Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I know, I’m a movie behind.  The Last Jedi just came out, so why am I talking about The Force Awakens?  The answer is simple, I haven’t seen The Last Jedi yet, but I just finished watching The Force Awakens.  It was the last movie of my binge before seeing the new one.  I hadn’t seen it since December of 2015, so I figured it would be good to refresh my memory.  Plus I really didn’t like it when I saw it, so I was a little bit curious to see if I was being fair to it.

I can sum up the movie in a single word, insulting.  It was even worse than I remember it.  The plot is literal nonsense.  The characters that get any development at all (most of them don’t) are only half baked.  The visuals are derivative.  The dialogue is forgettable.  About the only thing positive I can say about it is that the actors are pretty enough.

Instead of going through all of the problems, I want to focus on one.  It’s already late and I don’t have time for a lengthy post.  That problem is Han Solo’s death.  It is completely unearned and therefore doesn’t resonate at all.  It felt more like Rosencrantz’s death than Hamlet’s.  There was no reason given in the movie for Han to die.  He died simply because he was the mentor character and that character dies in the original Star Wars.  It’s not like Snoke ordered Kylo to kill his father.  There was no discussion about patricide helping his development.  It wasn’t a self sacrifice moment to allow the mission to succeed or Han’s friends to survive.  It seemingly didn’t even have any effect on Han’s mentees, Kylo or the story.  It was just something that happened.

Somehow, The Force Awakens killed one of my all time favorite characters and I didn’t feel anything.  That’s crazy.  I went into The Force Awakens with a very low bar.  As long as it wasn’t much worse than Phantom Menace, I was going to be OK with it.  I probably could have lived with Star Trek V level bad.  But this movie made me not care about Han Solo’s death.  That’s just unforgivable.

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi- Thoughts and Impressions (SPOILERS WITHIN)

I just got back from seeing Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Let’s get this out of the way right now: the movie is okay. Not great, not bad, okay. I would recommend that the Star Wars faithful see it, but I don’t think it’s worth the ticket price for the average movie goer. Adam Driver is great as Kylo Ren (up until the end of the movie, which I’ll get to in a bit). Kelly Marie Tran is lovable and bold as Rose Tico, and the chemistry between her and John Boyega’s Finn is outstanding (sorry to all the Poe x Finn shippers). Mark Hamil and Daisy Ridley are good together too, but the performances are weighed down by so much plot that the movie’s run time comes to an unbelievable 2 hours 33 minutes. I don’t want this to turn into “Jamil nitpicks Star Wars,” because it could very easily become that and that’s not useful for anyone. Instead, I want to focus on the major problem of the movie. The Last Jedi comes so close to doing some truly interesting things with its characters, but falls short when the time comes to push the envelope.

This complaint falls especially on Ben Solo/Kylo Ren. So much of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi are spent showing us that Kylo Ren is not just a sneering villain pursuing evil for its own sake, but a young man torn between the Light and the Dark. The two sides of his heritage are embodied by his mother and father on the Light Side, and his grandfather, Darth Vader, on the Dark Side. He makes choices in TFA that we presumed would be explained in The Last Jedi, and Rey even asks him point blank about those choices, such as why he murdered his father. Ben simply doesn’t answer. When he finally commits fully to evil by murdering Snoke, instead of being surprised, I found myself asking “Why?” Without that answer, Kylo Ren devolves into the sneering villain doing evil for its own sake that the writers spent so much time trying to avoid.

“Why?” litters The Last Jedi. Why is Kylo evil? Why is Poe Dameron suddenly such a jackass? Why does Luke change his mind about the need for the Jedi to end? Why does Rey choose the Light? There were some fascinating questions raised in the movie, but they almost all go unanswered and the movie settles back into a comfortable status quo by sidestepping anything potentially interesting about the Force, the Jedi and the nature of good and evil. Snoke’s explanation about linking Rey and Ben telepathically is almost eye-rollingly disappointing, as the richest vein in the movie (aside from the budding relationship between Rose and Finn, which I can’t stop effusing about) is reduced to a plot point to get Rey in front of Snoke…who then dies the most bitch-made death since Mace Windu.

The Last Jedi ultimately fails its characters, and doesn’t have a plot interesting enough to make up for it. Captain Phasma manages to be criminally underused yet again, and her fiery death means there won’t be a chance to fix that in Episode IX. Snoke felt like a fake out instead of an actual character (Kylo was the Big Bad all along!). But the biggest waste was the relationship between Ben and Rey. There was an interesting dance between light and dark happening between then, and we reached the perfunctory conclusion of their connection before it could be explored fully. The Last Jedi certainly won’t be the last time we see the Jedi; Star Wars Episode IX is due out in theaters on December 20, 2019. I’ll be there on opening night, as usual, but my expectations will be tempered even further.

