimi.

Threepio’s memory banks have given the location of the Sith wayfinder device as Kef Bir, a moon in the Endor system. There, Rey uses the dagger to discover the location of the device in the remains of the second Death Star, but upon finding it, she is confronted by Kylo Ren once more. The two duel, and at a critical moment Kylo feels Leia calling to him through the Force as she dies. Rey impales him on his own lightsaber, but then manages to heal him through the Force before fleeing the planet in his ship. She returns to Ahch-To, and attempts to exile herself, but the Force ghost of Luke encourages her to face Palpatine and her destiny, and she leaves in his old X-Wing and with Leia’s lightsaber, using the wayfinder from Kylo’s ship to travel to Exegol. Kylo Ren realizes the errors of his ways, and after a hallucination of his father Han Solo, he throws away his lightsaber. The Resistance tracks her through the call sign on Luke’s X-Wing and follows her there, to be confronted with the massed Sith fleet headed up by General Pryde.

Rey confronts Palpatine on the surface, and the Emperor demands that she kill him, to allow him to transfer his consciousness into her and live anew. While the Resistance fleet attempts to battle the full might of the Sith, aiming to knock out a navigation tower to prevent the fleet from leaving orbit, Ben arrives to aid her and is confronted by the Knights of Ren. Through their Force bond, Rey manages to give Ben her lightsaber and he defeats them all. He joins Rey to confront Palpatine, but he manages to drain their essence to empower himself back to full health. While he Force-pushes Ben away, Rey is galvanised by the combined strength of previous Jedi (including Yoda, Mace Windu and Obi-Wan) and, using both Leia’s and Luke’s lightsabers, deflects Palpatine’s Force lightning back at him, and defeats him.

The effort of doing so is too much and she seemingly dies, but Ben returns and manages to heal her through the Force. The two kiss, and Ben becomes one with the Force. As he does so, Leia’s body follows. When all seems lost, Lando arrives in-system with a massive, rag-tag fleet of reinforcements and they manage to destroy the Sith armada, finally eliminating the threat of the First Order. While the galaxy celebrates freedom once more, Rey travels to the Lars homestead on Tatooine, and buries both Luke’s and Leia’s lightsabers in the sand, having now built her own. A passing local asks who she is, and she reveals her name as “Rey Skywalker”.

As I said at the start, I was prepared to feel let down by this film, after the sheer amount of hype that it had received. On my way out of the movie theatre, I wasn’t entirely sure how I felt about it, but we had a 2 hour car ride home after meeting up with some friends, and talking it through really helped me to think about that. After sleeping on it, I’m pretty much convinced that it is a satisfying conclusion, but only to the sequel trilogy.

Let me explain.

I grew up with the original trilogy, but was in high school when the prequels started coming out. So I hadn’t quite formed that sort of opinion about things, but rather I was just enjoying the fact that there were more Star Wars movies being made, and I was around this time to see them. I think the fact that their numerical order helped: having always had IV, V and VI, it felt right that we were finally getting I, II and III. When the sequel trilogy was announced, I think it just felt like, “Oh, Disney has just spent a lot of money acquiring this IP, and they want to start playing in that sandbox”. I have never felt like the sequel trilogy needed to be made, in the same way that making the prequel trilogy made some amount of sense.

These films were originally about Luke Skywalker – he is the hero whose journey we are on. Vader is the villain who, in one of the most shocking plot twists in movie history, turns out to be Luke’s father and is eventually redeemed, but I don’t think anybody thought that the movies were about Vader until George Lucas started to make the prequels, and told us that, actually, these movies are about Anakin Skywalker, his fall and eventual redemption by his son. It was an interesting way of looking at things, and I guess I was suckered into that because, since the early 2000s, it’s been really nice to have that six-part film series that tells the whole story of Anakin Skywalker.

Now, we have the sequel trilogy, and the main protagonist is the granddaughter of the Emperor, but we’re being told that these films continue the saga of the Skywalker family. I’ve got to say – no, they don’t. If Rey had turned out to be the hidden twin of Ben Solo, then maybe. But she’s not, so the only way that these films can logically be said to continue the Skywalker saga is insofar as they kill off the Big Three from the original trilogy, providing that sense of closure while passing the torch to the next generation. Suddenly, the nine-part film series is mostly about Anakin, but is more about… what? There is now a lack of focus if we’re to look at these as one long saga. There is no central protagonist, because Anakin/Vader only lives through two-thirds of the movies, just like Luke is only present for two-thirds of the movies.

