Tag Archives: Luke Skywalker

You Just Got Boba-Fetted

Warning: Spoilers ahead for ‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi.’

Nobody hates Star Wars movies more than Star Wars fans do. This is made no more apparent than with their spiteful reaction to its most recent sequel The Last Jedi, which is currently sitting at 49% on Rotten Tomatoes and 46 on Metacritic among its users. That’s lower than any of the prequel movies, including The Phantom Menace. The critics conversely say it’s one of the best Star Wars movies ever made, with many arguing that it’s even better than The Empire Strikes Back. I have a question for both of these viewers: are you all out of your minds?

The Last Jedi is not the best Star Wars movie by any means. Honestly, it doesn’t even break the top five. Yet, I find Star Wars: The Last Jedi to be challenging both to the series’ characters and to ourselves as fans. That’s because it throws both of us through loops nobody was expecting, forcing us to digest shocking, life-changing choices and fully confront their implications face-to-face.

SOURCE: Forbes

Take, for instance, Luke Skywalker. A lot of fans were angry at how writer-director Rian Johnson represented Luke in the film as an exhausted and defeated old man who had lost faith in the Jedi and in himself. Even Luke Skywalker himself was frustrated at how he was handled in the film, with actor Mark Hamill going so far as to say this version of Luke isn’t his Luke Skywalker.

“Jedis don’t give up,” he told SensaCine in December. “I mean, even if he had a problem, he would maybe take a year to try and regroup, but if he made a mistake he would try and right that wrong, so right there, we had a fundamental difference. But, it’s not my story anymore. It’s somebody else’s story, and Rian needed me to be a certain way to make the ending effective.”

Exactly. Actors disagree with their directors on how their characters should be portrayed all the time. Even Harrison Ford wanted George Lucas to kill off Han Solo in Return of the Jedi (although the character later met his demise at the hands of his son in The Force Awakens). A disagreement with your director on a character’s direction doesn’t necessarily mean its the wrong direction; just a different one. And that’s exactly what Johnson was aiming for: a Luke Skywalker who lost his way, devoid of the hope he once possessed and lacking the faith that made him a Jedi in the first place.

But just because he isn’t the hero you remember, doesn’t mean he still isn’t the hero at all. I found myself strangely caught up in Luke’s emotions in the opening moments of the film: of him once again meeting Chewie and asking where Han was, sneaking onto the Millennium Falcon and reminiscing on old memories, finding R2 and seeming so happy to see his old friend again. I actually teared up at the moment when he told R2 that he was never coming back and that nothing was going to change his mind. R2 uttered a beep, spurred his head around, and lit up a projection of the first message that brought them together in the first place: his sister Leia begging “Help me Obi-Wan Kenobi. You are my only hope.”

We weren’t seeing Luke Skywalker the swashbuckling space hero in The Last Jedi. We were seeing Luke Skywalker as a broken fragment of what he once was. That makes sense, because in the context of the Star Wars universe, these characters aren’t invulnerable movie icons that live happily ever after. They’re just people, complete with their own flaws and doubts that make them penetrable with their emotions. Characters change in movies because people change in real life. What makes characters like Luke a Jedi is not succumbing to their failure or regret, but instead resolving to get past their own feelings and do the right thing, which Luke eventually does in this movie.

Also, if you have a problem with Luke’s attitude and exiling himself, Johnson is not the right person to blame for that. Director J.J. Abrams is, as he was the one who first banished Luke to that gaudy island in The Force Awakens in the first place. Johnson was just following through on the implications made in the first film. Don’t shoot the messenger for what the tax collector handed to him.

CREATIVE COMMONS

There are other elements in the picture that don’t work as well. One of those is the planet Canto Bight, where Finn (John Boyega), Rose (Kelly Marie Tran), and BB-8 travel to recruit a code breaker to get them onto the First Order’s Star Destroyer. This side-plot felt removed and out-of-place, forcefully injecting themes of animal brutality, war profiteering, and capitalism in a movie that’s most known for its big space battles and lightsaber duels. Mind you, I didn’t hate the sequence. Boyega and Tran had a good enough chemistry to keep me engaged throughout, and BB-8 is such a quirky character that I can enjoy watching him no matter what mundane plot he’s going through. But the scene itself was awkward and disjointed. It felt weird to go from a fast-paced chase in outer space to essentially a dragged-out casino scene where our heroes narrated exposition on unnecessary social commentary.

