Tuesday, December 29, 2015

In A Galaxy Far, Far Away

And they have finally improved hologram technology! It’s been over 10 years since the last Star Wars film was released in theaters, and I can say that J.J. Abrams has redeemed himself for the drivel that the Star Trek reboots are – for now at least.


I couldn’t remember the last time I went to see a movie in the theater, until I was kindly reminded that it was Saving Mr. Banks, a couple of years ago. Before that, it very probably well was Revenge of the Sith. I was surprised today about the amount of anticipation I had felt today leading up to movie time. Perhaps part of it was the fact that I was lucky enough to get a showing this week with two seats next to each other. Buying the tickets on line almost gave me flashbacks to those glory days in the 90’s of standing in line waiting for the local Ticket Master location to open so I could grab good seats to whatever upcoming Rock concert was scheduled in Philly. It took a few tries, but I finally got the late afternoon show, but had to settle on front row seats. Not that it mattered that much – it’s pretty much how it ended up with each of the other movies the first time we saw them.

So with that in mind, Erin and I sat down in our seats just shy of 30 minutes before the “show time” (which of course means when the usual movie previews begin before the movie you’re actually there to see). Naturally, there’s the previews preview time now, so it was with some annoyance I tried to occupy myself with my phone until the lights dimmed, hoping that time would move a bit quicker (not that it hasn’t already moved fast enough at this point – but that’s for my next blog entry). Then after that first eternity, the quiet whir of the screen curtains opening wider and … let the previews begin. Previews of movies that ultimately I have no interest in seeing, save for one. At this point, I don’t even remember what the other movies were except for the Warcraft movie, and I never even played the game, with the exception of World of Warcraft on rare occasion over the last couple of months. Based on the previews, it looks like it might be the first actually decent movie based on a video game. But again, that’s what previews are for – unless it’s Star Trek Beyond – now that’s one preview that pretty much encapsulates all that is wrong for the franchise as it stands now.

Anyway, so on they went for what seemed like an even longer period of time - although it really wasn’t that long by my reckoning as I checked the time after the end credits completed their roll. But such was the nature of my anticipation, touched with a bit of anxiety. As I mentioned last in my last entry, I could no longer prevent my curiosity from getting the better of me (even so far as tracking down a bootleg video of the genuine opening scroll), and went into the theater with full knowledge of the plot that was about to unfold. Part of it, I think was because of who took over the reins of the franchise – Disney and Abrams, and the result, at least of the latter’s influence on my other favorite space opera series. I needed to know if it would actually be worth my time and anticipation to see.

So, finally after that second eternity of waiting, the LucasArts logo materialized on screen, then that simple phrase in blue lettering, and I was instantly transported back to being a kid again, the theater blasting with the all too familiar theme while those two words outlined in yellow peeled back into the starfield. And then the opening scroll. The journey through a new era and a new saga began. I haven't felt that way in a long, long time.

Like I said in the opening, Star Wars is truly back, and The Force Awakens is easily the best of the bunch after New Hope and Empire. Is it derivative, as seems to be the critical response of many? Absolutely, (even the imagery and setting of certain scenes seemed ripped right out of one of the previous outings) but then again, so was everything after Empire anyway. Heck, every James Bond movie is basically the same recycled plot for all 30 odd movies, so the fact that this is just another version of Episode I, IV, or VI isn’t that much of a big deal.
It wasn’t completely perfect – I did have a couple of head scratching moments, like that whole deal with R2 that seemed like a decidedly convenient plot hole. And that they decided to go with a new desert planet instead of Tatooine, but I am sure that that point can be explained by someone somewhere – even as a future plot point in one of the other episodes. What really makes the difference is that I was taken away to another place for a couple of hours and thoroughly engaged to the point where I forgot I was watching a movie (except for the proximity of the screen, but whatever). Unlike the Prequels which, from beginning to end, gave the feeling of unreal worlds (i.e. fake green screen concoctions), this movie felt real – even the scenes that had to be digital for obvious reasons. The future of a long ago past is in good hands.

And what about that pit in my stomach? It’s lessened, and while what happened wasn’t a shock in that I already expected it, there still is that sense of loss that it ultimately had to happen. Like I mentioned to my sister in the comments of the last blog post, anyone who is a fan of the previous movies (yes, even the Prequels), that the big shock isn’t really all that shocking. In every lightsaber battle in the previous six movies someone loses a limb, or is killed. In all but Empire one or more major characters get killed off. So the fact that someone important dies in this movie can’t really be a surprise. And in all reality, even death isn’t all that permanent in the Star Wars universe – as good ole Ben Kenobi shows us. What I really look forward to now is how the tale of the events leading up TFA are relayed to the fans. There’s still too much disconnect from Episode VI to VII that even the book Aftermath hasn’t filled. I think, perhaps that we will not see the last of all of our favorite characters for quite some time – even those who have, and may yet still, meet their demise.

For the first time in, oh about 35 years or so, I eagerly await what the next decade of film making will bring to us. May the Force be with us all.

Thursday, December 17, 2015

A Long Time Ago …

…Or so it seems. I was not quite 7 years of age when the world was changed forever by the release of a science-fiction film on May 25, 1977. A generation grew up with the phenomenon that was Star Wars permeating their lives – as much and more than Star Trek or Doctor Who. The former had exploration and transporters; the latter had a blue box shaped time machine and the perennial character who could change his appearance every now and again. Star Wars, though had lightsabers and epic space battles.