To my mind, the sequel trilogy did not need to be made, as it blurs those boundaries of a family soap opera that Lucas had intended all along. In his own ideas for the sequel trilogy – a pretty fascinating topic that I want to save for another blog – we’d get the grandchildren of Anakin Skywalker, making each trilogy about him, his children, and then his grandchildren. As it stands, while Ben/Kylo Ren is certainly a grandchild of Anakin, he is most certainly put into the antagonist camp, and I don’t think anybody could really say the trilogy has been about him, in the way that it has quite blatantly focused instead on Rey.

However.

When viewed as a film that wraps up the most recent trilogy, this works really nicely. There is so much that can be said about The Last Jedi having ruined Star Wars – again, I think I want to talk about this more in another blog – but seeing The Rise of Skywalker now, and thinking about how it fits into the third act of the trilogy, it seems pretty clear that JJ Abrams should have been in the director’s chair for all three. Things that we had seen in The Force Awakens should have continued into The Last Jedi, meaning that The Rise of Skywalker could then have maybe paused a little to actually explore some of these things in greater depth. As it is, there is a lot of story crammed into that 142 minutes. A lot. The first half of the film deals with some pretty frenetic searches for maguffins, and I think some of that could perhaps have been dealt with better if it had been set up in The Last Jedi, rather than JJ having to set things up and then resolve them in the same movie.

I suppose that is nowhere more apparent than with the reveal of who Rey really is. This, I feel, should have been explored further in The Last Jedi – a lot of the first part of the film should, I think, have been in that movie, especially her use of Force lightning on Pasaana, before we finally learn of her heritage here. I think more explanation of how, in fact, she is related to Palpatine is needed, as well – I’m no prude, but I don’t think the Sith Lord is the sort to go sleeping around, and while Darth Plagueis does paint him as something of a dapper senator, we’re still at the theory stage right now. For my own theory, I think it will either be a case of Palpatine having used the Force to create life again, or else some form of cloning experiment. I just hope that we’ll get to see something of that explored further soon, because it’s one of those niggling plot points for a huge nerd like myself, who will obsess over it until the shaaks come home…

Something else that I’d like to mention is how impressed I was with Leia’s inclusion. Considering the pledge was made to use nothing but deleted scenes, she actually has a much more substantial role in the film than I’d been expecting. Just when I thought we might have seen the last of her, she turns up again for more! Sure, some clever use of stand-ins has been made, but it was really nicely done, and I think it forms a fitting end for her character, as she passes the baton to the last generation.

It’s a busy movie, but it does have the time for some really nice sequences. JJ’s love of practical effects and real sets comes through once more, and I absolutely love it for that. Much like what we’re seeing with The Mandalorian right now, it’s stuff like this that helps give the show or the film that veracity that allows you to immerse yourself in the universe.

There are some incredibly wonderful little details that we see throughout the movie, I felt myself again getting sucked into the world, and wanting to know more about, for example, the Emperor’s creepy robed minions, or the denizens of Kijimi, or the “Sith assassin” contact Luke had been working with, etc etc etc. It’s such a real, lived-in universe feel, which is exactly the same feeling that we get when we watch the cantina scene of A New Hope, or the Jabba’s Palace scenes of Return of the Jedi.

It was a pretty good ending to the sequel trilogy, and I don’t think it’s going to come under anywhere near as much fire as The Last Jedi has. I don’t think of it as being a conclusion to the entire Star Wars saga, though, but it functions perfectly well as the capstone to the new sequel trilogy.

And I just can’t wait to see where we go in the Star Wars universe next!

The Last Jedi! (spoilers within)

Hey everybody!
I went to see The Last Jedi last night, and I have to say, I was really blown away. Considering, at its core, it’s a very straightforward movie, there was a hell of a lot going on! This blog post will contain spoilers, so please turn back unless you’re willing to take the risk – but suffice it to say, I think I liked it!

The Last Jedi

The movie picks up almost immediately where The Force Awakens left off, with Rey meeting Luke on Ahch-To and returning his lightsaber. Luke is initially very reluctant to teach Rey anything, but eventually offers her three lessons. During their time together, Rey learns that Luke almost killed Ben Solo during their training, as he had seen the corruption Snoke had managed to inveigle into his student, but stopped himself. However, Ben turned on Luke alongside a handful of students at the Jedi temple, killing the others and leaving to join the First Order.

The Resistance is on the defensive against the First Order fleet, being hounded across the galaxy due to the First Order’s ability to track their ships through lightspeed. Realising this, Finn and a mechanic named Rose decide to infiltrate the First Order star destroyer tracking them, and disable the device in order to allow the Resistance the chance to flee. In order to do so, they travel to the casino city of Canto Bight on Cantonica, but are apprehended by the police and imprisoned. There, they meet the slicer DJ who offers to help them, and after a hectic breakout, manage to flee the world. DJ gets Finn and Rose to the First Order flagship, but betrays them and they are once again captured.