However, I don’t think that scene itself was the problem. The problem was Laura Dern’s character, whom I simply refer to as “Purple Hair Lady” considering that is her most distinguishing feature. This whole sub-plot arrived because she refused to tell Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) the plan to outrun the First Order to make a point about following orders. Yet when you’re about to be killed by Hitler’s equivalent of a First Order maniac, I would think you would put personal vendettas aside and focus on the important tasks at hand, mostly saving your crew. Because Purple Hair Lady didn’t do that, she confused Poe and the others, threw them into the Canto Bight subplot, which ended up being meaningless because they got caught anyway, and to make matters worse, her secrecy actually endangered the mission, with the captured Finn and Rose inadvertently leading the First Order to attack the escaping life pods instead of the main Starship. Basically, 40 minutes of the movie could have been cut if Purple Hair Lady provided only one line of dialogue to a concerned Poe. That’s not a lapse in judgement. That’s poor writing.

However, that scene where Purple Hair Lady takes the Starship and suicide lightspeeds into the Destroyer was amazing. That scene made it into my top five favorite visual moments out of the entire series.

SOURCE: IGN

The worst part of the movie unequivocally comes with Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who is abruptly killed off halfway through the movie in a moment nobody was expecting. Admittedly, the scene was very cool, with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) turning his lightsaber using the Force towards his master while tricking him into thinking that he’s going to kill Rey (Daisy Ridley). Instead, he kills Snoke and teams up with Rey to take down Snoke’s Pratorian guards, which leads into a lightsaber fight so spectacular that it barely nudged into my top five lightsaber duels of all time. There’s just something really satisfying about a bunch of lightsaber weapons crackling into each other all at once here.

But upon sitting over it, I realized that we still know nothing about Snoke. We don’t know where he comes from, how he knows the Force, when he met Ben Solo, how he tempted him over to the Dark Side to become Kylo Ren, and how he gave rise to the First Order. This was one of the most intriguing characters introduced in The Force Awakens, and here he is needlessly axed off like Boba Fett was thrown into the Sarlacc Pit in Return of the Jedi. Is that a fair treatment of a character? I wanted to know more about him before his climactic death, maybe in a duel with Luke or Rey before biting the lit end of a lightsaber. Thanks to Johnson, we’re never going to get that, and that’s the most frustrating aspect of the film.

Side-note: I do humor the possibility that Snoke might make his return as a Force ghost in Episode IX. Throughout the movie, Rey and Kylo are connected through the Force to conversate, and later on Snoke reveals that he was the one connecting them. Yet after he died, Rey and Kylo were connected once again briefly before Rey took off in the Millennium Falcon. Is that potential foreshadowing for the character’s return?

SOURCE: ComicBook.com

There are two changes to the Star Wars lore that were jarring upon my first viewing, but upon further analysis I grew to eventually accept. The first one is the reveal of Rey’s parents. After the aforementioned battle with the Pratorian guards, Kylo asks Rey to join him with the First Order so they can rule the galaxy. To tempt her, he asks her to confess who her parents were. With tearful eyes and quivering lips, she hesitantly said:

“They were nobody.”

And that’s that. Kylo Ren tells her that she was sold off into slavery for drinking money, that she comes from nothing, and that she is nothing. Rey’s parents are nobody.

For all of the hype built up in The Force Awakens, this is reasonably disappointing to many fans. Here I was thinking she was either a Skywalker or a Solo, and it turns out that she’s neither. I was at first extremely frustrated by this weak reveal, but as I further lulled on it I came around to liking it. Mostly because it’s poetic in how someone who came from nothing can grow to become someone so important in the Star Wars saga, but also because it makes the tragedy of the character all the more real.

