Star Wars Episode VII: We Owe George Lucas an Apology

While waiting to see Star Wars: The Force Awakens this week, I re-watched my least favorite Star Wars film: Episode II: Attack of the Clones. For weeks, as the hype built up and we waited with bated breath to see what director J.J. Abrams would do, I heard a lot of renewed hatred for the prequels.

At least it can’t be as bad as the prequels.

Thank god it won’t have Jar Jar in it.

J.J. can’t do any worse.

People really hate those movies. They have been ripped to pieces in the years since their release. Video reviews (longer than an hour each) have been created to talk about what trash they are. For the record – I think that pretty much every criticism of the prequels is valid. They are a poorly acted, wooden mess of a story. That said… I don’t think that any film, even Attack of the Clones, was outright horrible on its own.

That may be the reason, beyond the fact that it’s Star Wars, that the prequel trilogy inspired such hatred: it’s not entirely awful. There is some good there… but it’s broken. It’s too weighed down with all the problems going wrong to ever let the innocent, fun charm of the story shine through. I’ve seen – and forgotten about – many films that are just crap. The prequels, for all their faults, stand at least as memorable.

They attempted to add something real and new to the Star Wars universe. They failed.

I read the reviews, the hype of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. It sounded like J.J. had done it, that he had done what Lucas could not and given fans the sequel we wanted.

Then I saw the movie… (minor spoilers to follow)

Let me say this up front: Star Wars: The Force Awakens is not a bad film. It’s fun, it has great performances (particularly Daisy Ridley as Rei and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren), and it has a lot of the heart that was missing from Lucas’ CGI heavy prequels. I absolutely would recommend seeing it in theaters.

The mix of practical effects and CGI give the film an excellent look, one that is evocative of the originals while still allowing sequences that used to be impossible to film.
The mix of practical effects and CGI give the film an excellent look, one that is evocative of the originals while still allowing sequences that used to be impossible to film.

That being said – this is not the “sequel” I was looking for.

The quotation marks should say everything. Let me give you a premise: members from the Resistance (not the Rebellion – totally different “R” word) have to get a droid that has secret plans to help them stop the First Order (doesn’t even start with an “E”) and stop their use of a massive super weapon capable of blowing up planets.

I'm almost surprised they didn't recreate this sequence as well.
I’m almost surprised they didn’t recreate this sequence as well.

Sound familiar?!

To be fair, the droid this time around does not have the plans to the Death Star, *cough*, excuse me – to the Star Killer, it has part of a missing map to find Luke Skywalker – the man whose absence seems to be dooming the galaxy. Still, the plot unfolds with quite a feeling of retreading. Even Rei’s origins as an orphan on an out-of-the-way desert world seem overly familiar.

And unlike Return of the Jedi, which had a similar structure to New Hope (start on Tatooine, finish by blowing up a Death Star) but different feel… Force Awakens never breaks the New Hope mold. Its climax hits nearly all the same notes as its predecessor.

The worst scene in the movie arguably comes when someone says "is it like the Death Star?" and another responds with "I wish!" So maybe the next movie will have a weapon that can blow up ten planets at a time and is even bigger?
The worst scene in the movie arguably comes when someone says “is it like the Death Star?” and another responds with “I wish!” So maybe the next movie will have a weapon that can blow up ten planets at a time and is even bigger?

Finally, we must mention the (maybe) main villain: Supreme Leader Snoke (voiced by the one and only Andy Serkis). In general, the villains of Force Awakens are a little conceptually weak, but Snoke stands head and shoulders above the others in this regard. Stop me if you’ve heard this before: a shriveled, scarred old man with vague desires of revenge – or some evil motivation – who likely has advanced knowledge of the dark side of the force. But he doesn’t wear a hood – so, you know, totally different from the Emperor.

While I was okay not having Thrawn, using such a boring villain as an alternative was such a shame to see.
While I was okay not having Thrawn, using such a boring villain as an alternative was such a shame to see.

At the moment, critics and fans are eating up the “nostalgia” of this movie, but it leaves me worried. Lucas’ prequels may have failed, but at least they were trying to do something different. This movie plays on the “remember how awesome this was/felt” feeling way too much.

For example: the cantina scene in New Hope – iconic. Seeing all the aliens gathered around, drinking and playing games, opened up the idea of a huge galaxy. The Force Awakens has the exact same sequence, intended to create the exact same feeling… except I had seen it before.

Poe Dameron was an interesting character who we really didn't get a chance to get to know.
Poe Dameron was an interesting character who we really didn’t get a chance to get to know.

“Do, or do not. There is no try.” These were the words of Master Yoda in Empire Strikes Back… and they seem to have been the mantra of the movie. Lucas tried and failed to do something new – so don’t try anything new. The Force Awakens is fun, but I have a feeling that – as time goes on – it will lose much of the praise it is currently receiving. It has too many new elements to be a good remake, and too many remake elements to make for a really interesting (or truly great) sequel.