It was in the Star Wars universe, more than any other that my brother and I imagined ourselves fighting those epic battles. And then it faded as we grew older and Star Wars became a distant memory with only an occasional blurb now and then about the other untold six chapters of the saga. The only thing that fans had left were the VHS tapes and what eventually became known as the Expanded Universe – all the novels and comics that started coming out, telling the further adventures of all our favorite characters in the movies.

And then, in the mid-90’s, thanks in part to the EU, there were the whispers of the return of Star Wars to the big screen. There was indeed a New Hope of seeing more lightsabers and epic space battles. Star Wars was on the cusp of a comeback just as Star Trek was in its decline and Doctor Who was a decade gone (aside from the one-off attempt to kickstart it in America). Along came all the hoopla and excitement as it became more and more clear that a new trilogy was in the works. Then the Special Editions of the original movies were released.

It was a strange time then. We finally got to see scenes in the movies that had only been talked about up to that time, but there were changes – some minor, and some major, that just seemed perplexing. And of course, there was The One. It was The One that pretty much highlighted just how much it looked like George Lucas has lost sight of the vision that Star Wars had become to millions of people. The One where Greedo shot first. Of course there was also the Other One where Hayden Christensen miraculously appeared where Sebastian Shaw should have been. These were just hints though, at what was to come. The Prequel Trilogy had its moments – mostly the lightsaber and epic space battles, but the rest left many an embittered fan behind. Star Wars became a victim to what I call the “Jurassic Park Effect.”

In June of 1993, the movie adaptation of a Michael Crichton novel brought the term CGI (Computer Generated Image) to the forefront of movie going vocabulary. It was with Jurassic Park that CGI finally reach the point technologically that it could be used in lieu of practical effects in movies and television. It changed the entertainment industry forever. But of course, not all changes bring everything that is good. It soon harkened the time where special effects became more important than the actual telling of a story. Whereas the original Star War trilogy relied on the characters to bring the story to life, George fell victim to the JPE and allowed the special effects to tell the story instead of the people around which the events centered. The CGI became more important than the story, and thusly the story suffered because of it. But of course, that was only part of the reason.
Any writer will always have an outline of a story they are writing with a rough idea of how things unfold from start to finish. However, how that story unfolds along the way is often a fluid animal and many a writer finds how things occur in one chapter much different than their original vision had planned. In addition to the JPE, it seemed that George was trying to force the story into the vision he had, instead of letting it evolve as it needed to evolve. Of course, the limitations of time and presentation medium did not help matters, but in the end, the will of the creator caused his creation to suffer more than it should have.

So here we are, over a decade after the last Star Wars movie made its theatrical debut, and the hype, hoopla and excitement are even greater that what we saw in the months leading up to that fateful May day in 1999. There is some trepidation as the new owner of the franchise brought in J.J. Abrams to oversee production and direct the new episode. While he breathed life back into the Star Trek franchise with the two reboot movies, both left a bitter taste in the mouths of Trekkies who felt those movies betrayed the original vision and passion of that series. Personally, I think that using the alternate timeline/universe trope to be a lack of creativity on the part of writers in such aspects. In any event, I found it promising that JJ made it a point to highlight the fact that he was using practical effects over CGI as much as possible for the new movie. Of course, at this point, with the results of the advance releases already hitting the headlines, it appears that Star Wars may have gotten the revival, and treatment, it needed the most. I will still hold judgement until such a time that I can see the movie myself and see if the hype and the wait were worth the effort.

I have fallen to the Dark Side however, in the process of writing this blog. By nature, I am one of those people who will skip ahead and read bits and pieces of a book ahead of the chapter I am currently on to see what happens, especially if it is a book I particularly enjoy. I think it’s more of a desire to ensure I am not going to end up reading something that ticks me off (like a favorite character dying or a particular bad guy getting away). As long as the future of the story meets my satisfaction, I can continue to enjoy reading the story.

I have struggled of late to keep from researching more and more of the plot of The Force Awakens as I wanted to see the movie with a fresh perspective, untainted by knowledge of the plot and events that occur in the movie. This is especially in light of the fact that the main characters from the original trilogy play a part in the new movie – surely, for the sake of the plot and based on the events from the first and third movies we can’t count on all of them making it through the story all in one piece. Plus, putting together the events portrayed in the various trailers that have now been released, it seems that even the new characters may not entirely be safe. But I managed to resist up until now, knowing that with the advanced releases, the plot is readily available online.

But I have failed in my venture. Upon doing a bit of fact checking to make sure I got names and dates right for this blog, the temptation became too great, and as I found myself clicking from one article to the next, I was inexorably drawn to the page that would take me to the details of The Force Awakens. Hand on mouse, the compulsion to use that scroll wheel to continue further and further down the page became a temptation that I could no longer resist. And like Anakin Skywalker, I fell and learned of things that I wish I could now unlearn – like a young Luke Skywalker was advised by a diminutive Jedi Master oh so long ago.

I can only hope that when I see Disney’s and JJ’s vision of the new Star Wars play itself out on the big screen some time in the next couple of weeks that the vision has done enough justice to the franchise and this fan’s vision for those characters to remove that pit that has firmly lodged itself in my stomach.