During a First Order attack on the Resistance, however, General Leia was seriously wounded, leaving command of the fleet with Vice Admiral Amilyn Holdo. She and Poe clash over the vice admiral’s apparent lack of determination, and when Poe discovers she is seemingly intent on abandoning ship, he leads a mutiny against her, as he is desperate for Finn and Rose to get through and disable the tracking device. However, Leia stuns him and the extent of Holdo’s plan becomes clear: she intends to allow cloaked transports to flee the Resistance flagship, providing a decoy for the First Order to continue to follow.

Rey, communicating through the Force with Kylo Ren, decides to leave Luke and return to known space, intent on turning Ren from the dark side. She allows herself to be captured by the First Order, and Ren takes her to Snoke, who chides her foolishness for thinking she can turn him. As Snoke laughs in triumph, seeing Ren using a lightsaber to destroy “his true enemy”, Ren uses the Force to bisect Snoke with Luke’s lightsaber. The two kill Snoke’s guards, then Ren offers Rey the chance to join him in ruling the galaxy. A Force struggle ensues, and Rey leaves to rejoin the resistance.

The main Resistance forces are making their way to the old Rebellion outpost of Crait, but are discovered by the First Order and largely destroyed. However, Holdo sets a course directly for the First Order flagship and jumps to lightspeed, destroying her own ship and tearing a chunk out of that of the First Order in the process. In the confusion, Finn and Captain Phasma duel, with Finn managing to best his former boss before he and Rose escape the ship.

The Resistance reconvenes on the salt mining world of Crait, but so few remain and soon the First Order arrives in force. After an initial bombardment, Luke seems to appear within the base, and heads out to confront the enemy. Ren, now Supreme Leader of the First Order, orders every gun to blast him to pieces, but he emerges unscathed, at which point he goes out to duel his uncle. However, it soon appears to be nothing more than a Force projection, Luke allowing the remaining Resistance leaders time to flee from the mine with Rey and Chewie aboard the Falcon. Exhausted by the effort of projecting his consciousness across the galaxy, Luke dies.

The film ends with the confirmation that the Resistance is more than the surviving band of freedom fighters, but the idea that you can fight the First Order.


Like I said, there is a lot going on in this movie, for what is essentially a two-story arc of the Resistance’s flight from the First Order, and Rey’s search for training. That isn’t meant to do the film a disservice, as I thought it was actually really quite an interesting take. There was so much happening, though, I feel that I need to go watch it again to really take it all in.

Much like my initial thoughts on The Force Awakens, I didn’t really feel like this movie fits with the others, either. Though I’m sure that will change in time! It feels like a decent film, don’t get me wrong, and I really did like it, but it definitely felt like a world apart from the others.

In common with the last movie, it also has a lot of throwbacks to the original movie trilogy, this time to Empire. The Resistance base on Crait felt exactly like Hoth, and there were at least a couple of shots that directly reference similar shots to the Battle of Hoth. It seemed quite silly that a random soldier dude has to make reference to the fact that the white stuff is salt, not snow, as if just to differentiate. Later on, there is a sequence where Chewie flies the Falcon through the salt mine, which is almost entirely lifted from the Death Star attack during the Battle of Endor – right down to the same music playing. The Canto Bight casino feels like the Cloud City shots we never got to see, etc etc. It’s not as obvious as episode VII, don’t get me wrong, but it still feels a little like this sequel trilogy is being propped up by the original three, and I would prefer to see more entirely new stuff, if I’m honest.

The Last Jedi

Now, let’s address the elephant in the room here. Leia survives the film, while Luke becomes one with the Force. I was really perplexed by this, and I don’t really know where we’re going from here. Of course, we knew earlier in the year that Leia had a larger part to play in IX, but with Carrie Fisher’s death almost a year ago now, and Kathleen Kennedy stating that she will not be brought back for episode nine, I can’t really see how they’re going to get round this. Leia is too pivotal a character to be killed off-screen, but the only thing I can think of here is that the opening crawl for the next movie will start with something like “General Leia is dead.” I suppose it’s too early to be speculating with what could happen, but I was fully expecting them to give her a similar death to Oliver Reed’s Gladiator demise.

On a related note, though, I was quite pleased to see Luke dying to save his friends, but not being killed in battle. I mean, Luke is my favourite character, so I’m biased here, but I’d always thought he wouldn’t just go out like a chump, as he’s too powerful with the Force. That he managed to project himself across the galaxy to provide the distraction for Leia and co to flee, then just goes into the Force, it really was the best way for him to go.

