Tag Archives: Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

A Star Wars: The Last Jedi Review – The Burden of Expectations

TITLE: Star Wars: The Last Jedi
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Carrie Fisher, John Boyega
DIRECTOR: Rian Johnson
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 152 min
RELEASED: December 15, 2017

***WARNING: Spoilers lay ahead.***

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I had to sleep on this one. That’s partially why I waited a week before releasing my review. When I came out of The Last Jedi, I wasn’t sure what to think. That wasn’t the reaction I expected. When I walked out of The Force Awakens, I knew I loved it. When I left Rogue One, I knew I hated it. This one was in a weird “What did I just see?” zone.

In hindsight, the mountains of advance praise heaped on The Last Jedi harmed it in a way few seemed to anticipate. Not just praise from critics mind you, but from Disney themselves when they put director Rian Johnson in charge of the next Star Wars trilogy. That’s a hell of an endorsement. The biggest entertainment company in the world put this guy in the driver’s seat for the biggest movie franchise in the world. All signs pointed to: “Rian Johnson is great! The Last Jedi is going to be amazing and perfect in every way!” What else were we supposed to think?

Sometimes hype hinders. Just ask George Lucas. He learned that the hard way with a little movie called The Phantom Menace.

That’s actually an apt comparison, as The Last Jedi could be the most divisive Star Wars story since The Phantom Menace. Obviously, a portion of the adult Star Wars fanbase has been perpetually butthurt since before butthurt was even a thing. But even the even-tempered and reasonable among us have taken issue with the film.

So allow me to serve as a voice of the middle-ground. A life-long Star Wars buff who isn’t among those that creates petitions to make certain movies non-canon. For the sake of organization and simplicity, let’s make this a simple pro/con list…

Pro: Rey’s parentage
The Force Awakens left us with a lot of questions about Rey’s parents. There were plenty of candidates. Was she Han and Leia’s daughter? Was she Luke’s daughter? Was she somehow Ob-Wan’s daughter? Could she be Snoke’s daughter?

As it turns out, she’s nobody’s daughter. Nobody we know, anyway. In The Last Jedi, Kylo Ren (Or are we officially calling him Ben Solo now?) reveals that Rey is the child of junkers from Jakku who sold her off for “drinking money.” They’re almost trolling us with that one. The franchise with the most famous family revelation in cinematic history sets up another one, then gives us an anti-reveal.

But here’s the thing: It’s the right call. Not making Rey a descendent of Luke, Leia, or someone from the original trilogy gives her a refreshing independance. It makes her a self-made hero. I can also appreciate them not repeating the “I am your father” beat again.

Con: Snoke’s identity
Snoke was every bit the subject of speculation that Rey was, if not more. Who was this mysterious Force-wielder that taught Ben Solo the ways of the Dark Side? Why was his face so messed up? Was he even human? Was he the infamous Darth Plagueis?

The truth of Rey’s parentage may not have satisfied everybody, but at least we got an answer. With Snoke we got nothing. Nothing. Ben turns on him halfway through the movie, ultimately taking his spot at the top of the First Order food chain. While killing him off isn’t necessarily an issue, not addressing who he is, even if it’s just another non-reveal, is the movie’s biggest letdown.

You can make the argument we knew next to nothing about Palpatine in Empire and Jedi. Hell, they never even said his name. He was just the Emperor. But they then proceeded to make three movies chronicling his rise to power. Snoke’s identity is also wrapped up in the backstory of the First Order, of which we know so little.

I suppose there’s a chance we’ll learn a little more about who this guy was in Episode IX. But this was their big opportunity to explore him, and they missed it. That’s astounding. It’s not as if they didn’t know we were curious…

Pro: Mark Hamill as grumpy Luke.
There’s naturally a warm and fuzzy nostalgic quality to seeing Mark Hamill come back to Luke Skywalker. But he’s also perennially underrated as an actor. So to see him in a major motion picture again is very satisfying. He more than holds up his end of the bargain.

People have had mixed emotions about what they’ve done with Luke in these new movies. The execution hasn’t been perfect. But the idea itself isn’t bad. The events of Return of the Jedi happened more than 30 years ago. A hell of a lot can happen in three decades. People change. Luke has changed. I like that none of us were expecting grumpy old Luke Skywalker. It opened some interesting doors, and allowed Mark Hamill to turn in a different, more nuanced performance than he otherwise might have.

Con: Overstuffing the plot
The Last Jedi is so bloated that it may be the first Star Wars movie that overstays its welcome. It struggles to give both Finn and Poe Dameron something to do. As Rey, Finn, and Poe are supposed to have essentially the same level of importance, they all have their own plot threads. This leaves the story overinflated and less focused. As much as I like Oscar Isaac as Poe, he’s the one who needed to be scaled back.

