Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015) – A Return to “Star Wars” Strengthened By New Characters

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

      First, I’m going to give a warning up front. This review will contain spoilers, once I get to the summary and after the jump, so I’ll post my non-spoiler thoughts here to kick off the review. The film is great, not as great as “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” since it derives a lot from them, but it is the things that set it apart that really make it an amazing film and easily in the Top 3 films in the Series thus far. Finn and Rey are two of my favorite heroes and Kylo Ren is a great villain (though wasn’t impressed by Snoke or General Hux). The action is fast and our characters are given arcs and there are some really good payoffs, some of which aren’t derivative of the “Original Trilogy.” I’ll get into more detail below, but for these reasons it is really worth seeing.

     “The Force Awakens” was directed by J.J. Abrams who also one of the writers and producers. The other writers where Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Ardnt while the other producers were Bryan Burk and Kathleen Kennedy.

SPOILERS ahead

      The story takes place 30 years after a “Return of the Jedi” and the First Order has arisen out of the ashes of the Empire. Our new heroes Finn (John Boyega), Rey (Daisy Ridley) and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) must stand together with heroes of old in the Resistance to defeat Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order.

The Pros: The World – The World is really awesome. We have The New Republic that represents the free world, the Resistance which came about because the First Order came into being and we have Luke having gone into hiding and get to see how the First Order creates Stormtroopers and how their leadership works. It’s really cool and it feels like Star Wars. Jakku is also a really cool world.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is amazing! The use CGI and models are blended together seamlessly and the fear or wonder in our characters’ eyes is highlighted beautifully. Dan Mindel really did a great job.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is at it again and I really liked his theme for Kylo Ren and his allusions to classic themes with old characters like General Leia or Han Solo. Our new characters have their own themes too and it compliments them on the their journeys.

The Characters – The characters, like “The Original Trilogy” are the strongest part of this film, especially when it comes to our new heroes who each are distinct and have their own arcs that I wanted to see and want to see now that the beginning of their arc is done.

New Heroes – The new heroes are the strongest part of this film, I enjoyed them much more than the appearance by Luke, Leia, Chewie, Han and R2 and C-3PO. They were fresh and weren’t dependable on referencing past actions as they were making history rather than being a part of living history.

BB-8 – BB-8 is adorable and super expressive in how it speaks. I didn’t put R2 or 3PO on this list because they were just small cameos. BB-8 made choices and decisions and grew attached to our new Heroes as well as being Poe’s Droid. They had a really fun relationship.

Maz Kanata – Maz is the Yoda analogue of this story as she is 1000 years old, has Luke’s old lightsaber and puts Rey on the path to become a Jedi. She’s really cool and Nupita Nyong’o gives this character so much depth. She has seen so much and her Katina has both First Order agents and Resistance members visiting. I can’t wait to see her character again as she is not a Jedi but she knows the force and it is her training that helps Rey in her fight.

Poe Dameron – Oscar Isaac is amazing! His character is smart and mocks Kylo Ren on occasion and shows how he is a good guy when he gives Finn his name and works with Finn to escape. He’s the best pilot in the Resistance and I wish we’d gotten more time with him. He deserves more exploration and was underutilized, though he does get the killing blow on the Starkiller Base.

Rey – Rey is the Luke analogue as she is the orphan on the desert planet who will become a Jedi. She like Finn though is always running. She doesn’t begin exploring her force abilities until she has to escape Kylo Ren who is holding her hostage. For this reason her arc is fantastic, she has been alone for so long waiting for her parents it is all she knows and she doesn’t want to leave that comfort. Eventually she does when Ren almost kills Finn and she realizes that it is the only way to defeat the First Order and avenge her mentor who died. She’s a great engineer too and helps the Millennium Falcon work better.

Finn – Finn is a former stormtrooper who changes sides after he is part of the assault on Jakku taht kills a Resistance sympathetic vision. It traumatizes him and he commits to helping Poe escape. Sadly he believes Poe to be dead so searches for Poe’s droid BB-8 to get him to the Resistance, which is when he meets Rey who treats him like a human being. They clash but become friends and we see that Finn is still running from his trauma. It isn’t until Kylo Ren captures Rey that chooses to stay with the Resistance and fight to rescue his friend, which leads to him nearly losing his life to Kylo Ren. John Boyega is fantastic.

Old Heroes – Our hold heroes make an appearance too! Luke appears at the very end so I’m not mentioning him and 3PO and R2 are glorified cameos and I want to explore the characters who get explored.

General Leia – Leia’s story is tragic as we see after her son falls to Dark side her marriage to Han falls apart and she starts up the Resistance again in reaction to the First Order’s rise. She still loves Han and her son Ben and her tragedy continues as Ben seems to be fully given over to the Dark side after he kills his father. What hope Leia has is that Rey will be trained by Luke and maybe through that her son can find the light again.

Chewbacca – Poor Chewie! He’s older in this and gets hurt quite a few times from Stormtroopers. Luckily he gets revenge when he and Han set the charges that help lead to the destruction of the Starkiller Base. He also save Finn’s life and help Rey and Finn escape the planet’s destruction. He stays with Rey later too as they form a bond similar to the one he has with Han.

Han Solo – This episode is the tragedy of Han as we see that he became a smuggler after his son Ben fell to the Dark Side and destroyed the new Jedi Order Luke was forming. He is running away from Leia and the Resistance but is pulled by in by Rey and Finn and helps them defeat the Starkiller Base, though it costs him his life when Kylo Ren, who is his fallen son Ben Solo, kills him, completing his fall to the Dark Side.

Villains – Kylo Ren really. Snoke and Hux felt kind of like jokes.

Kylo Ren – Kylo Ren is tragic and powerful and I really like the character. He aspires to be Darth Vader who he idealizes and we see that like Vader he is hand’s on acting as Snoke’s Dragon. He tortures Poe to find out that BB-8 holds the map to Luke and he defeats Finn when Finn tries to stop him at the end. His only loss happens after Chewie shoots him when he kills Han and after Finn injures him. Rey is the one who scars him physically and we see that they will meet again when the planet’s destruction separates them from one another. This episode is him completing his fall as he confesses to Snoke that he feels the light and his killing of his father Han is his distinguishing of it as Ben is fully killed so Kylo Ren can live. Adam Driver is great in this role and made Kylo Ren feel threatening.

