Tag Archives: Star Wars movies

A Solo Bullet-Point Review – “Unnecessary” Excellence

By Rob Siebert
Fanboy Wonder

***WARNING: The following contains some minor, fairly harmless spoilers for Solo: A Star Wars Story.***

I loved this movie. No, seriously. I loved it. It surpassed my expectations in almost every conceivable way. The characters (yes, even the new ones) were fun and engaging. The thrilling Star Wars action component was on point. Alden Ehrenreich and Donald Glover nailed the Han and Lando characters, while at the same time adding a little something themselves. It had he obligatory scenes you expected to see, i.e. Han meeting Chewie, winning the Milennium Falcon, etc. But it didn’t pile on the nostalgia the way Rogue One did. I left Solo with a smile on my face, which is more than I can say for either Rogue One or The Last Jedi.

So let’s do this. Punch it!

– Ron Howard. The production of Solo was mired in controversy. Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller departed during filming, citing “creative differences.” Word broke of Lucasfilm bringing in an acting coach for Alden Ahrenreich, the actor who plays Han. That didn’t exactly inspire confidence. Toss in the polarizing reaction The Last Jedi received, and it was looking like it was going to be a disaster.

I’d be very curious to learn what exactly Ron Howard changed about this movie. Because I don’t think we can deny just how vital his touch was to the creative success of Solo. Not just because he’s directed movies like Apollo 13, A Beautiful Mind, and Frost/Nixon. But because he’s got such a long-lasting friendship with George Lucas. He’s had direct access to the mind that sparked the creation of this whole phenomenon. So I would imagine few filmmakers are more qualified to create something faithful to his vision.

– “Unnecessary.” I don’t understand the critique that Solo is unnecessary, or adds nothing new to the franchise. Yes, the movie largely plays into pre-established exposition. But if you go by that logic, what was the point of even attempting to make the prequels? Or Rogue One? What exactly qualifies one of these movies “necessary?” What does that even mean?

Furthermore, Solo is hardly devoid of fresh ideas. But we also learn new information about Han, Chewie, and Lando. We’re also introduced to new faces, like Qi’ra, L3-37, Tobias Beckett, Enfys Nest, and Crimson Dawn. Hell, I was even partial to Rio Durant.

In the end, Solo is fun. That’s what matters. It’s certainly all the “necessity” I require.

– When Han met Chewie. Laying the groundwork for the Han Solo/Chewbacca friendship was a vital component here. Their relationship is one of the most important in the entire Star Wars saga. I was struck by the believably and downright simplicity of how Solo sets that up. They save each other’s asses a few times and build up trust to the point that a genuine friendship forms.

Actually, I was surprised with how well Solo handled most of the pre-established stuff. Lando owning the Falcon, the card game, the Kessel Run. It all pretty much worked. At least it did for me. Consider how fickle fanboys like me can get about this stuff, that’s nothing to sneeze at.

– No Jabba. No Mos Eisley. No Luke or Ben. Solo has no shortage of references, winks, or nods. The folks over at Red Letter Media speculated that the movie would end somewhere during the events of A New Hope, much like Rogue One did. Specifically, with Han in the Mos Eisley Cantina. It could very well have ended with Han sitting at the table, and a shot of Obi-Wan and Luke walking over. I was very pleased they restrained themselves in that respect. For that matter, while he’s referenced, we don’t see Jabba the Hutt in Solo. There isn’t even a mention of Boba Fett or Greedo.

But I imagine one of the reasons they were a little more conservative with this one is because they’re saving those tricks for later…

– Sequels. Solo leaves a lot of room or sequels, and even spin-offs. There’s already been talk of a Lando movie. There’s also a surprise return that comes about as far out of left field as you can get. If you’ve seen it, you know who I’m talking about. They can go in that direction for another Solo movie, but the returning character would also make for a heck of a box office draw in their own right.