For a universe so rich in original stories (Heir to the Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, Jedi Knight) this may be a sign of the dark side. Disney’s bold plan for a sequel to Avengers was just… recreating the Avengers after all. The vision was lacking. We may never know what Lucas’ original idea for Episode VII was, but I’m going to guess it wasn’t “let’s just do A New Hope again.”

Luke Skywalker will Likely Die in Star Wars: The Force Awakens

I am currently writing a new post discussing the various approaches to haunted house style movies, but then this came out:

Man, Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks awesome. Yet there is one person missing from the trailer, and from the official poster, that has people talking. The question on every Star Wars fanboy’s lips is: Where is Luke Skywalker?

Well… he’s in it. Mark Hamill is confirmed to be in Star Wars: the Force Awakens. He narrated the second trailer, and appears in this shot from the trailer:

The metal hand kinda gives it away.
The metal hand kinda gives it away.

So yeah, he’s in it, but what will his role be? Brace yourselves people… Luke Skywalker is very likely going to die. And this is a good thing, at least in terms of the sequel trilogy (episodes 7,8, and 9) standing on their own feet. But let’s examine the evidence from the trailers, as well as the evidence from good storytelling.

Trailer Evidence

Okay, as seen above – Luke is on a volcanic looking planet with ash flying everywhere. It genuinely does not look like a happy place to be. The final trailer also gives us viewers a glimpse of who else visits that planet: namely the Empire (or what’s left of it) led by new main bad guy, Kylo Ren.

Definitely looks like the same planet to me.
Definitely looks like the same planet to me.

So they are in the same spot, and the empire is there in force. And then there is this:

Almost looks like an execution. He is likely stabbing down at someone. So yeah… not good. Yet while Luke’s life is in jeopardy, this actually is a good indicator that The Force Awakens might be the high quality Star Wars film that fans have been waiting for.

Thematic Planets

George Lucas was a big fan of using the setting to enhance the principle intended emotion of a scene. There is no greater example of this than Mustafar from Revenge of the Sith. This planet is hell, a reflection of the dark depths that Anakin Skywalker has sunk to. It is here that Anakin Skywalker meets his end, and Darth Vader is truly born.

Say what you want about George Lucas, but the man does know about visual storytelling.
Say what you want about George Lucas, but the man does know about visual storytelling.

This new planet looks very similar, yet not as full of rage as Mustafar. It is a grim landscape, but one that is not literally exploding fire and lava every few seconds. This grim certainty may add a powerful element of Luke’s grim acceptance of his fate, and his refusal to fully give in to the anger that destroyed his father.

The Old Hero Dies at the Beginning of a New Trilogy 

Here is a shot of Luke in costume from The Force Awakens:


As many have noticed, it is reminiscent of Alec Guinness‘ Obi Wan Kenobi, and I agree. There is a resemblance. Now what happened to Obi Wan in A New Hope?

And what happened to Obi Wan’s mentor, Qui Gon Jinn at the start of the prequel trilogy?

Oh yeah. At the time, this was the killing off of a side character. Yet in the prequel trilogy, Obi Wan Kenobi was the main hero. Unlike Anakin, he never falls to the dark side – making him the only person (who lives) that the audience can constantly root for. Yet in the original trilogy, Obi Wan has to go. There are two very important reasons for this:

Establish the Villain

Man, Darth Vader became a real threat in that moment. He was always intimidating (thanks to great costume design and his ability to telepathically choke the life out of people) but once he kills Obi Wan, the audience knows that the stakes have been raised: characters can die. It was a great example of showing us how dangerous Vader was, rather than Obi Wan being like “he helped the empire hunt down and destroy the Jedi, and he betrayed and murdered your father… maybe.” It always does more to have the villain commit a heinous act on-screen.

So now we have Kylo Ren, and if he is going to be our villain for the next three movies – he needs to be dangerous. He’s already cool looking, got that great look going. You know who else was cool looking – Jango Fett, and General Grievous. Yet none of these characters was particularly threatening because they never did anything. Jango Fett was supposed to be a feared bounty hunter, but his battle tactics (fly towards the guy with the sword) left a lot in question. Grevious was the leader of the droid army who stayed alive by… running away for three years? I’m shaking.

(this interpretation of Grievous would have made a more interesting villain.)

Of course, those two were helped with by other villains (namely Darth Sidious) who kept the tension high. Now it’s only Kylo Ren… and shiny stormtrooper Captain Phasma. Unless there is a shadowy mastermind waiting to be revealed – the audience needs to hate and fear Kylo. What better and quicker way to establish this by having him kill Luke Skywalker?