The series, in hindsight, is a story about family: the ones we come from, the ones we don’t have, and the ones we make for ourselves. Anakin had only one family in his mother and wife, and both were taken from him. Luke lost his family in a raider attack, but found a new one in his sister and in his father that he never knew. And Rey likewise was abandoned by her family, but now finds a new family among people who lost their own families as well. It’s a really sweet sentiment that I appreciated the film for exploring. Even if her true parentage is retconned in Episode IX, I at least appreciate that they have that underdog theme going on in there.

The second is how Luke dies in the movie. In admittedly one of the best scenes in the film, Luke shows up on this salt planet (yes, a salt planet, don’t ask) to defend the Resistance from the First Order. After all the AT-AT’s fire a barrage of blasts at Luke and he deflects them all (he humorously brushes it off like a leaf fell on him), Kylo Ren emerges from his cruiser to face his former master. As Luke kept frequently dodging Kylo Ren’s attacks and sidestepping his lightsaber swipes, I caught myself wondering why Luke wasn’t swiping back? Or why his feet weren’t leaving footprints on the salty surface? I got my answer shortly after: Luke isn’t actually on the salt planet. Instead, he’s still mediating on a rock back on his exiled planet, and since he overexerted himself by making a Force projection from star systems away, he collapses, faces the sunset, then vanishes into the Force like his masters Obi-Wan and Yoda before him.

I was extremely disappointed with this upon my first viewing, mostly because it wasn’t the ending that I wanted for Luke. I had built up in my mind years ago a big, epic duel between himself and Snoke, while Rey and Kylo Ren possibly fought each other in the background. The fact that he passed on through the Force instead of meeting some epic end like Han did in The Force Awakens? It felt like short-changing the character itself.

Again though, the more I thought about it, the more this ending made sense. First of all, how was Luke going to get to the salt planet? His X-Wing was drowned in the ocean back on his island, and he didn’t have an Astromech droid to co-pilot it. Not an ideal scenario for sure, but if you’ve written Luke into a corner on the far side of the galaxy, it wouldn’t make much sense to ham-fist an explanation into there just so Luke can fight on the salt planet, now would it? As Luke mentions in the film, he went into exile for one purpose: to die and bring an end to the Jedi. For someone who seems so committed to that purpose, it wouldn’t make sense for him to stow away an escape pod somewhere on the island so he can just opt out of suicide, now would it?

Second, Luke isn’t the Jedi that he once was. As Rey mentioned earlier in the film, Luke purposefully closed himself off from the Force as penance for his past actions. This implies that even though Luke is still in-tune with the Force, he’s not all-powerful as he once was, nor are his fighting skills as refined as when he was younger. Stacked together, we have an aged, crippled Luke stranded across the galaxy on an isolated planet with no way of getting off, who still needs to save his family star systems away regardless. So what does he do? He Force-projects himself across the galaxy to distract the First Order, exhausting himself fatally, ultimately sacrificing himself so that the Resistance can get away and fight another day. It’s not the ending I would have preferred, but I can’t deny that it works in the context of this film. It’s just one of those cases where what I wanted as a fan conflicts with objectively reviewing the film as a critic. That happens once in a while, where your cinematic intuitions contradict one another in a film.

And yet, the moment was still strangely sentimental, with Luke ending his place in the series the way it began: facing the sunset, staring at the two suns shining down on him, hopeful for what the future will bring. Unfulfilling, yes, but this was the ending Luke chose for himself. Even though I felt let down with Luke’s return, I have to admit there is something satisfying about Luke finding peace with himself after all of these years of suffering that he’s had to endure.

I will not deny that I felt disappointment with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. A lot of fans did. And yet, the movie was about disappointment. Luke’s disappointment in himself and the Jedi way. Kylo Ren’s disappointment in his masters, both from the light and dark side. Poe Dameron’s disappointment in the Resistence. Finn’s disappointment in his friends that betrayed him. Leia’s disappointment in her allies who abandoned her. Rey’s disappointment in her life’s heroes and with who she was and where she came from.

Yet through that disappointment, frustration, and failure, something good came out of it. Our heroes grew. They matured. They became better people, and they became more, not less, motivated to fighting their enemy and protecting each other. And that catharsis is the point of the movie: the fact that tragedy can bring about strength and growth.