In the end, Solo wound up being the best case scenario for one of these  “anthology” movies. It’s a hell of a lot of fun, stands up on its own, and paved the way for continued storytelling.

To put it another way, “Great shot, kid! That was one in a million!”

Email Rob at PrimaryIgnition@yahoo.com, or follow Primary Ignition on Twitter.

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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.)

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Talking Star Wars: Looking Back at The Force Awakens

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Mrs. Primary Ignition and I are going to see The Last Jedi tonight. So naturally, last night we sat down to watch The Force Awakens. It was her idea, actually. Ladies, if you’re husband is a geek, ask him if he’s up for sitting down with some chili and a Star Wars movie. See what happens.

Obviously I’ve seen it a number of times already. In addition to officially reviewing it two years ago, I’ve discussed numerous elements here and there. The Force Awakens rightfully got a lot of flack for mimicking the original film. But I still love it. I can’t help it. There’s just something about Star Wars that brings out the inner child in so many of us. The Force Awakens did that in a way the prequels didn’t.

Moreso, The Force Awakens was a hell of an accomplishment. It breathed so much new life into the franchise, by introducing new faces and telling new stories. It restored some of the magic of the original trilogy by incorporating more practical effects, and not leaning so heavily on CGI. We had yet another epic score from the incomparable John Williams. In the end, it set the bar pretty damn high for Disney’s foray into the Star Wars universe.

What follows are a some notes I jotted down during the movie. This was my last stop on the road to The Last Jedi. Sometimes in order to appreciate where we’re going, you must first remember where you’ve been…

Mere minutes into the movie, Mrs. Primary Ignition asks: “Who built BB-8?” A fair question, I suppose. It’s sometimes tough to wrap your head around the idea that these robots, who play such pivotal roles in these movies, were mass produced in a factory somewhere. Unless you’re C-3PO, of course.

What The Force Awakens suffers from more than anything is a lack of exposition. When we were last in this universe, the Empire was being dealt a fatal blow. The implication was that they were gone for good. Then in the opening title crawl we’re told the First Order has “risen from the ashes of the Empire.” So where did they come from, and when? How did they acquire all their resources? Has there been relative peace in the three decades since Return of the Jedi? I understand certain things had to be kept a mystery. But little tidbits here and there to fill in the gaps would have been helpful.

Captain Phasma has a great look. Her armor is a nice extension of the stormtrooper get-up, and works as a symbol of the unwavering strength of the First Order. It’s also perfect to base toys off of. That always helps.

On a similar note, I’ve never liked the blasters the First Order troopers use. The mix of white and black makes them look like toy guns.

You can pinpoint the moment the audience is supposed to understand Rey is a good guy. When she’s sitting there cleaning off the parts she found in the old Star Destroyer, she looks at a frail old lady across from her doing some cleaning of her own. We see sympathy and compassion on her face. Thus, we make a positive connection with her. Remember, t this point in the film Rey hasn’t spoken yet. So it’s a nice subtle move.

The Empire’s last stand took place on Jakku. That’s why we see the crashed Star Destroyer, the downed AT-AT that Rey lives in, etc. But no one else us this. Again, lack of exposition. It doesn’t make or break the film either way, but it would have helped.

There are a lot of little details that are meant to make your brain associate The Force Awakens with the original trilogy. The noise the mouse droids make. The placement of the gas masks on the Millennium Falcon. The belch noise from the rathtar monster. That’s to say nothing of the more overt stuff, like the chess board and remote on the Falcon.

The Mos Eisley Cantina has to be one of the most imitated settings in cinematic history. Even within in the Star Wars universe, creators can’t help but put their spin on the idea. We obviously get that here with Maz Kanata’s cantina. It was fine. But it was pretty obvious what they were doing.

Should Kylo Ren/Ben Solo have had a pale, worn face that hadn’t seen light in awhile? When he takes his helmet off, he just looks like a normal guy. But I picture him never wanting to be seen without it, much like Darth Vader.