Rey Versus Kylo Ren – This is the final battle and it is a lot of fun and intense. I thought Rey was overpowered for having no training but the fact that Kylo Ren was physically and emotionally injured and drained helps explain why they were equal and why she was eventually beating him. I want Ren to have his Vader moment, which he hasn’t yet. Rey was also a bit overpowered in this so I hope we see her character better balanced in this future.

Han Solo and Kylo Ren – This reveal was powerful, even though I saw it coming the moment Snoke said Han was Ren’s father. So I knew this was coming. Seeing the conflict that Kylo Ren was going through lent power to the character though and made him compelling. Seeing him free in the Dark Side after killing his father was amazing too as it was there that he snapped which contributed to Rey defeating him I think.

Okay: Starkiller Base – It is a bigger and badder Death Star that is a planet that was turned into a weapon. It’s Death Star Mark 3, which is derivative and why I’m putting it as okay. It showed lack of creativity on Hux and Snoke’s part for making it.

Okay/Con: Death of the New Republic – This would have been stronger if we had spent time with the New Republic. We never did and we don’t know their relationship to the Resistance fully so I didn’t feel the loss. The fact that the system was destroyed should have been more powerful than it felt.

The Cons: General Hux – Hux is no Tarkin. Tarkin was effective, respected Darth Vader and his power and when he destroyed Alderaan and had Leia tortured, we felt it. The same can not be said for Hux who got in pissy fits with Kylo Ren and never interacted with our heroes in any meaningful way.

Snoke – Sorry Serkis but your big giant alien is less threatening than Palpatine and he was just an old man in the “Original Trilogy” who didn’t do anything except torture Luke with lightning at the end. This character has a long way to go before I can take it seriously. I really hope Snoke is not the actual character’s name, I’m holding out for the Darth Plagueis Theory.

Derivativeness – Instead of Alderaan the New Republic System is destroyed, instead of the Death Star the Starkiller Base is destroyed (3rd Time’s the charm?), BB-8 holds secret plans versus R2-D2 holding secret plans and parental confession on a dangerous catwalk. Now that all of this is out of the way I hope the future episodes can find their own beats not derived from the Original Trilogy.

   In the end what really keeps this film from being better than “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back,” is the lack of villain effectiveness. Kylo Ren is the deadliest of them and I could never take General Hux or Snoke seriously. The loss of the New Republic wasn’t felt as we had never been their prior or met the people there, “A New Hope” was stronger since Leia’s diplomatic envoy Darth Vader destroys was an Alderaan ship and crew and we see the loss of life in her eyes and Obi-Wan’s line about hearing the silencing of millions of voices. We don’t feel the loss and that is what sets it below “A New Hope.” The characters make this film worth seeing though, as does the music and special effects. If you like “Star Wars” you should see this. It is a great film and I can’t wait to see how our new heroes’ stories unfold.

Final Score: 9.4 / 10

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Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) – There is Good but Prequel Problems Begin

Star Wars Episode VI Return of the Jedi

     I enjoyed “Return of the Jedi,” but it has really serious problems that Prequels have on full display. Whether it is spending way too long with characters that don’t matter, having our villains be toothless and useless and going for cutesy kids stuff to sell toys and referencing better films (Let’s build another “Death Star”), there is a lot bringing this film down. It is still good, but only just. It isn’t great like the two Original Films that came before…and if I was reviewing the “Special Edition” than “Revenge of the Sith” would be better as I’d have no patience for the changes that were made and problems that were exasperated as most of the changes Lucas made to his films ended up creating (Throwing young Anakin into the film, the CGI singer in Jabba’s Palace, etc.). I’m not reviewing the Special Edition of “Return of the Jedi” though so the score will be higher.

      “Return of the Jedi” was directed by Richard Marquand and written by George Lucas and Lawrence Kasdan and produced by Howard Kazanjian.

      The story involves Luke and our heroes rescuing Han from the clutches of Jabba the Hutt and confronting the Empire as the Empire builds it’s Second Death Star to finally bring an end to the Rebellion.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams continues to be awesome and creates a haunting score in the Vader and Luke rematch. His score gives us joy, tension and sorrow and he continues to show on why these films would not have been as unforgettable if not for him.

Luke’s Entrace to Jabba’s Palace – Luke’s entrance to Jabba’s palace really shows how powerful he is. He forces the door open, he force chokes Jabba’s guard and uses Jabba’s own second in command to enforce his will on Jabba. Jabba is an actual antagonist though so he can’t force Jabba to do what he wants.

The Rancor Fight – The Rancor fight is pretty great. Luke is forced to think on his feet and he doesn’t use the force or his lightsaber to win. It is small but it shows that Luke has grown in self awareness that he doesn’t depend on the force for everything.

C-3PO and R2-D2 – These two actually serve a purpose in this! C-3PO gets the Ewoks on their side against the Empire when they worship him as a God and R2-D2 is key in freeing our Heroes from the clutches of Jabba.

Admiral Akbar – Akbar is a great guy and we see how deeply he is invested in the fleet. He actually wants them to retreat once they learn the Death Star is operational since he knows they are outmatched and can’t do anything with the Death Star’s shield up.

Lando – Lando’s arc begins with him seeking redemption as he is putting all his efforts into freeing Han from Jabba. This almost leads to him dying from the Sarlac and in the end and Han are friends again. We also see he is firmly for other now and flies The Millennium Falcon in the final battle against the Second Death Star and with Biggs destroys the reactor, defeating the Empire. Billy Dee Williams does a fantastic job.

Yoda – Yoda dies of old age and it’s easily one of the best scenes of the film. He shows Luke that no one escapes their own mortality and how important it is that he complete his training by stopping Vader before he becomes one with the force. He later appears as a force ghost at the end of the film. Frank Oz is fantastic.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan’s ghost has a good scene with Luke where he shirks responsibility on not telling Luke the full truth of who Darth Vader is but still manages gives us the stakes as Leia could be turned if the Emperor learned of her existence and that Vader is still the greatest threat to peace in the galaxy and must be stopped.