There’s so much to talk about with this movie, I’m really looking forward to seeing it again and just becoming more familiar with it as part of the ongoing saga. There is definitely a lot going on – it’s possibly the most action-packed of the films so far – so I’m sure I’ll be devoting many more blog posts to it in the months to come!!

Star Wars new canon musings

Hey everybody!
It’s been a bit of a Star Wars week here at spalanz.com, and today I thought I’d talk about some various musings that I’ve been having about the franchise, with the new books and comics as well as thoughts on the new and up-coming movies… It’s going to be a ramble, but let’s begin!

Episode VIII: The Last Jedi
I’m really intrigued about what’s going to happen in this film. Something that I like the idea of is how VII mirrored IV so much, VIII might actually begin by imitating V before vectoring off really onto its own thing. There is a lot of footage in the trailer that shows the Resistance seemingly under attack, and I like the idea that this is an escape sequence much like the Battle of Hoth, where we may see a lot of similar story beats to the earlier movie.

We’ll also have a lot of Rey being trained by Luke and, if VII can be relied upon, Kylo Ren being trained by Snoke, which will somewhat follow the theme of Luke being trained by Yoda. But what else could we see? Some stories have been circulating that speculate the film starts with Leia meeting Snoke in a sort of meeting-of-minds, and she has to be rescued by the Resistance. I suppose the scenes that I thought of as an escape could equally be a rescue.

Leia is said to have an expanded role in VIII, which is excellent because she wasn’t in VII nearly as much as she should have been. But I guess we needed to see the next generation established. The idea that she meets with Snoke could be interesting as, like the rest of the world, I’m deeply intrigued as to who he is and how he fits into the world. I’ve said it before on this blog, and I’ll reiterate here: I don’t believe Snoke is somebody who we’ve met before, insofar as I don’t think he’s a clone of Palpatine/Anakin/Jar Jar, or whatever. I do think he’s a completely new creation, though he does seem to be known to Leia and Han, given their exchange before Han leaves for Starkiller Base in VII. I’m intrigued as to how he fits into the First Order hierarchy, as I would have expected to have seen him somewhere in Bloodline if he’s a major player. (Well, maybe I did!) Whoever he is, though, it needs to be fully explained in the movies, as the vast majority of moviegoers aren’t following the comics and novels and cartoons and everything else, and Disney knows this. The movies need to be able to stand on their own, and so I’m confident that we’ll be getting a full reveal in either VIII or IX.

Again sticking with the parallels with V, I think the climax will have an “I am your father” style explanation – though obviously, he won’t turn out to be Rey’s father or anything like that…

The mystery of Rey is, I think, perhaps the best thing to be coming out of the sequel trilogy so far. While I know plenty of people are rabidly chomping at the bit for anything, I think it’s being done really well in that I’m intrigued, but I find her interesting enough on her own terms that I don’t need to know who her parents were. Does that make sense? She’s great enough on her own terms, and I love that about her.

The new EU
This brings me on to something in general about the EU right now, though, which is a continuation of something I mentioned the other day. So far, we’ve only had two movies from Disney, but they’ve been movies that tell pretty decent stories, and which have succeeded in drawing me in to the universe they have created. Bear with me here…

The Force Awakens lands us slap-bang in the middle of the galaxy some 30-or-so years after Return of the Jedi, and while the interpersonal story of the main characters plays out pretty much okay, we’re left with so many questions about the state of the universe that we’re now in. Rogue One returned us to a more familiar time period, but has shown that there are so many questions that we thought we knew the answers to, but it turns out we barely scratched the surface there. While it can be irritating to a lore nerd such as myself to suddenly not know where we are in the universe, I’ve noticed that I’m actually starting to pore over all of the stuff that I can get my hands on once again, such as the Visual Dictionaries, and branching out into the YA books that I would usually avoid.

Basically, Disney has made me enthusiastic about Star Wars once again.

There is, however, a “but” coming…
Despite the fact that I’m now really intrigued by the new setting, including that for Rogue One, which has shown us a new way of looking at the time period of the original movie trilogy, I’m finding it difficult to stay enthusiastic about the new EU when I begin to devour the offerings we have that flesh out this landscape.

I’ve been particularly hard on the Aftermath trilogy (you can see exactly how harsh by checking out my blog reviews here, here and here!) However, I’ve been thinking again recently, and I’m fully prepared to completely re-evaluate those opinions in the light of anything we learn at the end of Episode IX. I think it’s very likely that there will be a number of things mentioned in passing during those books that will prove to be important later – not just the interludes, but a lot of the general story will likely make more sense when we’ve seen the whole trajectory of the sequel trilogy.