In a throwback moment to The Empire Strikes Back, Yoda appears as a Force ghost to Luke and tells him that failure is the greatest teacher: that it educates us beyond anything we can learn by ourselves. “We are what they grow beyond,” Yoda tells Luke in a touching moment. Hopefully the fans who hated this movie can learn to grow up like the rest of the characters in this series do.

Post-script: The Porgs are cute. I have nothing to add beyond that.

SOURCE: StarWars.com

– David Dunn

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“STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Let the past die.

In Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) tells Rey (Daisy Ridley) that there are three Jedi lessons that she needs to learn, but he only teaches her two of them. I don’t believe that was a mistake, but rather an intentional omission. That’s because Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a film about our heroes letting us down, our expectations not being met, and our resolutions failing to be reached. Such is true because such is life. How else would you explain the untimely death of our beloved princess, Carrie Fisher?

The Last Jedi picks up immediately after the events of The Force Awakens, when Rey realizes she too possess the force and needs guidance from Skywalker on how to use it. Meanwhile, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) are on the run with the rest of the resistance from the First Order, who is relentlessly hunting them after they blew up Starkiller base. While this is going on, Ben Solo a.k.a. Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is in a power struggle with General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) in between Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), who commands them both. A lot of moving pieces here, a lot of things happening all at once. Just like every Star Wars movie.

Here is a film that works better aesthetically than it does literally. Spring-boarding off of the momentum that The Force Awakens started years ago, Star Wars: The Last Jedi is used mostly as a platform for nostalgia, calling out to earlier iconic moments in the series and bringing them into the fold while simultaneously challenging our ideas of these characters. Like any Star Wars movie, there were a lot of things that I loved watching play out here. Other times, I found myself frustrated and confused by some of the creative decisions being made in this film. But let’s slow down and digest one thing at a time.

First of all, the visual effects and the action are nothing short of gorgeous, with the X-Wings, TIE Fighters, lightsabers, droids, and creatures across the galaxy reaching out to you and placing you vividly in the moment, whether it involves big spectacular CGI-heavy sequences or smaller, quieter moments where we simply appreciate the breathtaking scenery. No doubt this visual prowess has director Rian Johnson’s hand in it, who years earlier directed the gritty and grounded sci-fi thriller Looper. In The Last Jedi, he takes a play from creator George Lucas’ handbook and designed the film through practical methods as opposed to computer-generated ones. The film reportedly had 125 sets created for its visual scope, with designer Neal Scalan claiming that The Last Jedi uses more practical effects than any Star Wars film to date. I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if that were true. The vehicles, the costuming, the scenery, all of it evokes the sensationalism and world building that Star Wars is known for. On the visual front, The Last Jedi serves the Star Wars saga faithfully and beautifully.

And the cast, both old and new, are just as great in The Last Jedi as they’ve always been, with the best of these frontrunners being Daisy Ridley and Mark Hamill. Ridley once again brings the gravitas and the force (pun intended) that she first brought to us in The Force Awakens. Here she really comes into the forefront as a hero all her own, struggling with her own doubts and perceptions of not only what’s going on with her, but with who and what she really needs in her life for personal fulfillment.

Hamill is another story altogether. He doesn’t play the Luke that you remember from the original films; hopeful, adventurous, and believing in the best of everybody. Here he plays Luke with a grimmer façade, a depressing and frail old man filled with penance and regret for the things that he’s done. Like many other passionate fans out there, I didn’t know what to expect from Luke in The Last Jedi. I certainly wasn’t expecting this. Yet, even though he’s a different character, Hamill shows that he’s still got that Skywalker blood flowing in him that he embodied in the original trilogy. It’s a different portrayal of Luke for sure, but it isn’t a bad one. Not by a long shot.

As a whole, The Last Jedi delivers on the same sci-fi blockbuster fronts that all of the best Star Wars movies delivers on. The action, the heart, the humor; all of it evokes the same feelings you had when you watched the original Star Wars movies, and the nostalgic Easter Eggs only adds to the appeal. There was one cameo in the movie that had me just grinning from ear to ear, taking me back to when I was a kid watching Yoda training Luke for the first time in The Empire Strikes Back.