Han – Han spends the first half of the film needing to be saved, but once he has the chance to fight he is the Rebel General entering onto Endor’s moon to destroy the reactor that is powering the shield around the Second Death Star. We see him grow and mature a lot and get over his entitlement and will die for his friends. It’s Harrison Ford and though he is at times a bit too smarmy in this film and feels more like Harrison than Han, he still is great.

Leia – Leia’s is chained up for a third of this film though thankfully she rescues herself and kills her captor who enslaved her after she freed Han from the carbonite. I wish we could have seen more of her as the leader of the Rebellion but instead bland Mon Mothma is back in charge and Leia is another soldier on Han’s infiltration mission. She is good though and manages to get out of a lot of scrapes and she takes the knowledge of Luke being her brother and Vader being her father pretty well…it takes her about a day to take it all in. I wish we could have got more on what those relationships mean to her though. Carrie Fisher is awesome.

The Emperor/Darth Sidious – The Emperor is the big bad and a powerhouse as initially the battle is one-sided in his favor until the Ewoks and Vader change the course of events. He’s arrogant and powerful and felt like a good threat, though I would have liked to see more of his ruthlessness early on in the Trilogy and this film. He still feels more like a symbol, even with the Prequels behind him…which is a shame as Ian McDiarmid is a great actor.

Darth Vader/Anakin Skywalker – No Hayden Christiensen, his being thrown in ruined this film for me when I saw the Special Edition since it made no sense as Luke had never met young Anakin and Old Anakin was not Young Anakin. David Prowse was perfect as the redeemed fatherly figure. Prowse and James Earl Jones gave vulnerability to this character and though I hated the fact that Vader doesn’t do much this film he has a great fight with Luke and he is the one who destroys the Emperor in the end, not our hero Luke. That is powerful and shows that this monster did have good in him making the complicated and complex fallen hero.

Luke – Luke’s arc gets completed in this as he goes full Jedi and doesn’t kill Vader or Sidious. He lets go of his hate and embraces reason…which is contrasted with the fact that force is what made it possible to save Han. In the end he is able to let all of that go and even risk his life so that his father can find Anakin within again. In this Luke is worthy of the title Jedi and we see it in all his actions throughout the film. We also see him finally get over his romantic feelings for Leia as they develop a relationship as siblings without any of the awkward romantic tension from the last two films.

Okay: Jabba the Hutt – He was threatening but we spent way too long with him. He felt stronger than the Empire and that is bad in any Star Wars film, especially the Original Trilogy. He’s a gangster not a Galactic dictator…in this way I could never take the threat of Jabba seriously, Empire had already shown that the Empire was greater…though we never really see that this film. Jabba is a consistently bigger threat to our heroes during the film than the Empire and that is sad.

The Cons: Endor and the Ewoks – Part of defanging the Empire and making them not feel like threats is the Battle of Endor. Little Teddy Bears with spears have enough power to take out the Empire’s strongest, the 501st…in what universe does this makes sense? The tail of Star Wars getting ready for the Prequels apparently. These aliens feel designed to sell toys for small children (which is strange given how dark Jabba’s palace was with enslaving and molesting Leia), which plays into how the tone was a bit broken in this.

Problem of Tone – Anytime we are on the Second Death Star with Vader and the Emperor and darkness contrasted with the kiddy battle of the Ewoks who worship 3PO…okay, these two tones clash. This was a problem on the Prequels had but that “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” did not have.

Another Death Star – We’ve already destroyed one and this one has a bigger hole in it? Forgive me if I don’t feel like this one is a threat, the other Death Star destroyed a planet, this one isn’t even finished. Sorry, not a threat. Move along.

Too Long with Jabba – We spend way too long with Jabba and it makes him feel like a greater threat than the Empire, this is a problem as Jabba is not the final boss. I blame Lucas mostly for this as the Leia slave outfit and overdoing it with Muppets rather than story are a completely Lucas thing to do.

Vader’s Lack of Action – Vader doesn’t do anything but pick up Luke and fight Luke…this is weird given how driven he was in the last film and didn’t quite fit his character. If the Emperor was smart he would have let Vader do his job since he chased the rebels into oblivion in the last film and managed to capture and freeze one of our heroes. Not having him do anything took away from him feeling like a threat to Luke in the final fight.

The Empire Never Felt Like a Threat – This is due to what was done above, the Ewoks weren’t threatening, we spent way too long with Jabba, Vader didn’t do anything and we were given an unfinished Death Star when the rebels already had one destroyed under their belt, and the clash of tone took away from them being a world ending threat. You can’t do this to your primary villains.

    The characters are what really save this film. Luke is finally a Jedi and feels like a true Jedi Knight, Leia turns every chance she gets caught on it’s head and protect Han and Han Solo grows up into a leader and embraces his role in the Rebellion and his love for Leia. Most importantly we also see Vader’s arc come to a close and Anakin is found again when he sacrifices himself because he loves his son. It’s powerful and these moments help balance out the corny making this a good but not great film. There was so much potential if these character arcs hadn’t been bogged down by excess.

Final Score: 7.5 / 10

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980) – A Masterpiece of Betrayal, Family and the Philosophy of the Force

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back p

      “The Empire Strikes Back” is truly the best of the Original Trilogy. It has the tightest story, it is desolate, there are stakes and it still manages to have hope. We also see why Darth Vader is the primary villain of the Trilogy as this one allows us the chance to see what it is like when Vader is charge and not reporting to Grand Moff Tarkin. It’s one of my favorites and the change that was made in one of the Special Editions of putting Ian McDiarmid in as the Emperor was good, though the new dialogue isn’t so good and the cgi Tie Fighters that were put in post production are distracting. The Original unchanged is still the strongest and that was the one I saw, like “A New Hope” and like I’ll be seeing “Return of the Jedi.”