Establish the Heroes

What’s the greatest problem that shows like Teen Titans and Young Justice had (at least in concept)? They were shows about sidekicks. Batman was always around, Superman was always around. There was this cushion – that existed by just the nature of the main characters – that said: someone else can get it if you fail. Luke Skywalker is currently that someone else. He is the head jedi hauncho, the guy who beat the Empire. Who cares about Rey, Finn, Poe Dameron, and anyone else you’re trying to establish? The audience already knows who the hero is.

Unless that hero isn’t there anymore…

Han Solo can survive in a supporting role because really – he’s just an old guy with a blaster. Ditto for Chewbacca. Leia might never have really trained to become a jedi (she likely focused more on being a political leader) so she cannot physically hope to overpower Kylo and his baddies. There is still room for these people, while allowing the new characters to occupy the main roles.

To use a comparison – Legend of Korra would not have worked if Aang was still alive. There needs to be only one avatar. There needs to be one main jedi who is getting things done:


Time for the new heroes to step up. Time for the force to awaken and the saga to begin again… and probably time for fans to bid a teary goodbye to Luke Skywalker. But no worries, after all – since when does death stop a jedi?



Five Films to Restore Faith in Humanity

I was going to write an article about the new Thor and Captain America but… there’s been a lot going on this week (both personally and with the world at large) that I feel it is important to write an uplifting post, and not just more sarcasm about how Marvel will use a woman and a black man to sell comic books. Life throws us moments of doubt and despair, where peace dissolves and innocent people get hurt. Sometimes, when we’re looking at everything going on out there… it’s easy to get depressed. Someone once told me: “life sucks and then you die.” Below are five examples of films dedicated to showing that, yeah while life can truly suck sometimes – there’s a lot more than misery to get out of it.

5. Good Will Hunting

I feel like I have to include this one since I’m from the Boston area. This is an inspirational movie for two types of people: 1) for the person who feels trapped by where they were born – who doesn’t know any other type of life than the harshness of growing up – and 2)for anyone who has ever known someone like that. Matt Damon plays Will Hunting, a genius with issues (to put it mildly). Throughout the movie, the audience watches as he drives away anyone and everyone who tries to care about him. His girlfriend, his friends, even his psychiatrist (played by Robin Williams) have to overcome the barriers that Will throws up. The story highlights that good people can come from nothing, and great people can escape it. This scene here, the famous “it’s not your fault” scene, is one of the best acted sequences I’ve ever watched. It is one line over and over again, and what makes it work is the level of the performances. Who hasn’t wanted to hear these words right after something terrible has happened?

4. Secondhand Lions

Not the best movie ever made, but one of the most poignant when it comes to believing in human nature. Haley Joel Osment (“I see dead people”) is a kid with a crappy mom. She drags him around everwhere – not for his benefit but solely for her own. It is one of the more subtle forms of abuse out there. Anyway, she leaves him with his two great uncles (played by Michael Caine and Robert Duvall) and, well, it turns out that they’re just fantastic. Both men are proof that strength of character can win out over life’s misfortunes. There is a speech that I have included below that may be one of the best things I have ever heard. Whether it’s true or not is irrelevant, this is something that it feels good to believe in:

3. Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Hands down the best thing that Jim Carrey has ever done (outside Dumb and Dumber) and one of the perfect movies for anyone suffering from heartbreak. This may be THE film for the complex nature of relationships. It showcases the duality of emotions (loving someone vs missing someone) associated with attraction and all the joys and sorrows therein. We all have someone we’d like to forget – but it helps to remember why we’re trying so hard.

2. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea

Wait – what? Yes, I understand this must come as an odd pick but I will defend it. The movie features two main characters: Nemo (James Mason) and Ned Land (Kirk Douglas). I find that these two characters perfectly represent the strengths and weaknesses of humanity. Nemo is brilliant and careful but also distant and cruel. Ned is thoughtless and brash while being loyal and brave. The whole film represents a struggle between the various aspects of human nature, and personally, I feel it ends on a very uplifting message. Sadly, I cannot really find a youtube clip to prove my point so…. here’s “whale of a tale!”

1. Ikiru

Now here’s the one you’ve never heard of. Watch it – that’s all I can say. There are few films that left the impact that this one did. Ikiru is Japanese – roughly translated “to live,” and the movie is about just that. The main character is a middle-aged bureaucrat who learns of his imminent death and seeks to find meaning in his final months. Akira Kurosawa was one of the most visionary minds the world has ever seen. There really are no words, it is a film that must be seen to be understood.


So there you have them. Five slices of inspiration. I know, I know. There were plenty of other movies I could have included. To be clear – I do not necessarily feel that these are the five best. These were simply the first five films that popped into my head.