Yet, the story has made some dark, drastic changes to the Star Wars saga that severely impacts how the series is going to move forward. I’m not saying they’re bad changes. I’m saying they’re hard to adjust to. Like the prequel series, Star Wars: The Last Jedi turns the original trilogy on its head and challenges the way we perceive these characters and how they should act and behave. No, The Last Jedi is not as bad as The Phantom Menace. It does, however, challenge your identity as a Star Wars fan. I’ve seen the movie twice now, and there are still three or four scenes I’m still digesting on whether I liked them or not. I know most fans would just like to go into a Star Wars movie, turn off their brain, and let the experience wash over them ethereally. The Last Jedi makes you think a little harder about it, particularly with the scenes that surprised or shocked you the most.

Ultimately, I find myself conflicted with Star Wars: The Last Jedi. As a simple viewer, I know I enjoyed what I watched. As a critic, I know I was witnessing skillful filmmaking at work here. But as a fan, I couldn’t help but feel disappointed by some of the changes that were happening to some of my favorite cinematic heroes growing up. Perhaps that’s the point. Do these characters stay the same as the years pass them by, or do they change as time and tragedy slowly cripples them? Anakin Skywalker grew up to become Darth Vader, while his son Luke grew up to become the last Jedi. We can only imagine what will happen to Rey as she too faces the future.

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“STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

J.J. Abrams: the spiritual successor to George Lucas.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is a sheer blast of nostalgia, meaningful and joyous from it’s opening scroll credits to when John William’s score crescendos in the last shot. We’ve seen an updated Star Wars for a modern audience before, and that was in the lopsided and disappointing prequel trilogy. Now we have The Force Awakens, and it’s so good that it’s eligible to compete with the original.

It’s 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. A new sith named Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) has arisen and is bent on taking over the galaxy. His pursuits lead him towards a troup of misfits who have become acquainted almost by sheer chance. A scavenger named Rey (Daisy Ridley) lived on the desolate planet of Jakku before she got entangled into this conflict. Finn (John Boyega) was a Stormtrooper who defected for reasons unbeknown to us. BB-8 is a spherical droid who wants to get away from Kylo Ren for reasons also unknown. What is known is that these three figures have something that Kylo Ren wants, and he won’t stop at nothing until he has fulfilled his destiny.

It’s hard to talk about this movie without giving away any spoilers. One thing I will say without giving too much away is that the story is exemplary, and is reminiscent of the adventure and intrigue that made Star Wars iconic in the first place. The screenplay, written by Toy Story 3 scribe Michael Ardnt and polished up by Star Trek director J.J. Abrams and The Empire Strikes Back writer Lawrence Kasdan, is an active synergy of the old and new, incorporating elements that we are familiar with while at the same time introducing original content all their own. This is not just a strong Star Wars story. It’s a strong story, period.

For me, that was my biggest concern going into the theater, and the biggest relief coming out of it. This was the first Star Wars movie where its key subjects would not be featured. Yes, we have references to the older films, but we don’t have Darth Vader. We don’t have Yoda. We don’t have Obi-Wan. We don’t have any of the key figures that linked the whole series together, minus R2 and C-3PO. How would the movie hold up on its own?

Very well, as it turns out, and the new cast members do a great job servicing their roles and making them memorable on their own. Driver is menacing and malicious as Kylo Ren, an egotistical and maniacal presence that reflects both the chilling imposition of Darth Vader and the deepening paranoia of Episode III’s Anakin Skywalker. Boyega is both humorous and likable as Finn, a reformed spirit who is just trying to find new meaning and purpose in his life. Out of the entire cast, however, I am most impressed with newcomer Daisy Ridley. This is the first time she has acted in a feature film, but you wouldn’t have been able to tell that based off of her performance. She is both heartbreaking and intriguing as Rey, equal parts fascinating, sympathetic, and compelling as this character whom is a complete mystery to us. Even by the end of the film, we still don’t understand everything about her, and that’s the point. We’re not supposed to understand her history; we’re supposed to understand her. Ridley did an amazing job at bringing this character to life, and out of anyone else from the cast, she made me most excited for her journey in the future installments.