      This film wasn’t directed by George Lucas and he was only one of the three writers behind it.

    The director was Irvin Kershner and written by Leigh Brackett, Lawrence Kasden and George Lucas, while being produced by Gary Kurtz.

     The story involves the rebels on the run, having escaped to Hoth to hide from the Emperor as they are still strong after the destruction of the Death Star. Darth Vader is hunting them, hoping to destroy the Rebellion for good and capture and turn Luke Skywalker to the Dark Side.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – The soundtrack is wonderful and John Williams captures the fear and terror the Empire so well as we are given the most desolate situation for the Rebellion as Darth Vader is successful in whatever he sets out to do.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful, especially the Battle of Hoth and the Duel between Luke and Vader. The use of mist and shadows to increase the fear and tension among our characters and heroes is done masterfully. Peter Suschitzky did a great job.

The Writing – The script is tight and fast and you can tell that Lucas was not the primary writer, though Lucas did do a great job on the script for the original version of “A New Hope,” to his credit. When he’s on a team he seems to be do better though.

The Empire – The Empire is powerful in this and we see Cloud City, the Rebels on Hoth and the pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. Part of the reason I enjoy this film so much is the Empire feels like a threat and they never stop feeling like a threat. They force our heroes to escape the Galaxy and no longer have a home base as the Empire has chased them away from all their safe havens, captured on of their Captain’s and friends (Han Solo) and injured one of their leaders (Luke). The Empire has a firm win, even if it isn’t a total victory. The stakes are raised in this.

The Rebellion – The Rebellion shows how resilient they are in this. We see that in the end, no matter how hurt they are (so many die in the Battle of Hoth) that they will keep going and resisting the Empire, and that is what makes them interesting.

The Battle of Hoth – The Battle of Hoth is my favorite “Star Wars” battle besides the assault on the Death Star. The AT-ATs are beautiful machines that are deadly and take a lot to take down. We also see how deadly the Empire is again as they walk all over the Rebels as above we see Star Destroyers from their fleet.

The Millennium Falcon on the Run – Han and Leia’s escape is a great arc. We see them forced together because they stuck around to make sure all the other Rebels escaped first and as a reward they are pursued by Vader himself through an Asteroid field and eventually by Bounty Hunters hunting them too. Through it Leia and Han fall in love as we see that they are both stubborn but have a huge respect for one another and notice how aware they can be with others. It is during the run we see Han grow up and stop pushing people away.

Cloudy City – Cloud City is a great location. It’s Lando’s base and business and is neutral in the war until Vader goes back on his deals with Lando and we see Cloud City join the Rebellion and resist Imperial oppression. It is a great arc as we see Cloud City is a selfish place but there is good here too when Lando saves our heroes and tries to save the friend he betrayed.

Luke’s Training – Luke’s training continues his heroes journey as we see him grow to look beyond appearances when Yoda reveals he is the Jedi Master and that his size does no matter as he raises Luke’s X-Wing out of the Swamp. In this we see Yoda is always forcing Luke to face himself and learn to let go, which Luke is not able to do as Darth Vader’s torture of his friends leads him leaving Dagoba even when Obi-Wan’s ghost and Yoda warn him how dire of a mistake it will be.

Dagoba – Dobaba is a fantastic location! It is dark and smoggy and full of life. You get why Yoda chose this place when he explains how the force flows through all life forms. It is foreboding but beautiful in it’s own way too.

The Characters – The Characters and their arcs are what make this film a classic and a favorite. More is done with them than in “A New Hope” and we see the choices they make that change them and help them to grow.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan is back as the mentor sending Luke to Dagoba and warning him about the challenge of facing Vader when he is not fully trained (which he would know having failed to kill his friend). There is a sadness to the character too as he can’t do anything a ghost but communicate with those already in connection with him.

Yoda – Yoda is awesome and Frank Oz owns this role. He’s a compelling character, unlike the CGI one-dimensional pillow sitting Master we got in the Prequels. Yoda is a trickster yet full of wisdom as he pulls Luke out of his comfort zone and forces him to confront himself and what it means to use the Force. It is this film that made Yoda one of my favorite characters, and we never see this level of depth from the character again.

Lando Calrissian – Billy Dee Wililams is awesome as the gambler who turns on his friend Han to save his people. He’s complicated and when you see the operation he runs you get why he made that terrible decision as he no doubt saw it as one life versus many. By the end he realizes he’s been tricked though and joins the Rebellion and tries to save Han to begin to atone for his betrayal. I really liked this character, he’s smooth, suave and owns his own city.

Boba Fett – Fett is great. I really like his original voice as it shows someone who has been through a lot. His voice is raspy and we get an idea how deadly he is when Vader orders capture only and no disintegrations to Boba. Boba is the one who figures out how the Falcon escaped the fleet and tracks them to Cloud City. In the end he succeeds and is able to bring Jabba Han’s frozen body.

Princess Leia – Leia is more passive in this after the Battle of Hoth than she is in Empire but we see she never stops being the one who figures things out first. She doesn’t trust Lando and we learn she is right to do and she comes around to Han showing that at this point Han has become a good person. She also tries to warn Luke, though Luke doesn’t listen and walks into Vader’s trap in Cloud City. She also saves Luke when Luke communicates through the Force to her.

Han Solo – Han is the main character of this film. He goes from the guy who is still selfish and just wants to have his old life back again, but each time rises to help the Rebellion, whether it is saving Luke in the Blizzard or finding the Imperial Search Droid. This eventually leads to him protecting Leia as slowly they fall in love as Han begins to show more awareness towards others from doing insults to treating Leia and C-3PO with only respect. Han learns to listen and in the end he is frozen in carbonite as he has finally found love with his partner Leia.

Darth Vader – Vader is driven in this and we see soon learn why as Luke is his son. Everything he does is to bring Luke to him so he can turn him to the Dark Side so he will no longer be alone. There is a sadness to the character in this as we see his scarred body when his helmet is being put on, which gives him vulnerability, though he never stops being ruthless. Whether is is taking over Cloud City, destroying the rebels on Hoth, the torture of Han and Leia to bring Luke and the cutting off of Luke’s hand. Vader is destruction contrasted with vulnerability and it makes him one of the most compelling villains of cinema.

