Monday, September 17, 2018

A Good Feeling About This

In my previous entry about the Star Wars franchise, I expressed some hope that the Han Solo origin film might at least have a decent script. Well, after having a chance to watch it on a cross country flight last week, I have to say I did not realize how true that would turn out to be. It was so good I decided to watch it a second time on the return flight! This entry is here to convince fellow fans that it isn't the disaster some are claiming it to be.

Let me first address the big ticket item that has caused the greatest annoyance to long time fans, which is that Alden Ehrenreich doesn't evoke Harrison Ford's classic character very much at all (although Donald Glover is spot on, albeit with much less baggage to live up to). But this problem went away for me as soon as I began to see that this new actor had taken full control of the role. Even though his style is different, the dialogue was what you'd expect of a young Han. If you can get past that you are in for a treat. The story manages to touch on all the canonical points of Han Solo's history while still presenting really great character developments, original plot points and twists which are both unexpected yet not outrageous, and all within a fast moving and creatively original action framework.

Aside from being an all around well done film, there are a few other important elements that make this a worthy addition to the Star Wars universe. What really astonishes me more than anything else that this was the first post-Lucas offering that actually felt like a Star Wars movie. All the character interactions, aliens, ships and other technologies, political and economic backdrops, sense of humor, and various locations and planets, were all completely original and yet at the same time felt like they lived in the same universe as the one we were introduced to in 1977. That in itself is quite an accomplishment. You only need to compare it to The Force Awakens which tried to copy the look and feel of Star Wars and often just achieved a cheap knock-off vibe.

============================ some spoilers below ====================

And finally, there were several nods to the old timer fans that in a bad film might be causes for grief but in a good film become wonderful nostalgic winks. Just wanted to mention a few in particular that made me smile:

  • After Han nearly destroys Lando's MF ship near the end, he tells him "I hate you", and Han says "I know". We all know where that came from.
  • Han's last stand off with Beckett has him shooting him first before he finishes a speech, and Beckett telling him as he fades off that it was a good decision because he would have shot him. A clear taking sides of the "Han shot first" debate and why it was ok.
  • Before undertaking the worst part of the Kessel Run, Han states the canonical phrase which he originated as "I've got a bad feeling about this" and which appears in most every SW film afterward. But in Force Awakens, it was changed to "I've got a good feeling about this", and in this film he again is the speaker and changes it to "I've got a really good feeling about this!".
  • Another great Han and Lando interaction is when Han revisits Lando and pretends he hates him for the "stunt he pulled" (which he did!) and then hugs him and laughs to break the ruse. Now we know that Lando gets him back in ESB
There is a lot to talk about in this film, including the comic relief droid L3 which didn't seem to bother me as much as some, the well choreographed heist sequences, the judicious use of pacing, etc. But the main point here is if you are an original Star Wars fan, don't let your disappointment with the rest of franchise rob you from having some fun and enjoyment with this particular Star Wars story.

Sunday, May 6, 2018

The Last Star Wars

For a life long Star Wars fan (such as your truly), it is painful to watch what is happening with the Star Wars franchise under Disney. Every time a new film comes out you think something is not quite the same - like small but essential elements are slowly slipping away. I know it is a horrible analogy, but it echoes something like an Alzheimer's experience. And how could we not expect this given the original creator is out of the picture? When Disney acquired Pixar, Marvel, and even Jim Henson Productions, they were able to keep at least some part of the original creators involved, but Star Wars was a clean break from Lucas and now they are desperately trying to figure out what to do with the whole thing.

Let's face it, what really made Star Wars a pop culture hit was not so much its strange landscape as its powerful storytelling. Lucas stuck with ancient elements that had stood the test of time and totally avoided most modern story telling mechanisms. How could an archetypal story telling machine like Disney not understand this to the point of hiring someone like Rian Johnson as the script writer? I can guess why - if the main criticism of The Force Awakens was that it was too similar to A New Hope, they decided to scrap Kasdan, the proven veteran of Star Wars mythology, and try someone known as a story rule breaker. It didn't matter that he had no science fiction writing experience either. Johnson did all sorts of unconventional things and this time the main criticism is that it was too unfamiliar. What to do now? Disney blows a fuse and bifurcates into two Star Wars worlds. Johnson gets his trilogy and maybe we'll bring back the other guys to do the other one on a separate track! What a bloody mess.

I don't feel inclined to comment on The Last Jedi other than to say that is was generally and enjoyable film if you forget about the previous films. It will probably be a hit and miss operation from now on and I'd rather focus elsewhere for better sci-fi offerings. The guys that filmed Rogue One did ok on their own, and at least Kasdan is doing the script for the Han Solo movie which means it might be a decent story, even if the lead actor was a horrible choice and, while they have no problem swapping directors right and left, they won't replace him. Of course, regardless of what happens in movie land, it will certainly be a groundbreaking treat when the resources of the Disney theme parks are unleashed to create Galaxy's Edge. Maybe it will become the last vestige of the old Star Wars for years to come.