Wednesday, December 30, 2015

TFA Review Part 3: The Bad

The elements of The Force Awakens that we’ve described so far have been mostly about the writing, and almost all of them can be found in the script alone. However, that leaves us most of the actual interesting decisions about appearances, timing, and everything else that makes a movie different than a novel - what pretentious critics call “filmic” factors. Unfortunately there, TFA falls down.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

TFA Review 2: That Which Came Before

This blog is about the Prequel Trilogy after all, and it would be impossible to ignore how The Force Awakens relates to the immediately preceding movies. Onward through spoilers!

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Rian Johnson

Apparently Episode 8 will be written and directed by Rian Johnson, who doesn't have a lot of movies under his belt, but is known as a brilliant auteur. His three movies so far are Brick, the Brothers Bloom, and Looper.

So if you want to get a sense of how Episode 8 might go, check them out.

Brick is considered the best of those, and is very heavily stylized, taking a lot of fast, close cuts and using them to put a hyper-noir style onto a high school setting. It's great.

Looper does that, but less so. It's a time travel based noir. And his interpretation of how to explain the science in a science fiction movie is... pointed.

Symbolism Call Out

More Force Awakens spoilers:

Saturday, December 19, 2015

The Force Awakens Review: Part 1

Okay, spoilers for Episode 7 from this point forward, and probably any future posts on this blog. So go see the movie if you haven’t yet. It’s pretty good. Onward!

Friday, December 18, 2015

Reviews are in!

Well I don't mean the meta-critic score, but here are just a couple reviews (with opposing reactions) that I felt really thought on the movies.

From the Jacobin:

From Walter Chaw:

From Jeremy Parish: Spoiler Tag in URL

Thursday, December 17, 2015

First reaction to "the Force Awakens"

Spoilers ahead.

There is another.

Best of luck to everyone going to see "The Force Awakens" tonight. Maybe I'll have some things to say about it in this space, over the next week. I am likely to only be interested in things related to Darth Vader, but we'll see. Speaking of...

This blog has previously discussed the somewhat unsatisfying reveal of Leia being Luke's sister, and how it doesn't really fit well with the rest of the series. The cynical theory, of course, is just that while filming Episode 5 they didn't want to be wholly reliant on Mark Hamil coming back for Episode 6, so they left a loophole for them to introduce a new character. This is probably true, but art should be understood on it's own merits of what it actually says, and not just second-guessing the director and crew.

So what is actually said? Well I went back and watched the relevant scenes, and they are pretty interesting.

Empire Strikes Back:

BEN: That boy is our last hope.

YODA:(looks up) No.  There is another.


Return of the Jedi:

YODA: Luke, the Force runs strong in your family. Pass on what you have learned, Luke... 
(with great effort)
There is...another...Sky...Sky...walker.

And then later, Obi-Wan gives the ghostly exposition dump to Luke, about Leia and stuff.

Yoda, in his dying moments, Yoda I trust. But Obi-Wan? Obi-Wan lies. Not just in general, but especially in matters related to Luke's family. This, remember, is the same conversation where Luke is all "hey why did you lie to me about my dad that kind of sucked" and Obi-Wan is all "Well, it's true from a certain point of view." Obi-Wan clearly has still not personally dealt with Anakin's betrayal.

Since when does anyone refer to Leia as a Skywalker? She's always identified as Leia Organa, and takes way more after her adopted home than anything to do with her patronym.

Huh. So what did Yoda actually say?

"There is another [hope.]"
"There is another Skywalker."

And of course these things are both true

Luke goes to confront the Dark Side, and fails. He throws down his sword and gets electrocuted by the Devil incarnate.

And Anakin Skywalker steps up and frees the galaxy from tyranny. There is another.

Yoda knew. He knew that the son of suns was still out there, and even though he had betrayed the Jedi Order, he still represented at least some hope of bringing balance to the Force. He knew that Luke needed to pass on what he had learned to Darth Vader. He may not have known what entirely would be needed, but these lines still represent allusions to what actually ended up happening rather than "awkwardly creating a loophole then covering it up."

Monday, December 14, 2015

Years Later...

The Dissolve asks whatever happened to Avatar (the James Cameron movie that looked like a cartoon, not the one based on a cartoon). Avatar was one of the highest grossing movies ever, but years later seems to have left zero cultural impact. Can you remember a single line from the movie? (And the lone word "unobtainium" doesn't count as a line.) Why?