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Thank Goodness For Santa Claus

As a kid, Christmas is the best.  You get a week off of school.  You get to eat lots of cookies and candy canes.  And you get presents.  There’s nothing at all to worry about.  As a parent, Christmas is still the best, but it’s different.  There are worries for the parents.  When are we going to find time to decorate?  What if the holiday isn’t as magical for my kid as it was for me?  Where’s the money going to come from?  Trees and turkeys are expensive.  All I know is that I could never pull it off without Santa Claus.

Of course, there is the obvious.  I’m not made of money.  If Santa didn’t make and bring presents to the kids, I don’t know what would happen.  It wouldn’t be good, though.  And I’ll bet a lot of other parents are in the same boat.  Without Santa, there would be a lot of very disappointed kids every Christmas morning.

Then there are the less obvious ways that Santa helps us.  The Christmas season lasts for a little more than a month most years.  For kids, it’s great to have that excitement and anticipation.  A month isn’t even long enough.  Most kids start looking forward to Christmas the second their birthday has passed.  They should do this, it’s one of the best parts of being a kid.  But it can be a little hard on the parents.  We’re busy.  Most of us work full time or more.  We have all the housework to do.  And we have to take care of our kids.  As much as we’d love to take a month off every December to help our kids get ready for Christmas, we just can’t do it.  Luckily for us, Santa can and does help.  He’s always around to make sure the kids get everything out of the season.  He listens to their wishes.  He keeps tabs on their behavior.  He’s like a babysitter and a playmate rolled into one.  It’s so much help.

Another way Santa helps is with the spirit of the holidays.  It would be easy, and understandable, for kids to get all the wrong messages from Christmas.  If they just paid attention to their parents, kids would wind up awfully materialistic seeing us spend our time working, shopping and consuming.  I don’t blame the parents, it’s just the way the world is.  Most of us don’t have the luxury to be philanthropists.  But Santa gives the kids another role model, one of pure generosity.  He makes sure that the kids know that the season is about giving, not receiving.

Probably the most important way Santa helps with the holidays is with his magic.  We all need more magic in our lives, but that’s doubly true for kids.  Outside of love, Santa is the most magical thing going.  The fact that he shares that magic with us every year is incredibly valuable.

As a parent, it is important that I make sure Christmas is the best for my kid.  I couldn’t do that without Santa.  Thank goodness for Santa Claus.

 

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The Reviews Are In – And They’re Pointless

Star Wars Episode VIII The Last Jedi has been screened for critics and the reviews are in.  But, the critics are so afraid of spoilers that they don’t really say anything.  It’s a bunch of critics saying, “I liked it,” and then filling the column out with another 500-1000 words of nothingness.  It’s frustrating.  Critics are supposed to engage in criticism, but that’s impossible if they won’t talk about the movie.

My partner, Jamil, recently wrote a piece complaining about the spoiler culture we live in.  He basically says that a good story can’t be spoiled, so we should all stop worrying about it.  I agree with him whole heartedly.  But even if most people disagree, that’s still no reason for critics to be so vague in their reviews.

If someone is worried about spoilers, that person simply shouldn’t be reading reviews before seeing the movie that they’re interested in.  And critics should do their jobs and assume that people who care about spoilers are smart enough to avoid them.  If someone reads a review and learns something they didn’t want to know, it is their own fault.

Critics only have one job, to critique.  In order to do that, they need to provide detail and context from the movie to make their points.  If they can’t do that, they might as well stop calling themselves critics and start calling themselves marketers.  Disney already pays more than enough marketers to do the job.  So called critics should stop providing the service for free.

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Happy Hanukkah

I am more Jewish than most people, but not Jewish enough to be considered Jewish by most Jews, if that makes any sense.  In other words, I have some Jewish heritage, but I’m not, nor have I ever been, Jewish by religion.  However, I have always been in and around American Jewish culture.  Starting in college, I’ve developed a real appreciation for Judaism and Judaica.  And one aspect that I really like is Chanukah.  It’s not a holiday that I celebrate, but it is one that I enjoy.

Hanukka has a lot going for it given that it’s a minor, non-biblical holiday.  The Chanukka story is great.  It’s fun reading about the Maccabees.  It’s the ultimate underdog story, and who doesn’t love an underdog?  And the Miracle of the Oil is also great.  It’s not a big miracle, like the parting of the Red Sea.  Instead it’s a very relatable miracle, and one that is symbolically resonate.

There are a ton of great kid’s books about Hannukah.  My daughter and I have had lots of fun reading them.  It doesn’t even need to be near Channukah, and we still have fun reading them.  The Miracle of the Potato Latkes and The Dreidel That Wouldn’t Spin are particular favorites.  Anything that I can share with my daughter is good in my book.