There’s a great little moment with Leia that was cut from the movie. Now that Carrie Fisher is gone, I really wish they’d kept it in. Leia is talking to someone about contacting the Senate and insisting action be taking against the First Order.

“Not all the senators think I’m insane. Or maybe they do. I don’t care.”

That line, and the way she delivers it, are so great. Considering how open Carrie Fisher was about her own mental illness, I bet she loved that line. I don’t think the line between Carrie and Leia was ever thinner than during those three sentences.

My favorite exchange in the movie happens between Han and Finn while they’re trying to infiltrate the Starkiller Base.

“Solo, we’ll figure it out. We’ll use the Force!”

“That’s not how the Force works!”

Han’s death scene is still hard to watch. Even when you know it’s coming, it doesn’t help. That horrified roar from Chewie might be the worst part of it all.

There’s a fan theory that Han actually pointed the lightsaber at himself, allowing Ben to turn it on and kill him. The idea being that he knew Snoke would kill Ben if he failed to carry out the deed. It doesn’t make the most sense. But stranger things have happened.

I love the fight between Kylo Ren and Rey. There’s very little fancy fight choreography, and neither look like extremely polished fighters. They’re just wailing on each other. It’s also a different environment than we’ve ever seen a lightsaber fight, which is accentuated when Rey uses the snow to extinguish Ren’s weapon.

The music callback from A New Hope when Rey catches the lightsaber is a touching moment. We heard it when Luke accepted his call to adventure, and now Rey is accepting hers. A hero is born.

On paper, you’d think the ending to this movie would be infuriating. We finally find Luke Skywalker, and then the movie ends. But it works.

Despite only appearing on camera for a matter of seconds, Mark Hamill did not have an easy job. He had so much to covey in so little time. This is the first time we’ve seen the character in so many years, and so much has happened. So the audience is just staring at him, taking in all the details.

I’ve heard that Hamill steals the show in The Last Jedi. I hope that’s the case. It’s time for mainstream moviegoers to see what we in the geek community have known for a long time: This man is a gem.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

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A Rogue One Review – A Force of Nostalgia

Rogue One posterTITLE: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
STARRING: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Forest Whitaker. 
DIRECTOR: Gareth Edwards
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME:
133 min
RELEASED: 
December 16, 2016

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

It was pretty obvious from the get-go that Rogue One was going to be a different kind of Star Wars movie. Less a space fantasy, more ground-level combat flick. A movie that puts the war in Star Wars. If we’re going to have one of these movies a year for the foreseeable future, the franchise needs to expand its boundaries. So different is fine. But what we get here is something that simultaneously does and does not feel like the Star Wars we know. That’s a double-edged sword. Or perhaps a double-bladed lightsaber.

Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebel Alliance steals the Death Star plans before the events of A New Hope. Our main character is Jyn Erso, whose long lost father develops the plans for the battle station. She is recruited by the Rebellion’s Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to help locate her father, who has long been forced into service by the Empire. Along for the ride are Andor’s droid K-2S0 (voiced by Alan Tudyk), defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior monk Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). Together, this small band of rebels will win a crucial victory against the Empire. But the cost will be great.

star-wars-rogue-one-jyn-ersoThat all sound vaguely familiar? It should. Like The Force Awakens last year, Rogue One is in many ways a love letter to the original 1977 Star Wars film, and there are plenty of parallels to draw. In addition to the obvious characters and imagery, Rogue One is peppered with little details, cameos, and callbacks to firmly plant it in A New Hope territory. Certain shots from the film are even mimicked once we get inside the Death Star. The plot also has numerous parallels. Our rebels sneak into enemy territory to sabotage the Empire, they dress in Imperial uniforms, there’s a droid (K-2SO in this case) manipulating things from a control room, we get a big space battle, etc. Rogue One is definitely a retro movie just as The Force Awakens was, albeit with a darker tone.