The rest of the novels that I’ve so far read from the new canon have been very much a mixed bag, with Heir to the Jedi being a particular favourite, but only Bloodline standing out for me as the absolute best and most important of them all so far. I don’t think I’ve read anything from the new canon that has managed to capture the feel of this new, Force-Awakened universe more than this book, and cannot recommend it enough to even the casual fans of the franchise. The others tend to fall into something of a “meh” category of general tie-in fiction that is really neither good nor bad, but overall you’re not missing anything by not reading it. This is in stark contrast to some of the Legends books, which often form important leads-in to films or provide important explanations of plot-points. Maybe the Disney films are too reliant on themselves to tell their story, leading to the novels not having a great deal to cover?

The comics from Marvel have, so far, been the single most consistent let-down in all of this, however. While a lot of my criticisms of the new canon can perhaps be explained away with “well, it’s still early days yet – Dark Horse and Del Rey had years to build up their lore!” (which is, incidentally, true), I feel that Marvel in particular has so far been playing so fast and loose with Star Wars in general, that it’s really wearing me down as a consumer. At the time I’m writing this, I’ve read probably half of the total content they’ve put out, and cannot think of a single issue or series that I can put my finger on and say, “that was great”. The Vader ongoing series was probably the closest we get to that, though I have only read half of it up to this point. The general ongoing series had a fantastic issue #1, and went downhill so quickly it was unbelievable. We’re now being treated to Han and Leia racing around a Star Destroyer as serious wartime adventure, and I just can’t believe they got rid of stuff like The Wrong Side of the War and replaced it with this!

First world problems, for sure, but I think we deserve better stories than this dumbed-down junk. The time period of the original trilogy was a period of civil war, according to the opening crawl of the movie that started it all – how about seeing some actual war stories, rather than this inane rubbish about three people hijacking a Star Destroyer, or the ongoing boredom of Han Solo’s not-wife.

For me, part of the problem with the ongoing series from Marvel is the fact that there doesn’t seem to be a plan for the story these books are telling us. The time period between IV and V was always set at three years, in-universe, and was replete with “just another story” about Luke and the gang going up against the Empire, having a series of narrow scrapes, but always winning in the end. Sure, that’s the adventure serial type of story that inspired the movie in the first place. But when you just have endless one-shot storylines that have that “and they all lived to fight another day” ending, it’s kinda pointless. One of the main selling-points for removing the expanded universe as it was, was that they could start to tell more cohesive stories in the EU, but I’ve not yet seen any real evidence of that from Marvel. Yeah, the monthly books have had some nice interlocking connections, but nothing important has happened, and it’s all just much of the same junk that Marvel pumped out in the 80s.

I have been expecting a coherent narrative across the comics that ties in with the films, and any other novels that take place at the same time period. So far, the only consistencies seem to be that Dr Aphra has shown up as Darth Vader’s groupie, and Han Solo’s annoying not-wife seems to have grafted herself on as Leia’s informal attache. We don’t really have a stable of characters that Marvel has created, including villains for the rebels to go up against, so it all feels like so much diaphanous rubbish.

Are you familiar with the Republic ongoing series from Dark Horse, which ran for over 100 issues and spanned the period from Phantom Menace well beyond Revenge of the Sith? The series had a somewhat bumpy beginning as it followed Ki-Adi-Mundi on a variety of throwaway adventures that meant nothing in the grand scheme of things, before it introduced the Jedi Knight Quinlan Vos and his erstwhile padawan Aayla Secura. While their adventures were interrupted with other issues, the series really picked up steam when John Ostrander and Jan Duursema were telling the story of these two, and a whole cast of recurring faces began to pepper the pages, to the point where now, if you read the whole lot, you get a wonderfully cohesive narrative arc that actually serves as a counterpoint to the prequel movies themselves.

My point is, Star Wars comics can be better than this! First of all, we don’t need big-name movie characters in Star Wars books in order to make them interesting, not least because those stories tend not to have any real sense of danger to them. We know Leia is always going to survive any and all stories set between A New Hope and The Last Jedi, because she is in those films. Showing Leia at death’s door in the Annual #2 had absolutely no sense of drama to it, because we know she’s fighting fit again in Empire. So why not focus on a larger cast than just the movie three, and put them in danger, instead?