While Finn and his new ally Rose are off on their big mission to a space casino, Leia is incapacitated. So Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) is put in charge of the Resistance. When Poe doesn’t like her more reserved and passive strategy, he stages a mutiny. We later learn Holdo is trying to be discreet while moving the Resistance to an old Rebel base on the planet Crait. She ends up sacrificing herself to buy them time.

While I enjoyed Laura Dern’s presence in the film, this whole subplot was unnecessary. I understand the lesson Poe is supposed to learn about seeing the bigger picture. But the movie already has so much going on, and they could have saved time by simply having Poe and Holdo work together in Leia’s absence. Then, inspired by her sacrifice, he can take charge and lead the Resistance forward into a new era.

Pro: New Planets
The planets in both The Force Awakens and Rogue One left something to be desired. None were particularly memorable other than Jakku, which is essentially the same world as Tatooine.

Crait isn’t a particularly interesting setting, at least not that we know of. But it does make for a unique visual during our climactic battle. You’ve got a thick layer of salt on the surface, with the red mineral content underneath. It’s a new kind of environment. That’s not an easy thing to give us after eight Star Wars movies.

The casino city of Canto Bight, which Finn and Rose travel to, is memorable as well. It doesn’t blow you away in terms of creatures or visual spectacle. But the novelty of basically seeing Star Wars characters go to Vegas is amusing.

Con: The Era
Here’s a little something Disney doesn’t want you to realize: We’re never going to get another universally beloved Star Wars movie ever again. Hell, we haven’t had once since The Empire Strikes Back, and even that’s debatable in some circles. The phrase “everyone’s a critic” has never been more true than it is in 2017. The advent of the internet, blogs, YouTube shows and the like have allowed for pop culture to be analyzed and re-analyzed to the point of absurdity. (And yes, I am indeed saying that on my own blog.) You can’t find something more heavily ingrained in our pop culture than Star Wars.

You also can’t find a more opinionated fandom. These movies and this universe connect with people on such a personal level. So something that’s perceived as wrong or harmful can spark a tidal wave of emotion. The prequels taught a generation of geeks (myself included) how to pick a movie apart and spit it back at its creators. We love Star Wars, but we are forever on guard from being burned again. As such, any and all future Star Wars films will be under a microscope as long as fans can access the internet. 

The Bottom Line
The Last Jedi does not live up to its hype. But that hype was so ridiculous that you almost can’t fault it for that.

Almost.

There’s a lot to like in this movie, and I appreciate that they surprised us, and are trying to avoid doing the original trilogy over again. But the plain and simple truth is that they tried to do too much with too many characters. As such, the movie’s focus is spread too thin. It almost feels like they shot their wad, and won’t have anything left for Episode IX. We’ll find out in two years, when thankfully JJ Abrams will be back in the director’s chair.

Help us, JJ. You’re are only hope… (No pressure.)

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A Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1 Review – The Lost Years

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1TITLE: Star Wars: Obi-Wan and Anakin #1
AUTHOR: Charles Soule
PENCILLER: Marco Checchetto
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: January 7, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

I’m not necessarily surprised Marvel chose Obi-Wan & Anakin as their latest Star Wars miniseries. What’s rather curious though, is the time in which it’s set. This story comes to us just a few years after The Phantom Menace, so they’re not tapping in to any of that Clone Wars stuff. There’s a definite downside to that, but the upside might just be worth it.

When we open the issue, Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker (now presumably about 12) crash land on the planet Carnelian IV. Master and apprentice are responding to a distress signal requesting Jedi aid. But Carnelian IV is a world that was thought to be dead. What exactly have our heroes wandered into…?

While Obi-Wan & Anakin may not have a lot of the stuff that made The Clone Wars or portions of the prequels fun. But it does have the potential to provide. something the prequels sorely lacked: Character depth.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin, lightsaberOur opening crawl tells us that both characters have begun to “question their roles in the destiny of The Force.” We later learn that Anakin has apparently talked to Obi-Wan about leaving the Jedi Order. This subject has been touched on, both in Attack of the Clones and the Revenge of the Sith novelization. But this is the first time I’ve seen the subject brought up when Anakin is this young. It’s also the first time I’ve seen it used without any sort of connection to Anakin and Padme’s relationship. That enriches the concept, from where I’m sitting. It shows us Anakin actually has conviction, and his morality doesn’t completely revolve around Padme.