Dreidels and candles are both lots of fun.  I’ve always liked watching tops spin.  Adding some gambling to it just makes it better.  Candles give us a good excuse to play with fire and who doesn’t like that?

Another thing that I love about Hannuka is that there are about a million different ways to spell Channuka.  I know that’s a silly thing, but I like it.

Since we’ve reached the 25th of Kislev, I just wanted to wish everyone a Happy Hannukkah.  Whether you are Jewish or not, I hope you have fun with it.  I know I will.

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Rogue One

I am still in my re-watch in anticipation of the new Star Wars movie.  Instead of sticking to Episodes I-VII, I decided to re-watch Rogue One before Episode IV.  I saw it last December when it was in theaters and hadn’t thought about it much since.  My opinion of it hasn’t changed.

The movie lands somewhere between OK and fine.  That makes it much better than Force Awakens.  There are some fun parts.  It was great seeing Darth Vader cut through the rebels like they were nothing.  The blind guy and his friend were entertaining.  (Is it a problem that I just finished watching it and I don’t have the slightest idea what their characters were named?)  But I want to talk about the movie’s biggest problem*.  I feel like this has become a widespread problem and I wonder if I’m the only person who feels this way.

The problem I’m talking about is lazy writing.  The number one example is when Cassian (That is his name, right?) is given the secret order to kill Jyn’s father.  This is such an obvious ploy to ratchet up the tension.  But it doesn’t make sense.  It’s not a good strategic move for the rebels.  Capturing him would be, but killing him is rather pointless.  There is no personal connection between the general that gives the order and Jyn’s dad, so there’s no emotion behind it.  All it does is create a fake moral conundrum for Cassian.  Should he follow an unjust order?  But even this isn’t allowed to play out.  Just as Cassian decides to spare Jyn’s father’s life, her dad is killed by a rebel pilot.  There are no consequences to Cassian’s decision.  It’s just something that took up screen time.

The second biggest example of the lazy writing is all of the deaths.  I saw this coming a mile away.  As soon as Forrest Whitaker’s character (Was it Saw or Saul?) died for no reason, just because he would rather die than go with Jyn and continue the fight, I knew they were going to kill everyone.  And none of the deaths were earned.  The person successfully completed their task and then died.  It was all very perfunctory.  It was a way of ending the movie rather than a way of resolving the story lines and character arcs.

I don’t really mean to pick on Rogue One.  I didn’t hate it.  But, it seems like every other movie I see recently.  The conflicts are forced in and the resolutions don’t resolve anything.  They exist for two hours and then fade away.  I would just love it if someone in Hollywood would hire a real writer sometime.  Someone who understands plot and characterization.  Then we could have a movie that sticks with us.  That would be great.


* Surprisingly, the biggest problem isn’t the computer generated Tarken and Leia.  But they are pretty awful.  They are deep in the uncanny valley.

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The Prequels

You might have heard, there is a new Star Wars movie coming out next weekend.  That’s given me the perfect excuse to re-watch all of the other Star Wars movies.  Not that I need an excuse.  I can watch most of them any time.  But this time, I’m starting with Phantom Menace and plan on going in order through The Last Jedi.  (I haven’t decided what I’m going to do about Force Awakens.  I don’t own it, and didn’t like it.  I’ll probably find a way to watch it, though, just to see if it’s any better than I remember.)  I finished Revenge of the Sith tonight, so I thought I’d say a little bit about the prequels.

I should start by saying I’m a bit of a prequel apologist.  I know their reputation.  There are certainly flaws in all three.  But I enjoy them.  They’re not in the same class as the original trilogy, but they don’t have to be.  I didn’t expect them to evoke the same feeling I had as a five year old seeing the original in the theater.  I honestly didn’t even want them to.  I will be quite satisfied if seeing Star Wars for the first time remains my best movie going experience.  The prequels did what I needed them to do.

Phantom Menace is clearly the worst of the three.  I also think it had the highest degree of difficulty of any movie ever made.  The fact that it works at all, on any level, is itself a pretty big accomplishment.  I wish there were less exposition.  It falls into the trap of having a child in a lead role.  Several scenes, like the pod race, feel like they’re there because the technology was new and they could do it rather than being an integral part of the story.  And it introduced midichlorians.  (Midichlorians are my least favorite thing about the prequels.  I’d take a full length feature starring Jar Jar Binks if it meant The Force could go back to being a mystical energy field without any kind of rational explanation.  I know it’s a short cut way to show that Anakin is really powerful, but I’d rather have Qui Gon and Obi Wan just sense it.)  But those aren’t fatal flaws.  The story itself works, both on its own and as it ties into the larger universe.  The action is excellent.  And it’s just a good looking movie.  It certainly isn’t great, but it is watchable.