Luke Skywalker – Luke grows up a lot in this as we see him discover the Force is not easy to learn and that he has so many hangups he needs get over. In the end we see him mature though as he loses his friends, the Rebellion (when he seeks Yoda for training) Han and in the end his hand and his innocence as he learns he is the son of the Dark Lord Darth Vader. This breaks him and completes the destruction of his worldview that Yoda began when he showed him size and appearance has no bearing on the force. In it he experiences betrayal from Obi-Wan and not telling him the complete truth and the realization that they were right, he was not powerful enough to kill Vader and now he doesn’t know if he ever can as he no doubt still lives his test in Dagoba where his killing of Vader in the forest revealed himself underneath the helmet. That vision hits much closer to home now. Vader is blood and family and was once a powerful Jedi who turned. If Obi-Wan’s best friend turned, than what hope does Luke have? None of this is outright stated but it’s implied in the scenes and drama that unfold in the Duel.

The Duel and Reveal – The reveal of Vader as Luke’s father is powerful as is the lead up to it. In it we see how Luke has learned a lot but everything Vader says about the Dark Side being more powerful seems to be true. He walks all over Luke, using the environment against Luke and getting into his head with the final reveal of that vulnerability we saw when Vader was without his helmet. “Together we can rule the Galaxy as Father and Son.” Vader does care even though he is this ruthless machine who sees life, whether it is Imperial or Rebel as expendable…he makes an exception for Luke because there is good in there. The duel is beautiful too as the Lightsabers are light in the dark and mist that covers the areas of Cloud City they fight in. It is my favorite duel of the series without a doubt because it isn’t just great action, it is great action with a purpose.

Philosophy of the Force – The Force is all about letting go. It is when the illusions of size, appearance and strength are mastered that you can master the world. This is shown in starting with the basics where Luke’s mind and body and strengthened but he isn’t able to let go as it is fear for his friends that leads to the loss of his hand and in the end he loses one of his friends anyway, showing that Yoda and Obi-Wan were right that leaving would change nothing.

The Ending – Han is captured by Jabba, the Rebellion has been chased out of the Galaxy and is on the run and has no safe haven and Luke is left to consider the words of his father and is given his first dilemma…can he kill Vader to save the Galaxy or is that price to high? The Rebellion has a new ally in Lando though as Vader is left to deal with the loss and escape of his son.

Okay/Pro: The Droids and Chewbacca – The Droids are alright, same with Chewbacca. They are support roles with R2 saving the day in the end when he fixes the ship so the Falcon can jump to Light Speed. They weren’t bad but compared to all the other characters I found them distracting at times, with the exception of Chewbacca and R2 sometimes. C-3PO was largely annoying.

The Emperor – He pops up once to show that Vader reports to a higher power but I never felt threatened by him in any version. He’s a force in the background but we’ve seen the things Vader has done. The Emperor in the Original Trilogy is just there as the symbol of the Empire’s power. He was used much better in the Prequels and his rise, I’d have liked to see him do more but he wasn’t a con.

    This is my favorite of all the “Star Wars” Films and I’ll be very surprised if “The Force Awakens” manages to beat it. So much is accomplished in this film and we learn so much about all our characters as they are put through their greatest tests and from those tests humanity and growth is revealed. This film is one of my all time favorite films and is beloved by so many for many for the reasons I describe above. Watch the Original if you can, the Ties are distracting in the “Special Edition” as is some of the added dialogue. Less is more and that is what the original version captures as it is wholly focused on our characters and their struggles. Suffice to say, I highly recommend this film.

Final Score: 10 / 10. The things that are okay do not bring down the score in this instance as everything else is solid.

Star Wars The Empire Strikes Back

Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope (1977): A Hero’s Journey and a Classic

Star Wars A New Hope Poster

         It was really difficult finding the original unaltered “Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope,” but it was worth it. The bad CGI in the Special Editions completely took me out of it when I tried watching one of them first and the old organic feel to the Original gave the series life and made the world feel lived in. The only thing that really needed to be changed was just polishing up the picture as some shots didn’t look as great as they could have due to the film at the time…but it was worth it. “A New Hope” is easily one of my all time favorite films after watching it again after not seeing it for years, and I’ll get into the reasons why.

      The film was directed and written by George Lucas and produced by Gary Kurtz.

       The story involves the Rebel Alliance stealing the Death Star plans from the Empire leading to the ship’s capture as Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) hides the plans in R2-D2 who escapes with C-3PO to Tatooine. It is there Luke (Mark Hamill) buys them and finds himself pulled away from his life on the farm when the Empire kills his Aunt and Uncle and Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness) and he must escape and get the plans to Alderaan.

The Pros: The Soundtrack – John Williams’s score is part of what truly makes this film a classic. Tension is always rising throughout the film and it happens from his use of sound to add mystery and shock when we are Tatooine to the threat of the Empire whenever Vader or the Death Star arrive on the scene. If there had been no dialogue and only this score it would be a favorite film.

The Cinematography – The cinematography is beautiful! Whether it is the opening shot of the Star Destroyer chasing down the Rebels or the final Death Star run the scenes are filmed in such a way that tension is created and our villains and heroes are clearly illustrated.

The Special Effects – The practical effects are what make this film work. From models of space ships and actual explosions that in the process gave us actual stakes, which sadly has been forgetten in so many films that are overdependent on CGI (Hello Prequels).

The World – The World is ,awesome! There are clear sides (The Rebels and Empire) but outside of those sides there are threats all around. If you are droid you could be captured and sold by Jawas and if you are a farmer killed by Sand People and the Imperial Influence is everywhere. Even if you are in the outskirts of Tatooine (like the Lars were) they will find you and kill you.

The Galactic Empire – The Empire is an awesome threat! We have the Emperor dissolve the Imperial Senate firmly establishing that the Governors like Tarkin now control their sectors of Space and the Death Star to enforce terror on any revolting populace. Darth Vader is the hand of the Empire too and we see him deal with threats easily, only being stopped by a surprise ally to the Rebels in the last battle.