But that darker tone doesn’t necessarily help things. For so many years, a subgroup of Star Wars geeks have lamented some of the lighter elements in the movies (the Ewoks come to mind), longing for the series to focus more on the serious, dramatic, and dare I say cool side of things. To an extent, Rogue One does just that. It feels like a Platoon or Saving Private Ryan sort of movie with Star Wars stuff pasted on to it. The movie misses that sense of awe and wonder that helped make the original trilogy (and even the prequel trilogy) distinct and special. There’s nothing wrong with expanding your boundaries. But you’ve also got to remember what universe you’re in.

Rogue One, cast photoWhat’s more, these characters aren’t exactly the most memorable the franchise has produced. We understand their motivations and what drives them. But once you get past that, they’re not particularly likable or distinct. Our ensemble consists of about six people, so there’s not a lot of room for little personal moments where we get to know them as people. Case in point: Han and Leia arguing in the early minutes of The Empire Strikes Back. Or Obi-Wan talking to Luke about his father in A New Hope. When it comes to our main character, Jyn, we know what happened to her when she was a child, and we get some vague information about what she’s done as a teenager and a young adult. But outside of her starting the story as a cynic, there’s not much to her.

Ironically, the most charming character in the movie is the K-2SO, who isn’t even human. He’s got an Alfred Pennyworth, sarcastic butler thing going for him. Forest Whitaker’s character, Saw Gerrera, is the leader of an extremist group, and Jyn’s adopted father. His body is largely mechanical, and he needs the aid of a respirator. His dynamic with Jyn might have been interesting to explore as the movie progressed, but he’s only in the first half. Chirrut Imwe is fairly interesting. But again, we know so little about him.

rogue-one-darth-vaderBecause our main characters are fairly blasé, the classic Star Wars elements wind up serving as nostalgia boosters to keep us interested. Instead of being riveted by the story that’s unfolding, we’re looking at the stuff we recognize from that amazing movie from 40 years ago. It’s a nice recipe for warm fuzzies. Especially when we see some familiar Rebel faces, both at the base and in the space battle, two of which are played by actors from the prequels. In a perfect world, those nostalgia elements should be the garnish on top of an already compelling movie. But consider this: How appealing is Rogue One if you scale back Darth Vader’s involvement, and pluck out a few of those familiar faces?

Still, it’s fun to see Vader doing Vader stuff, especially when we get to the closing moments of the film. His entrance takes place on a planet from Episode III, which was a nice surprise. But here’s an opinion that might not be popular: The returning James Earl Jones sounds too kind. It’s like Mufasa is in the Darth Vader suit. In The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, Jones had a fantastic growl in his voice, as if there was a rage constantly boiling under the surface. It was fitting, considering all that talk about anger, hate, and the dark side. In both Rogue One and Star Wars Rebels, he’s lost his edge. But you can’t have someone else do Vader’s voice, can you? Jones likely has the role as long as he wants it, which is how it should be. I just wish he’d release his anger…

Rogue One, image 4This is the first Star Wars movie that doesn’t have a John Williams score, which means Michael Giacchino has one of the most unenviable jobs in cinematic history. Imagine having to not only follow John Williams, but follow up on arguably his most iconic work. To his credit though, Giacchino pulls it off. He still has the classic Williams songs to work with, of course. But what he produces still feels authentic to the Star Wars universe. That’s a hell of an achievement, all things considered.

Peter Cushing returns to the role of Governor Tarkin in this movie. That was unexpected, considering he died in 1994. But through the magic of CGI, and the voice talents of Guy Henry, he’s back. It mostly works fine. Though I’d be curious to know what those who were close to Cushing think about this little trick. Also, does this mean the door is open for Alec Guinness to “return” as Obi-Wan Kenobi in future movies?