Attack of the Clones is both the second movie and second best of the prequels.  It stumbles in telling the love story.  Anakin and Padme couldn’t have less chemistry.  But that’s never been why I watch Star Wars.  Han and Leia are a great couple, but even they aren’t why I watch the originals.  Attack of the Clones is really just a bridge.  It has to get us from Episode I to Episode III, and it does that while having a bunch of fun along the way.  It’s got to be the least thoughtful of the Lucas made Star Wars movies.  So I say, take it for what it is, sit back, relax and enjoy the ride.

I really like Revenge of the Sith.  A bunch of the dialogue is stilted and Anakin and Padme still lack chemistry, but it gets me.  The action scenes are thrilling.  If all I got out of the prequels was Anakin and Obi Wan’s lightsaber duel, I would be happy.  It’s that good.  But it’s also good in its quieter parts.  Ian McDiarmid, Ewan McGreggor and Frank Oz give great performances.  I feel what they feel.  And they make me really care.  Plus it brings the whole light side/dark side thing to the fore, and that’s ultimately why I watch Star Wars.  It might not be perfect, but it gives me everything I’m looking for in a movie.

Next up is the original trilogy.  And I know I’m going to love that.  So, whatever I wind up thinking about Episode VIII, at least I’m having a lot of fun leading up to it.

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Let It Snow

Snow is my favorite kind of weather.  It doesn’t matter how inconvenient or dangerous it is, if there’s snow, I’m happy.  Snow looks beautiful.  I even like the sound of snow.  Well, maybe not the sound of snow itself, but the way snow changes the sounds of other things.  It softens everything which creates a sense of peace.  The first snow of the season is magical.  It doesn’t even need to be a good snow (in fact, it often isn’t).  Once those flakes start falling, everything seems right with the world.

One thing I love about snow is that it forces us to change our routines.  It’s the only normal occurrence that can get us a free day off work or school.  We stay home instead of driving.  And it’s a great excuse to play.

I do know many people who claim not to like snow.  I can’t even wrap my head around that.  It must be those people that like the summer.  It just seems weird.  Or maybe I’m the weird one.  It’s hard to tell.  I just know that I hope we get a lot of snow this year.


I couldn’t really think of much to write about today, but I wanted to get my daily post in.  I kept it short and sweet.  Hopefully, tomorrow’s post will be a bit better.

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Star Wars and Christmas

One of my favorite holiday albums when I was a kid was Christmas In The Stars.  As an adult, it is right at the top of my nostalgia list.  Just hearing a few notes of it makes me super happy.  And I’m confident that I’m doing a good job as a parent because my daughter was walking around today singing “What Can You Get A Wookie For Christmas (When He Already Owns A Comb?)”  Even just typing those words made me really happy.

For those not in the know, Christmas In The Stars is a Star Wars Christmas album.  R2-D2 and C-3PO are hanging out with the droids that build presents for S. Claus to deliver to children.  Chewbacca shows up as well.  It’s silly and campy and ridiculous in all the best ways.  It even features a young Jon Bon Jovi (when he still spelled his name Bongiovi).

This album almost perfectly encapsulates something that I love about both Star Wars and Christmas, the fun.  Most adults, and our society in general, don’t appreciate fun like we should.  And we certainly don’t have enough fun.  The holiday season is the perfect time to remedy that.  There is nothing thoughtful or deep or profound in Christmas In The Stars.  Its only reason for being is a bit of silly fun.  We need more of that in our lives.  So give it a listen and have some fun.

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Christmas Decorations

One thing I love about this time of year is all the Christmas decorations.  And one of the best things about having a kid is having a good excuse to go around looking at all the decorations.  Ever since Thanksgiving, we take the long and winding way everywhere we go, just looking for more decorated houses.  We have a few go-tos that we see regularly, but half the fun is discovering new houses.

Seeing so many decorated houses, we naturally have opinions.  We both agree that color is better than white.  I tend to like smaller lights better, but she goes for the larger ones.  We completely disagree on inflatables.  She loves them while I am not a fan.  She also likes the light projectors a lot more than I do.

This year, she really wants to decorate our house.  As much as I love the holidays, and holiday decorations, that’s not something I’ve ever really done.  I think the house is pretty festive already.  We have a tree and she painted and drew a few pictures that I hung up.  But she wants more and I told her it was OK.  I don’t know what she has in mind.  I’m hoping we get really crafty.  I’d happily buy popsicle sticks and pipe cleaners (are they ever used to clean pipes?) and glue and glitter and ribbons so we can go nuts.  That would be much more fun than buying premade decorations.  We shall see.

This year we’ll get to discover our own house.  I’m curious to see how it turns out.  It should be a fun adventure.

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