It would take no imagination to come up with stories involving other rebel agents – agents in the mould of Cassian Andor, for instance – who might well serve alongside Luke on a dangerous mission to uncover a supply train that the rebels desperately need – medical supplies, whatever – and then put that rebel agent in the spotlight for the next arc where we follow a commando team on an undercover mission into an Imperial arms depot. Maybe that agent survives, to become a more regular fixture in the ongoing series, or maybe he dies heroically, and his protege makes it back to Yavin with the news, whereupon she can become a more regular character. I came up with that in the about-fifteen seconds it took to type. There are more people in this universe, and more stories to be told, than the adventure of Han and Leia’s race around a Star Destroyer to see who can be called captain of the bloody thing!

I’m beating on the comics quite badly now, and I’m very aware that there are still plenty of these books that I’ve not yet read. I think it would be hilarious if the next arc I pick up is the best thing I’ve read from the new canon since Bloodline

This blog is already getting pretty hefty here, and the tone has been somewhat whiny in parts, so I think it’s time to draw it to a close. In conclusion, then, I think the movies are doing a tremendous job of setting up a new world order, of sorts, and I’m incredibly intrigued by how they’re managing to change the Star Wars universe for the better. The novels have been hit and miss, though everyone should head out and read Bloodline if they haven’t already done so. And while I’ve yet to read a new comic that I like, I remain optimistic that there may be an arc out there that I can finally say, that’s fantastic!

Please feel free to share your own thoughts in the comments section below, I’d love to get other peoples’ opinions on this! We’ve been in the new EU for almost three years now, and I’m interested to see what you fine folks make of the state of things!

Ghostbusters!

Aw, yeah! You love it!

It’s birthday week here at spalanz.com, and I’m reliving another of my all-time favourite franchises: Ghostbusters! I’m almost as old as the original film, which is a bit of trivia that is partly meaningless, but grew up surrounded by it thanks to the sequel coming out at a time when all I wanted was to have lots and lots of toys. And my god, did this franchise deliver on that front!

I’m going to ramble inanely for a while now…

Ghostbusters retro toys

Ghostbusters is one of those films, like Beetlejuice and Masters of the Universe, that I used to love to watch repeatedly (driving the folks mental, no doubt), before then recreating the story with a vast horde of action figures. Between us, my brother and I must have had everything going for the range – which makes the above photo a sad memory in some respects, as it’s not the entire collection we had! Taking a look through all of those I still have in order to write this, however, has brought a lot of memories back, I have to say! Still upset my mum never let us have the goo that came with the fire station…

Ghostbusters

I love the first Ghostbusters movie, largely because, as a kid, I loved Slimer and thought he was the best. Not entirely sure why, but I just remember this as being a fact. I somehow never really registered this film as a comedy back in the day, I just remember all of the awesome action scenes as being amazing, and the “Saving the Day” sequence always used to excite me like nothing you’d know. I’m often surprised when I re-watch movies that were a big part of my childhood, as I find it hard to date them, as the quality or whatever is deeply ingrained so I gloss over any imperfections, much like I still don’t see Jabba the Hutt as a puppet. However, the special effects in this movie, considering it’s almost 32 years old, are still pretty great when you watch it now. Sure, some bits might be clunky, but that sequence with the paranormal energy zooming over the New York cityscape? Forget about it, that is just cinema at its finest!

Ghostbusters

The second film came out five years later, (a move that parallels Indiana Jones 2 and 3, just thought I’d point that out), and seemed somehow more subdued than the first one. While Gozer the Gozerian (still makes me laugh) is out to destroy the world, and would be a very serious threat if its chosen form hadn’t been a huge marshmallow, Vigo the Carpathian spends almost all of the film stuck in a painting, and barely manifests as a real person before his defeat. There’s a greater element of supernatural terror that comes from this, but I don’t know, it just doesn’t feel quite the same, I guess.

Ghostbusters II

The story still manages to have some wonderful moments – I love all the underground stuff, as I’m semi-fascinated with stuff like the history of disused underground systems like that. The walking Statue of Liberty is also a fantastic sequence that I find really exciting in the course of the movie. A lot of movie sequels are bad attempts to cash-in on the success of the first, but this one is definitely not that!

I love these films immeasurably, as they’re just enjoyable action adventure stories with a whole ton of comedy, not to mention the enormous nostalgia factor. That’s pretty much the entire substance of this blog, anyway, and makes me realise I don’t really have a point that I’m trying to make here.

So I’ll leave you with this picture of my original Ghostbusters toys…

Ghostbusters retro toys

The Force Awakens! (spoilers within!)

Star Wars The Force Awakens

So I’ve just gotten back from the cinema, and what was actually a fairly decent film!