The Rebel Alliance – These guys are small and use planets like Alderaan as safe havens since they can’t take the Empire on militarily. We see this when they are quickly dispatched in the opening and at the end when Vader kills most of the X-Wing Pilots who are attempting to destroy the Death Star. They are flexible though and driven as we see Leia sacrifice her home of Alderaan when she lies to the Empire about where the Rebel base is.

The Characters – The characters are amazing and feel fully fleshed out. They have wants, needs, desires and trials. Honestly after watching the Prequels it’s hard to imagine that George Lucas actually wrote this script. It’s quick, understands people and has heart to even the small characters like droids.

R2-D2 and C-3PO – These two are the odd couple with R2-D2 being fully in with the Rebellion while for 3PO is just doing his job as an interpreter. They care for each other though and any time they get separated you see the joy they feel at being reunited again. These  two go through a lot…from discrimination in Mos Eisley, near capture by the Empire at the beginning, captured by Jawas and in R2’s case nearly destroyed by Vader.

Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru – Knowing what happens in the future I get why they were so protective of Luke. They knew if he left he could face the same trials as his father and end up corrupted and lost. Sadly what they didn’t realize is that no one is safe from the Empire as a Stormtrooper group kills them. I liked their dynamic with Owen as the disapproving father figure and Beru as the supportive mother.

Chewbacca – Chewie is a small role but he is wonderful as Han’s support. We see him willing to risk himself as a prisoner to infiltrate the Death Star and see how deadly he is on countless occasions. He is the only one who tends to accurately hit Stormtroopers most of the time. Our other heroes are as accurate as the Stormtroopers themselves.

Grand Moff Tarkin – Peter Cushing is great as Vader’s boss in this as we see him kill an entire planet (Alderaan) just to make a point to Leia that the Empire doesn’t have compassion and that the only way to rule is through fear. He doubts the power of the force (due the Jedi being hunted to near extinction no surprise there) and even his arrogance isn’t misplaced. He only dies because Luke destroys the Death Star at the final moment when they are about to destroy the Rebel Base on Yavin. What an awesome villain.

Han Solo – Han Solo is the rogue who has an arc from being a very selfish guy (only being in it for the money and doing the good thing to survive and not out of any kindness). He changes over the course of the film as Luke’s idealism rubs off on him and when he realizes that he can’t leave the Rebellion to die (after experiencing how deadly the Empire was first hand there was so much selfishness there too). Harrison Ford owns this role and this is one of his most memorable characters. He is funny, witty, sarcastic and the only one who able to match wits with him is Princess Leia who he starts out having an antagonistic relationship with (like Luke) but who in the end he becomes friends with. Han is ruthless and smart as we see him kill the Bounty Hunter Greedo before Greedo can collect the bounty on Han’s head.

Princess Leia – Leia is a tough character who I wish we could have got to know more. Her homeworld of Alderaan gets destroyed, she is tortured by Vader and the Empire…but she never gives up the Rebels. She is also a quick thinker and helps Han, Luke and Chewie escape when the Imperials have them pinned. Carrie Fisher is fantastic in this role.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Alec Guiness plays the wise, old mentor role really well in this and was my favorite character in the film besides Darth Vader. In him we see a tired old man broken from time, the Empire’s rise and the loss of his friend Anakin Skywalker. It is in Luke he finds hope for the future though so he teaches him the ways of the force and in the end sacrifices himself so that our heroes can escape. We see his goodness and nobility throughout and that he does have an awareness of the bigger picture, as he doesn’t even leave a body behind when he faces his old pupil Vader showing that he has become more powerful than Vader can imagine.

Luke Skwalker – Mark Hamill plays the winy farm boy who grows up over the course of the film. He is the idealist who just wants to do right by his Aunt and Uncle (he rejects being trained by Obi-Wan at first because of his obligation to them) but when circumstances force him on his quest he embraces it. This is Luke’s heroes journey as we see him use the force that Obi-Wan had taught him to destroy the Death Star, and it is his reminding Han of the good in people and in Han himself that leads to Han Solo saving him from Darth Vader and giving him the chance to destroy the Death Star. Luke goes from selfish to selfless, just like Han and changes this world for the better.

Darth Vader – James Earl Jones was perfect for the voice of Vader and Darth Vader is one of my all time favorite villains. We see that he is a man from the past (a former Jedi who goes into combat himself to fight unlike Tarkin safe behind the Death Star) and that he is a force to be reckoned with. When he sets the Empire on someone (the droids) they cause a path of destruction in their wake. Vader is that destruction and force and even the higher ups in the Empire (all the Admirals) fear him, and for good reason as we see him strangle a man who dares to question the power of the force. It is his courage and drive that make him a survivor to as when the Death Star is destroyed he is the only one who escapes as he was killing the X-Wings who had made the run to destroy the Death Star in the first place and as he escapes it’s hard for the victory celebration at the end not to feel empty. The Death Star was deadly but Vader was more-so…wherever he went, death followed.

The Force – The Force is what binds all beings together and allows those in touch with it to manipulate things around them, be they objects or minds. We see it in how Obi-Wan gets Stormtroopers off their back and when Luke forces the Torpedos down the shoot leading to a victory for the Rebellion. We also see Vader use it on countless occasions to destroy.

Okay: Leia’s Development – Leia loses her planet but we never see what that means to her. She has lost her parents as far as we know and that is never dealt with beyond her pleading for the life of Alderaan. Adding at least one scene could have fixed this.

Too Long with the Droids – The time with the Droids on Tatooine could have been cut in half. All it establishes is their odd couple relationship and that Tatooine is deadly, which we learn later anyway when the Sand People attack Luke. Adding Luke into the story earlier or giving Leia more development is what should have been done instead.

   This is a classic and one of my all time favorite films. Watch the Original version if you can. It is beautiful and there isn’t distracting CGI like in the Special Editions. It is fully focused on the characters and organizations being filmed which lends power and focus as we witness Luke’s Hero’s Journey as he helps the Rebellion win their greatest victory against the Galactic Empire. This film is part of what make “Star Wars” as a universe unforgettable.