Rogue One makes for a decent viewing experience, with a lot of the bells and whistles we’ve come to expect from Star Wars. If you needed proof that the Star Wars Anthology idea can work from a creative standpoint, you now have it. But it may be the worst Star Wars film in terms of holding up to repeated viewings. All the best stuff in this movie was in A New Hope first. So given the choice, why not just watch A New Hope?

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

A Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Spoiler-Free For Your Protection

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, posterTITLE: Star Wars: The Force Awakens
STARRING: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Harrison Ford, Adam Driver, Oscar Issaac
DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams
STUDIOS: Walt Disney Pictures, Lucasfilm Ltd, Bad Robot Productions
RATED: PG-13
RUN-TIME: 135 min
RELEASED: December 18, 2015

By Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

This week, The Los Angeles Times ran article about John Williams composing the music for The Force Awakens. The famous film score composer said he felt “a renewed energy, and a vitality, and a freshness that did not estrange any of the characters or material from the texture and fabric of [George] Lucas’ creation — but revivified it.”

That’s pretty much been the energy surrounding The Force Awakens as a whole. We’ve all felt it. This film represents a new dawn for the Star Wars franchise. And the box office figures indicate, we’re ready to greet the day.

The plot for this movie has been delightfully shrouded in mystery from the get-go, and I see no reason to go into detail now. But here are the basics. Thirty years after Return of the Jedi, the First Order has risen from the ashes of the Empire. Near the top of their ranks is Kylo Ren, a mysterious warrior following in the footsteps of Darth Vader. But new heroes will rise, such as Rey, a scavenger on the planet Jakku. At her side is Finn, a defected stormtrooper whose conscious led him away from the violent First Order. This duo will fight alongside none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca, heroes of the Galactic Civil War. All the while, the Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, searches for the one hero missing amidst the conflict: Luke Skywalker.

Rey, Finn, BB-8, Star Wars: The Force AwakensAs a life-long Star Wars fan, I can indeed confirm that The Force Awakens is good. But it’s a different kind of Star Wars movie. Not drastically so, but Star Wars die-hards may notice. Certain portions have dimmer lighting, which leads to a darker vibe. There’s also a little more blood than we’re used to seeing from Star Wars. It’s still a scarce amount in the grand scheme of things, but it’s noticeable. I attribute this to the absence of George Lucas, who wasn’t there to micromanage things in his own…ehem…unique way.

I’m not complaining, mind you. I’m a George Lucas fan. But if The Force Awakens proves anything, it’s that Star Wars needed to get away from him. The man who wrote and directed the prequels could not have created a movie like this. This movie gives us new heroes we can invest in and care about. While it doesn’t shy away from nostalgiac winks here and there, it doesn’t need to be propped up by original trilogy elements the way the prequels did. It’s a thrill ride very much worthy of the Star Wars legacy.

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensThe original trilogy character we spend the most time with is Han Solo, who is as charming and witty as ever. Harrison Ford essentially gives us exactly what we wanted to see from that character. He’s not necessarily the same daring rogue. But he’s still Han Solo. We also see a good amount of Carrie Fisher as General Leia Organa. It’s especially cathartic to see her in the role again. It’s such an iconic character, and she deserved that renewed spotlight. As for Mark Hamill’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker…that would be a spoiler.

Most of the new characters we meet are intriguing. But for my money, none are more interesting than Kylo Ren. It’s encouraging that he’s not simply a Darth Vader clone. He’s very much his own man, with his own demons. Some may argue that makes him less threatening than Vader, or other Star Wars villains. But without saying too much, there’s a level of instability there that should make for an entertaining journey.

Captain Phasma, Star Wars: The Force AwakensA fair complaint about The Force Awakens is that it’s simply the original Star Wars film done over again. The similarities are undeniable. We have our hero on a desert planet who gets a call-to-action from a droid, and is quickly swept into a galactic war against a Nazi-like organization with a base that has the power to destroy planets. Sound familiar? At one point, they even do a side-by-side comparison of Starkiller Base and the Death Star. The inside of the base is also clearly modeled after the Death Star!