So what would prompt Anakin to abandon his Jedi training at such a young age? If what we see in this issue is any indication, it’s because he’s dissatisfied with the way the Republic and the Jedi Order function. But I wouldn’t be surprised to learn it also has something to do with his mother. He was obviously still thinking about her in Attack of the Clones.

Of course, it’s not an accident that they made a point to focus in on Anakin’s lightsaber (shown above). We even get a flashback to “before,” and see a scene with him practicing with other students. How and if the lightsaber will play into the story, outside of Anakin simply using it, isn’t clear. But I wouldn’t be surprised if it gets more special attention, given the role it played in The Force Awakens.

Star Wars: Obi-Wan & Anakin #1, Marco ChecchettoMarco Checchetto is no stranger to Star Wars, having drawn Shattered Empire. He and colorist Andres Mossa have a knack for creating gorgeous environments, vehicles, settings you very much believe could exist in this universe. The airships in this issue would have been cool even without the big crash (shown right). We don’t often see those kind of craft in Star Wars, and will hopefully see more before the story is over.

But Checchetto can run into trouble when it comes to people. It’s not that his figure work is bad. His characters just seem a bit lifeless on the page at times. They lack a certain energy, which in turn can rob the story of energy.

The success of Obi-Wan & Anakin relies heavily on what it can tell us about the relationship between these two characters that we didn’t know before. You know what else it relies heavily on? Us not seeing Jar Jar. We’re between Episodes I and II here, people. This is Jar Jar territory. We must be cautious…

Images from author’s collection. 

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A Darth Vader #5 Review – “This is…Blasphemous.”

Darth Vader #5, coverTITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #5
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PENCILLER: Salvador Larroca. Cover by Adi Granov.
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $3.99
RELEASED: May 13, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Darth Vader continues to be immensely better than any of Marvel’s other Star Wars titles. Trust me, folks. It’s not even close. Why? Oh, let me count the ways…

It captures its main character perfectly. It sprinkles in just enough prequel material to display Vader’s depth, but not turn die-hards off. It has added new characters that add both intrigue and humor. It’s also beautifully drawn, and does enough artistic justice to the classic Star Wars visuals that when it adds something new (For instance: A secret base on top of what can only be called “space whales.”), it’s that much easier to buy it as a part of this iconic universe.

In this issue, Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca bring Vader, Doctor Aphra, Triple-Zero, and BT to a secret base in the Outer Rim, which supposedly houses those the Emperor has deemed worthy of replacing him. But the dark lord isn’t quite prepared for what he finds. In his own words: “This is…blasphemous.”

Darth Vader #5, space whalesOddly enough, Gillen and Larroca play with some visuals from The Phantom Menace here. We see Vader carving his way through a thick door, as various armed soldiers stand by. We then have Triple-Zero, a silver protocol droid just like the one we saw in Episode I, emerging from the resulting smoke. But then we’re hit with a swerve that’s nothing like what we saw in the movie. This is a team that’s great with playing with fan expectations, giving you what you want, but not necessarily the way you thought you’d get it…

On the subject of visuals, that two-page shot of the space-whales is amazing. It’s like nothing we’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie, but it feels very true to the cruel spirit of the Empire. Vader calls them an abomination. But the ironic thing is, he’s something of an abomination himself. That’s not necessarily a connection everyone will get, but it’s there.

Darth Vader #5, Triple-Zero, Salvador LarrocaI mentioned this last time, but Triple-Zero is a riot. The sheer notion of an “evil butler” type is hysterical. But when you put him amid the chaos of the Star Wars universe, next to a no-nonsense-type like Vader, the ensuing comedy feels very organic.

I’ll try and stay spoiler-free here. But what Vader finds on the base is, at face value, very compelling. Gillen seems to be playing with the notion of the Jedi and Sith being an “ancient religion,” which was introduced in A New Hope. At one point, someone even says: “The Force is obsolete.” This is made all the more interesting when you consider this base is sanctioned by Palpatine, a Sith himself. From an in-story perspective, I question Palpatine’s motivations here. Is he truly preparing for a world without The Force? Or is this part of a larger scheme? I’m inclined to think the latter.

The idea of The Force being obsolete or dormant might also be an interesting piece of forshadowing for The Force Awakens

Darth Vader #5, Doctor Aphra, Salvador LarrocaWe don’t get a lot of time with Doctor Aphra in this issue. But what we do get is enough to keep me invested in her. Tragedy follows Darth Vader wherever he goes. And there’s little doubt that tragedy is what lays ahead for this woman. It’s simply a question of how, where, and when.

But that’s simply one of many elements that makes this series a must-read for Star Wars fans.

Images 1 and 2 from author’s collection. Image 3 from jedi-bibliothek.de.