Final Score: 9.6 / 10

Star Wars A New Hope

Jurassic Park (1993): The Power and Wonder of Nature and Finding What Matters

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       “Jurassic Park” deserves its place as a Classic. I think I was too harsh to it as a kid and enjoyed the fact that more people died in “The Lost World: Jurassic Park.” In this the stakes are much higher and because it is slower we get more time to know the characters, and unlike “Jurassic World” the characters feel real and everyone is active all the time, though kids of course are still the weakest part which is true of most Spielberg films. I think what helped this film was the author also writing the Screenplay, which sadly doesn’t happen all that much in Hollywood and arguably to the detriment of the scripts. Suffice to say, this film was great.

    “Jurassic Park” was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen and based off the book of the same name by Michael Crichton.

     The story involves John Hammond (Richard Attenborough) bringing two experts being Dr. Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) and Dr. Grant (Sam Neill) to Jurassic Park in order so that they will write it off and he can get funding but things soon go wrong when an unhappy employee Dennis Nedry (Wayne Knight) sabotages the Park’s security and attempts to sell the Dinsosaur embryos to a rival the same time a giant storm hits, putting Hammond’s grandchildren and the people at risk.

The Pros: The Premise – The Premise is really cool. A billionare obsessed with dinosaurs uses science to create them and is willing to do anything to make his dream a reality. It coming crashing down on him is expected too, and it’s fun to watch the setup and execution.

The Soundtrack – John Williams at one of his best. The soundtrack captures wonder and terror so well and I understand why this score is used in most John Williams salutes by orchestras.

Character Moments – There are some really good character moments in this…from Ellie and Hammond talking about the wonder and fear of Hammond’s creation, the nihilism of Ian and the idealism of Alan and any interaction Alan has with the kids.

The Characters – The main and supporting characters are compelling and interesting and there are more of them in this film than the others in the Franchise. In the end this is what makes the film succeed besides the brilliant theme and message.

Dennis Nedry – Wayne Knight is wonderful as this troll IT Guy who harasses Hammond relentlessly and actually had a point that he isn’t being paid that much or helped out at all. Hammond can’t see beyond himself (and neither can Nedry) and in the end Nedry ends up dead because of it when he tries delivering the Embryos to a rival company.

Ray Arnold – Samuel L. Jackson plays the chain smoking scientist who is pretty pessimistic but does his best in a very bad situation. In the end he comes through though and he isn’t anti-Hammond the way Nedry is.

John Hammond – Richard Attenborough is fantastic as the wizened old man who began as a creator of a flea circus and became a multi-billionaire. His dreams have driven him in all that he does and are really more important than people until he realizes that his dream has killed people and his selfishness created his fall. He learns from his mistakes though and I really enjoyed his character, he was my favorite.

Dr. Ellie Satler – Laura Dern is wonderful in this role as the character who is quick to take action and is always looking out for others. She also has the sense of wonder and idealism of Grant until all that comes crashing down when the storm hits. She is the one who reminds Hammond of what matters and brings him out of himself.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the Chaos Theory Mathematician and is a really fun character. He hits on everyone and has had a few marriages and kids, he fully lives a life of entropy and predicts the park falling apart. He still holds a sense of wonder though and he cares about the Grandchildren even going so far as risking his life and almost ending up killed by the T. Rex. He does end up injured.

Dr. Alan Grant – Sam Neill is great as the idealistic scientist who isn’t good with children who comes to show he can be a really good friend and mentor. He is the most courageous besides Ellie as he doesn’t think twice about taking action to protect others and he knows the Dinosaurs the best as he studied them as a paleontologist.

The Power of Nature – Nature’s power is front and center and the illusion of humanity’s control over it is shown when the storm makes it so the park is unsafe and Nedry turns on the Park and releases the cages. The dinosaurs reek havoc and are never really beaten in the end, they just beat one another.

The Tyrannosaurs Rex – The T. Rex is the main threat throughout the film, eating the lawyer and countless others, injuring the members who are visiting the park and in the end killing the Raptors. The T. Rex is the storm and it cannot be stopped, only avoided. None of the other films do that as well as this one.

The Raptors – Minus the introduction the Raptors are great. They are like the Aliens from “Alien” and “Aliens” and a force of nature that wherever they show up, someone will die. They also adapt to every situation and are only beat by a larger predator that surprises them.

Wonder in Science – The scientific wonder is fantastic! Even though the science doesn’t work that isn’t the point, the point is the celebration of the process of creation and wonder in discovering new things, which are important parts of science and being a scientist.

People Versus Dreams – Dreams are not more important than people and it is Hammond’s are to come to this realization as he wants the park to work up until he fears his Grandchildren dying. It is at that point he realizes people mattered all along.

Okay: The Kids – Kids are once again okay, didn’t believe the girl was a hacker or the boy had read Alan’s book, but that’s an issue I have with the kids in all these movies.

The Cons: The Introduction – The intro is so cheesy and bad. From the hunter’s mouth being really close to the Raptors having long enough arms to pull a heavy man into the cage…the only good part was the mist and trouble seeing things.

   “Jurassic Park” is truly a classic for a reason. It captures wonder, terror and respect for nature as well as giving us mostly complex characters and the characters who aren’t complex are a lot of fun. I’d recommend it for sure, this Spielberg and Crichton doing what they love with one of the best John Williams Soundtracks to date.

Final Score: 9.5 /10

The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) – Humanity’s Conflict With Nature and Finding Balance

The Lost World Jurassic Park

     “The Lost World: Jurassic Park” is a great sequel. It is a good thing Spielberg was in charge of it since he is a good director at creating complex characters and giving situations where actual stakes are involved, while still managing to give the film a heart. He is one of the greats for a reason and him directing the follow-up to the original was the right decision.

  The film was directed by Steven Spielberg, written by David Koepp, produced by Gerald R. Molen and Colin Wilson and based off The Lost World by Michael Crichton.