Now, I’ve not been following the spoilers for this with anything like any sort of interest, which makes it the first Star Wars film I’ve seen with pretty much no idea what to expect. Well let me tell you, I was pleasantly surprised! But first – let me warn you:

here be spoilers!

I’ll try not to give too much away, but lets talk a bit about the story here.

Luke Skywalker has vanished.
In his absence, the sinister
FIRST ORDER has risen from
the ashes of the Empire
and will not rest until
Skywalker, the last Jedi,
has been destroyed.

With the support of the
REPUBLIC, General Leia Organa
leads a brave RESISTANCE.
She is desperate to find her
brother Luke and gain his 
help in restoring peace
and justice to the galaxy.

Leia has sent her most daring
pilot on a secret mission
to Jakku, where an old ally
has discovered a clue to
Luke's whereabouts....

It’s been thirty years since the fall of the Empire at Endor, and something called the First Order has risen up to replace it, led by the mysterious Supreme Leader Snoke. The film opens with the First Order on the trail of an artifact that turns out to be a map to the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker, who has simply vanished from the galaxy. The stormtroopers are led by Kylo Ren, a Dark Side warrior with the infamous crossguard lightsaber. They manage to capture the Resistance fighter Poe Dameron, who hid the map inside his droid BB-8, and during the fight one of the stormtroopers begins to have doubts about his calling. He eventually rescues Poe, and during their escape they’re shot down over the planet Jakku.

On the planet, we’re introduced to the scavenger Rey, who has hooked up with BB-8, and soon meets up with the stormtrooper deserter, now known as Finn. When the First Order show up on the trail of the droid, Finn and Rey (and the droid) escape in the Millennium Falcon, which is subsequently captured by none other than its former pilots, Han Solo and Chewbacca. They agree to help the two get BB-8 to the Resistance, going to an old contact of Han’s called Maz Kanata on the planet Takodana. Unfortunately, they’re recognised and the First Order again attempt to capture the droid, while the Resistance arrive to help them escape.

During the attack, Kylo Ren manages to capture Rey, and takes her back to the First Order’s headquarters planet, Starkiller Base. The planet has been crafted into a superweapon that is capable of destroying multiple worlds at once through hyperspace, and is unleashed on the planets of the New Republic during a rally there. The Resistance, based on D’Qar, begins to analyze the data from BB-8, and Han and Leia are reunited.

Finn volunteers to help destroy Starkiller Base, using his insider knowledge, before the First Order can use the weapon to destroy the Resistance too. Han and Chewie fly to the base in advance of a Resistance squadron, and attempt to de-stabilize the weapon while rescuing Rey. They are ultimately successful, and during the escape, it is revealed that Rey is Force sensitive. Amid the triumph of the Resistance, a long-dormant R2-D2 awakens and, together with BB-8, provides the map that leads to Luke. The film ends with Rey seeking Luke out on a desolate island on a water world.


 

As I said at the beginning, I really liked this film. I think this was because I was prepared to hate it. Now, let me just say this first: the film felt weird. It didn’t feel like a Star Wars film, I think in part because we saw none of the familiar planets. Sure, we’re about done with Tatooine by now, but having no mention of anything familiar made me feel a little lost, somehow.

More than anything, however, I felt the film tried to tell too much story without providing enough substance. It feels a lot like the thirty years between Jedi and this have almost been ignored, or glossed over, or something. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of story that has obviously passed in that time, and it’s almost unsettling to think that those years may be written off. While we still have a lot to learn about the nature of the First Order, a possible Imperial Remnant, the Resistance and the New Republic all as separate entities, the interpersonal relationships are discussed here, meaning if we were to go back to see those events (either in novel form or TV series or whatever), we’d be back with a prequel situation.

There are a lot of throwbacks to the original trilogy, in fact too many. The story has too many echoes of this – hiding critical information in droids, planet-destroying weapons, yadda yadda yadda. The story is interesting, don’t get me wrong, but it does feel a little stale. There’s also the fact of the major plot-point of Luke hiding at the end of a series of Jedi Temples, leaving a piecemeal map to his whereabouts. This just seems patently ridiculous – Luke, if we remember, is the one who gave himself up to Vader and the Emperor in Jedi, knowing it might kill him, in order to save his friends in the rebellion. Now we have to believe he’s hidden himself away because of a fight with some dark Jedi? The Luke of the classic trilogy didn’t exactly run away from a fight. But even if we assume he’s hiding because he feels he’s failed to bring about the return of the Jedi Order, he left a map to his whereabouts? It’s a little too silly for me.