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A Darth Vader #1 Review – He Doesn’t Like Sand…

385431TITLE: Star Wars: Darth Vader #1
AUTHOR: Kieron Gillen
PUBLISHER: Salvador Larroca
PUBLISHER: Marvel
PRICE: $4.99
RELEASED: February 11, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 made me understand what it’s like to be a Sith Lord.

Or at least, it gave me a pretty powerful glimpse into what it’s like to be Anakin Skywalker inside that black suit. To say the very least, it’s not fun.

Following the events of Star Wars #1 and 2, Vader must once again face The Emperor as a failure. Palpatine blames him for the destruction of the Death Star, and also for allowing the Rebels to escape on Cymoon. Now, to find Luke Skywalker and the Rebel Alliance, Vader must ally himself with the likes of Jabba the Hutt and Boba Fett. Naturally, this brings him back to Tatooine, Anakin Skywalker’s home planet.

1508_darth_vader_1_artThe idea of Vader returning to Tatooine has been an intriguing one as far back as The Phantom Menace. But to my knowledge this is the first time we’ve actually seen it. It doesn’t disappoint, especially when we reach the end of the issue.

However, much like Jason Aaron and John Cassaday in Star Wars #1, this issue relies quite a bit on the nostalgia factor to draw readers in. But while Star Wars #1 picked both lines and certain imagery from the original trilogy, this issue plays with actual shots and sets from both A New Hope and Return of the Jedi. The image of Darth Vader entering Jabba’s palace, dealing with the guards and Bib Fortuna, and then standing there amongst his cronies is obviously an alternate take on Luke’s entrance from Jedi. Later, Larroca essentially pencils screen caps from A New Hope to provide us with a flashback page. One can argue than in terms of relying on nostalgia appeal to cheaply hook readers in, Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 is an even bigger offender than Star Wars #1.

So with that in mind, why is the former a good issue, while the latter is a bad one? For my money, it’s all in the way the issue was written.

54661fbff3030Darth Vader #1 draws you in with the notion that Vader will be journeying into Jabba’s lair, just as Luke will later do, using very specific images and shot from Jedi. But the real hook comes when Vader and Jabba start talking. Vader refuses to address Jabba by name, simply calling him “Hutt,” like he’s merely vermin. When Jabba tries to exercise his own power, Vader retaliates, at one point choking Jabba with the Force. Through this scene, we not only get a sense of how little regard Vader has for life, but how his hatred and anger are always with him. They are not a temporary state of being. They are his very existence.

We also get a scene with Palpatine, where we see that despite Vader’s ever-present anger, it still hasn’t brought him the power he seeks. He is still a servant of the Emperor. Or as Palpatine says: “A blunt instrument far better to be wielded than to wield.” He then places Vader under the thumb of one of the Imperial commanders we briefly saw in A New Hope (prompting one of those screen cap flashbacks), and deliberately hides the identity of a new ally. We later close on a familiar, yet ever so dramatic two-page spread.

darth-vader-1-easter-egg-chosen-one-122394Star Wars: Darth Vader #1 is essentially a look at what Vader’s life is like in the aftermath of the original film. He is still a man that has lost everything but his hate and his lust for power, which he will presumably never have so long as he is under Palpatine’s influence. Thus, he takes that hate out on the terrified life forms around him. That’s the message we’re meant to take away from this issue. And it’s an important one about our main character. We got there using plenty of flash and flare from the original trilogy, but in this instance the end justified the means.

Star Wars #1, on the other hand, used that same nostalgia, flash, and flare as the destination. Cassaday’s art was fantastic, as always. But despite the cool escape story, which is very Star Wars, the issue lacked soul, and felt largely empty. That’s the difference between the Aaron/Cassaday issue, and the Gillen/Larroca issue.

img_20150212_181212I’m very interested to see how much the prequel material is acknowledged, not just in this book, but in all of Marvel’s Star Wars comics. The ending of this issue is a pretty heavy callback to Attack of the Clones. The Force Awakens gets closer every day, and the Disney/Lucasfilm strategy seems to be getting us to refocus on classic Star Wars stuff. This makes sense, as we’re getting ready for Luke, Leia, and Han to return. It also seems like they’re trying to gloss over the prequels, which also makes sense, given how poorly they were received by many. It’s something to keep an eye on as we move closer to December.

Star Wars: Darth Vader was one of the best single issues of a Star Wars series that I’ve read in quite some time. It’s definitely an issue worthy of its iconic title character.

Image 1 from popmatters.com. Image 2 from marvel.com. Image 3 from comicbook.com. Image 4 from page45.com.

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