    The story involves Dr. Ian Malcolm (Jeff Goldblum) going to Site B, the Island of Isla Sorna to rescue his girlfriend Dr. Sarah Harding (Julianne Moore) who has gone there in order to record Dinosaurs in their natural state for a documentary so that humans won’t exploit them. They are too late and things get complicated when Hammond’s nephew Ludlow (Arliss Howard) arrives with a team to capture the Dinosaurs and take them to a park in San Diego as well as the arrival of Malcolm’s daughter Kelly (Vanessa Lee Chester), which complicates things further.

The Pros: The Cinematography – Janusz Kaminski did a wonderful job and as expected Spielberg has a good eye for how to cast a scene. The character scenes as well as the action scenes mean something and we get the chance to get to know the minor characters by how the action is presented.

The Soundtrack – John Williams is one of the greats for a reason and in this his soundtrack is great at creating tension and rising action. Each action scene felt big because of his soaring score.

The Action – This is one of the better action movies I have seen. There are so many moments that I remember and will remember. I’ll record the ones that stand out the most as they deserve recognition.

Hanging By a Rope – Van Owen and Harding rescue the trapped Tyrannosaurus baby and after they fix it’s leg the parents destroy the van, eventually this leads to it falling over the edge and it is only from the actions of Eddie Car releasing a rope through the van that they are able to get to rescue. Eddie dies in the process though.

The Raptor Hunt – At one point the hunters are running and the Raptors methodically take nearly every single one of them out. It is only the few that survive through luck and quick thinking showing just how dangerous they are.

The Tyrannosaurus Hunt – The T. Rex proceeds to cause chaos in the camp for the capture of it’s child. One of them is captured by Roland while the other slaughters the hunters the Raptors don’t get too.

the Tyrannosaurus in San Diego – This is quintessential Monster Movie here as we see a T. Rex escape from it’s cage and proceed to decimate San Diego. It is really well done and a lot of the destruction caused is simply from people afraid that it exists. It was very well cast and showed once again just how dangerous this creature is. I liked it.

The Characters – There are quite a few great characters in this! From Dr. Harding and Dr. Malcolm and the hunter Roland as well as the Earth First activist. Each of them are more complicated than any archetype, which leads to some great interaction and character growth over the course of the film.

Eddie Carr – This minor character dies to the T. Rex’s but not before he saves his friends. He idealizes Dr. Harding but we see he is good at his job too as it is his creativity that saves our heroes in the first place. Richard Schiff did a great job and his death meant something.

John Hammond – Hammond has changed from the industrialist to the conservationist and it is a really good arc the events at “Jurassic Park” changed him. He is wonderful as the wise wizard who has learned from his mistakes while still being wily and reckless.

Nick Van Owen – I don’t like Vince Vaughn, he tends to be a dick in real life and his characters he plays. This character wasn’t as bad and him being a dick worked as he was an extreme activist who put others at risk to rescue animals. He is never presented as the good guy but you get why he is doing it too, especially since these dinosaurs are endangered by their very existence and he wants to safeguard that.

Roland Tembo – Peter Postlewaite does an awesome job in this role! He is the hunter who lives for the thrill of it and has respect for the animals he hunts as he sees himself as fulfilling his greater purpose. When his friend is killed on the Island though he decides he is done after he captures the T. Rex and has had enough of death. I don’t think he’ll stop hunting but he won’t work with people like Ludlow anymore…folks who don’t value human life.

Dr. Sarah Harding – Julianne Moore plays the naive idealist who learns to not be reckless around dinosaurs while still fulfilling her mission of saving the ones on the Island. She saves Malcolm a few times which makes up for times he had to save her in the beginning. She is a strong character who does what she wants.

Dr. Ian Malcolm – Ian is the nervous scientist played by Jeff Goldblume who carries on the lessons of “Jurassic Park” about keeping dinosaurs away from human beings. He is the Spock to Sarah’s Kirk and his arc is learning how to feel for others better as we see him have to put himself out there to protect Sarah his girlfriend and to protect his daughter and support her beyond words. It is a great arc and it is him coming into his own as a person who can look beyond himself.

Respect for the Natural World – The message is through Hammond’s action. He was a man who wanted people to feel wonder and live the vision he created, on his death bed though he only wants the creatures he created to be respected as he realized he didn’t before by keeping them in cages. It is to this end that he sent them on a mission to protect his creations. It is a good arc since the Dinosaurs aren’t idealized, they are animals like anything else and deserve the chance to flourish. This basis of respect while still not forgetting humans creativity in development is part of what makes this film so great.

A T.Rex is still a T.Rex (even if you save it’s baby) – I really like that part of respect is respecting the space of hunters, be it humanity or the T. Rex. The heroes save the baby T. Rex but there van is destroyed by the T. Rexes. The nature of a T. Rex does not change and the saving of their baby doesn’t change the fact that T. Rexs eat smaller animals which include humans. I’m glad that in the conversation talk it was still smart. A tiger will still try and kill you, even if you return it’s cub back.

Okay: Peter Ludlow – Hammond’s nephew is all about making InGen profitable again but he does nearly have a change of heart when the T. Rex is reeking havoc, he only changes his mind when he realizes that the T. Rex baby could be his only out from facing major consequences for his stupidity. He was alright as an antagonist.

Kelly – Child actors have a difficult time and Vanessa Chester does alright as Kelly. She is a daughter ignored by both her parents so she acts out for attention while still trying to be successful to impress her folks. Her arc is finding confidence and building a relationship with her dad. I did think it was stupid she kicked a raptor using gymnastics, but besides that she wasn’t a bad character, just not a great character.

I remembered liking this more than “Jurassic Park” as the Dinosaurs felt like actual animals and T. Rex’s won’t save the day against Raptors since they want to eat you too…this is part of the reason I’m curious if it will still be the case when I get to “Jurassic Park.” Which will be better to me, the original or the sequel “The Lost World?” Well, well see when I get there.  Suffice to say I enjoyed this film greatly and would watch it again. It is definitely a favorite.

Final Score: 9.2 / 10. Solidly great film.