While all of this might seem a bit like I’m down on the film, however, I did actually like it. Indeed, almost because of some of these things – I mean, the universe feels so different, which is a bad thing for the part of me that has been a Star Wars fan for decades, but it excites me because it feels really quite fresh and alive! Having grown up with all of the books and comics, this film doesn’t feel like the Star Wars story that I’d expected at this point in the timeline.

But that’s not a bad thing. I said the story feels like it’s rehashing the original trilogy to some degree, but of course so many of the storylines from the expanded universe feel so samey, this new film actually feels like Star Wars might be a different place now. Without the substance, certain parts feel decidedly flat – particularly the First Order as an enemy – but there could be so many stories to come that the universe is once again feeling vibrant and alive. I’m finding myself actually looking forward to seeing what will come next, both in terms of forward with the new films, and backwards in filling in the story between VI and VII.

In short, it feels like a pretty good time to be a Star Wars fan!

Star Wars The Force Awakens

Ant Man – a movie review

It’s my second movie review in as many weeks! Don’t get excited, now!

Today, I went to see the new MCU offering, Ant Man. I went into this blind, knowing very little about the character, but purposefully having not paid attention to any trailers or hype for it. I must admit, I was really pleased with how much I enjoyed it as a result, and I think I’m going to try my hardest to continue this – unless the words “Star Wars” appear in the title.

here be spoilers!

Of course, Ant Man is the Marvel superhero who can shrink to the size of – spoiler alert – an ant. Rather than being some mutation, it’s caused by that other stalwart of comic book storylines, some advanced tech. We don’t really get much of an explanation of the mysterious Pym Particle, other than it was discovered by Dr Hank Pym as a way to move through molecules or something. He has vials of the stuff that somehow power a suit that shrinks its wearer to insect-size, and that’s really all we need to know to enjoy the ride.

Hank Pym (Michael Douglas) used the suit during the Cold War until his wife, Janet, died. He was forged out of his company by his protege Darren Cross (Corey Stall) and estranged daughter Hope van Dyne (Evangeline Lilly) – though what the company does is a mystery, as the Particle is strictly off-limits while Hank is at its head. At any rate, Cross has been working on molecule manipulation ever since, and as the film begins, he’s ready to show off his own version of the suit, the Yellowjacket.

It sounds a little like Iron Man, with the massive corporation and the like, but into this mix is thrown the ex-con Scott Lang (Paul Rudd) and his ex-inmates. Lang is manoeuvered into contact with Hank in an attempt to steal the Yellowjacket prototype before it can be sold to HYDRA. The majority of the second act is taken up with Lang learning how to use the suit, being trained by both Hank and Hope. See, it turns out Hope is sort of playing the middle ground here, and I have to admit, I’m not entirely sure why. The film seems to want us to believe she’s working herself into Cross’ confidence as Hank’s mole, but I kinda ended with the impression that she has her own agenda, and the mid-credits sequence basically seems to affirm that.

The heist goes off wonderfully badly, and involves a massive chase sequence where Darren Cross dons the Yellowjacket, leading to some really excellent action scenes. It all ends happily, anyway, and the end result is something akin to the first Iron Man, though perhaps with more whimsy. It’s a pretty great origin movie, and takes its place well in the MCU.

Ant Man movie

Two things are worth mentioning. First, we have some great anchorage to previous Avengers stuff through the inclusion of Howard Stark and Peggy Carson in the introductory scene that shows Hank leaving SHIELD. We also get what turns out to be a very cool cameo from Anthony Mackie’s Falcon – having kept myself free from the spoilers, I was not expecting that one bit, so that was really great to see. The actual end-credits scene with Falcon and Cap, which I take to be setting up the Civil War movie, fell a little flat, I felt.

The mid-credits scene, however, more than makes up for that. We basically see Hank introduce his daughter to a prototype of the Wasp suit used by her mother, and her reaction has got me so damn well intrigued as to what will happen next! In case you don’t know, Hope van Dyne is a relatively new creation in Marvel comics, from the late 90s. She actually turns out to be an Avengers villain, going by the name of Red Queen, and at one point attempts to destroy the Avengers Mansion. That her brother isn’t introduced in this film – indeed, she appears to be an only child – leads me to think they probably won’t stick to the established storyline, but the possibilities are really pretty exciting here. Evangeline Lilly played the character wonderfully grey, and all those subtle flashes could be construed to be misplaced anger at her father for shutting her out of his life, or they could just be explained by her place at the company as a corporate-bitch-type, or they could actually be setting her up to become a villain. That would be something worth watching…

Anyway, I thought I’d present you all with some garbled thoughts on this movie, though I’m sure manofyesterday will have a much better review up in the next couple of days, so make sure you keep an eye on his blog!