Unfortunately the article doesn't really grapple with that question or provide any satisfying answer. But it's good to keep in mind. Many movies - good, bad, and mediocre - come and go, barely leaving any footprint on our cultural psyche.

So it's interesting *sixteen years later* many people can not stop talking about the Prequel Trilogy. What other bad movies get this much obsession, memorization, and immortality?

Secondly, the commenters at metafilter do attempt to answer the question of why Avatar is so forgotten.

Their analysis seems mostly to be that the movie is racist, or at least colonialist, in the way it treats the native culture. While superficially about "stopping imperialism", the movie romanticizes the noble savage and puts agency in the hands of the white male protagonist. This is definitely the case (though it was less the case in the original cut.)

But, if you want a movie that's "Avatar, but the white saviors are depicted as morally compromised people who barely understand the culture they are stomping around"... you should probably try The Phantom Menace.

Monday, November 16, 2015

The AV club weighs in.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Cass Sunstein on Star Wars and Constitutional Law

Legal scholar extraordinaire has a good article on how the creative process for Star Wars resembles the interpretation of the Constitution: messy, path-dependent, and serendipitous. The most amusing quote so far:

When Lucas began, he was not, in fact, writing about “a father and a son, and twins.” In Taylor’s words, “the course of creativity rarely runs smooth” (p. 102). A significant part of Lucas’s start involved an apparently random list of a large number of names, most of which never made it into the movies: Emperor Ford Xerxes the Third; Xenos; Han Solo (“leader of the Hubble people”); Thorpe; Roland; Lars; Kane; Luke Skywalker (“Prince of Bebers”). Lucas apparently had just one scene clear in his mind, a kind of dogfight in outer space, in which ships “would hurtle and tumble around after each other, like World War II fighters, like wild birds” (p. 103). 

Friday, January 30, 2015

New Editions and the Originals

I've been meaning to write an overall post about the original trilogy and the special editions, but it's such a big topic I've never gotten around to it.

I just saw this article complaining that watching the original edition at this point is in many ways outside the law.

As time has gone on, the constantly re-made "special editions" have diverged more and more from the original source, and it's become harder and harder to get the original editions.

The general attitude is that this is just some naive thoughtlessness by George Lucas, who sees no value in authenticity. I don't know exactly what Lucas thinks, nor is his intent in the matter king, but he clearly has fairly sophisticated views on the matter.

Lucas giving testimony to Congress on the importance of not altering hold films.

People who alter or destroy works of art and our cultural heritage for profit or as an exercise of power are barbarians, and if the laws of the United States continue to condone this behavior, history will surely classify us as a barbaric society. The preservation of our cultural heritage may not seem to be as politically sensitive an issue as “when life begins” or “when it should be appropriately terminated,” but it is important because it goes to the heart of what sets mankind apart. Creative expression is at the core of our humanness. Art is a distinctly human endeavor. We must have respect for it if we are to have any respect for the human race.
These current defacements are just the beginning. Today, engineers with their computers can add color to black-and-white movies, change the soundtrack, speed up the pace, and add or subtract material to the philosophical tastes of the copyright holder. Tomorrow, more advanced technology will be able to replace actors with “fresher faces,” or alter dialogue and change the movement of the actor’s lips to match. It will soon be possible to create a new “original” negative with whatever changes or alterations the copyright holder of the moment desires. The copyright holders, so far, have not been completely diligent in preserving the original negatives of films they control. In order to reconstruct old negatives, many archivists have had to go to Eastern bloc countries where American films have been better preserved.

In the future it will become even easier for old negatives to become lost and be “replaced” by new altered negatives. This would be a great loss to our society. Our cultural history must not be allowed to be rewritten.
There is nothing to stop American films, records, books, and paintings from being sold to a foreign entity or egotistical gangsters and having them change our cultural heritage to suit their personal taste.

The man has thought about this issue.

And his reaction, with his most famous franchise, was as far as I could tell, to heighten the contradictions. The special editions continue their evolution becoming more and more detached, not representing a specific year but representing the ever-changing "now", while the originals become the province of pirates and rebels.

To which the only reasonable response is "Well, yeah, have you seen the movies?"