Given what we’d seen from our most recent Star Wars movies, I’d argue a throwback isn’t the worst thing in the world. This movie gives people the Star Wars they want to see. Good and evil, the Rebellion and the Empire, Jedi and Sith. Some of the names have changed, but at their core, they’re the same. As a bonus, we even get to see some of the faces we fell in love with from the original trilogy.

131416_ori The Force Awakens is designed to jump-start the Star Wars franchise, getting us to remember what we loved about the originals while introducing new faces to carry the brand into the future. It accomplishes that goal, easily giving us the best installment in the series since Return of the Jedi. Lingering questions do remain, but I expect they’ll be resolved in future films. It’s fun to watch The Force Awakens, and if there’s anything that’s been missing from Star Wars in recent years, it’s that sense of fun and adventure. J.J. Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and everybody else involved with this movie deserve credit for living up to the hype, and restoring something that was lost.

So rejoice Jedi, wookies, droids, and even you damn gungans! Star Wars is fun again!

RATING: 9/10

Images from rottentomatoes.com.

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Some Thoughts as Star Wars: The Force Awakens Opens

Kylo Ren, Star Wars: The Force AwakensBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Today’s the day, huh? It seems so weird that a year ago we were all salivating over that teaser for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and now we’re all about to see it in all it’s glory. Or at least what we hope is glory. I mean, theoretically the movie could suck…but I don’t see that happening this time around.

No, I didn’t see it at midnight. I went to midnight showings of all three prequels. That seems like enough. If anybody gives me flack over it, my go-to line is: “You were there when the Force awakened. But I was there to hold the Force’s hair back when it got drunk, started mumbling belligerently about midichlorians and a cartoon rabbit, then said something about “having the high ground” before passing out. My fanboy cred is just fine, thank you very much.”

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, image 1What’s hit home for me in the last few days is that The Force Awakens is more than just a movie. It’s a cultural event. Not just to fanboys, but for average joes. Most people I’ve talked to know when they’re going to see it and with whom. People are going with their family members, close friends, and other loved ones. It’s no small feat when something can connect so many people like that.

You know what I’d be curious to know? What’s J.J. Abrams doing right now? Is he on vacation somewhere with no access to TV or internet? I think that’s what I’d do. Make no mistake about it, the world’s eyes are on his movie right now. It seems like a little bit of privacy might be in order…

I’m trying not to go in with any expectations. Obviously I’ll have plenty to say after I see the movie. But for now, it’s nice just to bask in the excitement that’s sweeping the globe. Hell, the lead story on Yahoo right now is about Admiral Ackbar. How weird is that?

But in the words of the great admiral: May the Force be with us…

Images courtesy of rottentomatoes.com.

Follow Primary Ignition on Twitter @PrimaryIgnition, or at Facebook.com/PrimaryIgnition.

Force Friday, and Confessions From A Recovered Star Wars Addict

B-88 , remote control toyBy Rob Siebert
Editor, Fanboy Wonder

Naturally, the geek community is buzzing today about “Force Friday,” as the first crop of Star Wars: The Force Awakens toys debut in stores. If you’re real quiet, you might even be able to hear the sounds of plastic lightsabers banging together…

But I will not be participating in the retail festivities.

I love Star Wars. I’ll always love Star Wars. It’s hard not to love Star Wars. I spend a decent amount of time writing about Star Wars. And I love Star Wars fans. It’s an immensely creative fandom, filled with people from all walks of life. No matter how old you are, that universe is a still fun place to be. But Star Wars and I have a weird relationship. When I was a tween and a teen, it was pretty much all I could talk about. Nowadays, it’s sometimes rather difficult for me to talk about.

I’ve been a Star Wars geek most of my life. In fact, you might even call me a recovered addict. When I was a kid, it was all Star Wars, all the time. Posters, books, school supplies, etc. I even had all those Pepsi cans with the Phantom Menace characters on them. And of course, the toys. Hundreds and hundreds of mom and dad’s dollars spent on action figures from all the movies. Even that first Princess Leia figure from original Power of the Force line. Remember that one? Totally looked like a dude. Power of the Force Leia was Caitlyn Jenner two decades before Bruce Jenner was…

Padme Amidala, pregnant action figureAs I got older, I stopped spending mom and dad’s money and started spending my own. I even attended a midnight madness sale myself. It was a little more than a decade ago, when the first Revenge of the Sith action figures came out.

Picture this: You’re 20 years old, standing outside a Wal-Mart with dozens of other Star Wars die hards, being told that once you enter the store at these special late hours, you may only shop in the toys section. Once you enter the store, the group starts off at a brisk pace, then speeds up into a full on run as amused store clerks look on. And once we hit the displays, we got grabby. Really grabby.

I’m pretty sure I still have most of those toys. In retrospect, the most notable one was a pregnant Padme Amidala. That might have been the world’s first pregnant action figure.

But as I got into my late twenties, the collecting, and my undying love for Star Wars started to wane. I attribute that to a lot of things. I grew up, of course, and money had to go elsewhere. But I also became more cynical about the franchise, largely thanks to my exposure to Red Letter Media’s reviews of the prequels. Like a lot of fans, I’d somehow convinced myself that the prequels were good movies. I had a terrible case of what I’ve come to refer to as “prequel denial.” But if you’re any kind of open-minded person, and you watch those reviews, it’s pretty tough to argue with what Mike Stoklasa (as Mr. Plinkett) lays out. Once that illusion was broken, I started to look at Star Wars as something entirely new: A business. And business was, and still is, booming. Gradually, I got so turned off by it that I swore off buying Star Wars merchandise of any kind.

I became one of those people who was really bitter about George Lucas, and how he wasn’t the person we all thought he was. Even after he sold the Star Wars franchise to Disney and donated most of the $4 billion to education, I couldn’t help but see him as a cold, calculating businessman whose artistic soul had been corroded. I wrote a scathing column about him on the old Primary Ignition, which resulted in me being taken to task in the comments section. And rightfully so. Ironically, the pendulum had swung to the opposite end of the spectrum. I’d gone from being overly devoted to Star Wars, to being overly critical.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Han Solo, ChewbaccaStar Wars was such a huge part of my childhood. It gave me an entire universe to escape to when my own universe got a little too dark. It held such a revered spot in my heart for so long that when I finally saw it for what it truly was, blemishes and all, there was a certain pain that came with it. I nearly rejected something I’d loved for so long. It’s almost like growing up and getting to know your parents as real people, and then being uncomfortable with the fact that they’ve got flaws just like anybody else.

This brings me to The Force Awakens. This is the first Star Wars movie I’m coming into without rose-colored glasses on. As such, it’s awkward for me to talk or speculate about it with anyone. I’m so passionate about it, but at the same time I’m keeping my distance. I’m not ranting or raving about anything I’ve seen, even when it comes the classic characters. I’m letting the movie speak for itself. Ergo, I’m not buying anything from The Force Awakens until I know if it’s worth investing my hard earned money in. They’re getting a movie ticket from me. But for now, that’s it. And if that’s all I give them, somehow I think Star Wars will survive.

Still, I will always have a special place in my heart for that galaxy far, far away. That’s why, about six months ago, I bought myself a Luke Skywalker action figure from “The Black Series.” I’ve since added Han Solo, Yoda, and even Obi-Wan Kenobi circa Episode III (Ewan McGregor was the best part of those damn prequels.).

What can I say? While it’s not quite the same as it used to be, The Force is still with me.

Image 1 from gizmodo.com. Image 2 from weddingbee.com. Image 3 from geeksmash.com.

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