Do I need to go into the film’s visual and sound effects? They were the groundbreaking features of the very first movies, and they’re stronger than ever in this motion picture. Part of that is because Abrams takes a note out of George Lucas’ old playbook, reverting to practical effects and detailed costuming to bring authenticity to this universe. He still uses CGI, but he doesn’t rely on it. He only uses it when he absolutely has to, when X-wings are firing at TIE Fighters or when lightsabers are clashing against each other. Everything else is created through elaborate art direction and set design, while the CGI is used to compliment the visuals rather than serve as them. The result is the most visually authentic out of any of the films yet.

I have one gripe, and one gripe alone, and that is that there are plot elements that eerily mimic the storyline of one of the original films. I won’t spoil it by saying which one. I will say that even in the face of that criticism, The Force Awakens still manages to make itself unique and special in a series that is already unique and special by itself. We said goodbye to this universe a long time ago. Rejoice as we are once again reunited with the galaxy from far, far away.

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“STAR WARS: RETURN OF THE JEDI” Review (✫✫✫1/2)

Balance to the force, there is at last.

Editor’s note: There are spoilers to ‘Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back’ in this review. You have been warned.

This is it, the moment that everything has been building up to: the conclusion of George Lucas’ Star Wars trilogy. Just like the last few movies, Return of the Jedi is a strong sci-fi feature that focuses on its character’s development just as much as it does on its mythology and visual effects. I’ve grown fond of Star Wars and its sequel The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi is no different. The only disappointment is that it has to end.

Taking place after The Empire Strikes Back when Han Solo (Harrison Ford) is frozen in carbonite and Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) reveals he is Luke’s (Mark Hamill) father, Return of the Jedi sees our heroes as the Galactic Rebellion comes to its most crucial moment. As the Empire works to rebuild its infamous Death Star and the rebellion works to counterattack the Empire, both sides mount up their efforts as they have one last chance to defeat their enemies, either freeing or enslaving the galaxy for all eternity.

Out of any of the other Star Wars movies, Return of the Jedi is the most exhilarating, an exciting action romp that contains rebels and stormtroopers shooting at each other, chase sequences through forests, and lightsaber duels that are arguably the best out of the series. We’ve witnessed over and over again how visually ambitious the Star Wars saga is. Here is another demonstration of how groundbreaking the Star Wars movies really are.

Take the film’s climax as an example. As the film gains momentum, we switch around to multiple scenes at once and the stakes that characters are faced with in the heat of the moment. We switch to an epic space battle where rebellion cruisers and imperial spacecrafts are firing and flying at each other all at once. We switch to a ground scene where rebels are breaking into an imperial base before they are suddenly captured and fired upon. We switch to a dark room, where two jedi are staring tensely at each other, waiting for the other to make the first move against them.

This is something all of the Star Wars movies handle well, which is perspective. We have our main conflict between Luke and Darth Vader, certainly, but they’re not the only ones in the scope here. We also have Han and Leia’s romance, 3PO’s humorous cowardice, R2’s curious sense of adventure, and Chewbacca’s loyalty and brutishness. We have a comprehensive understanding of all of these characters, their motivations and aspirations, and we sympathize with them when they’re in the midst of tragedy. It’s rare to have this much character diversity and not have it fleet in its focus, but Return of the Jedi succeeds in being emotionally balanced and meaningful. If The Empire Strikes Back is the buildup, Return of the Jedi is the payoff.

There are a few elements that don’t work as well with this picture. The beginning sequence, for instance, ran a little longer than it should have, and could have been edited down to about ten minutes as opposed to the 25 minutes it took up. On the opposite end, the final battle, while thrilling and climactic, was equally too long and took up the better half of the picture. The introduction of some teddy bear-sized aliens called Ewoks definitely did not help the picture either. These squatty little freaks speak in such incomprehensible and annoying sounds that they make Chewbacca look like he speaks English. The fact that these midget-sized creatures had a fight scene was almost laughable to me.

But the film’s flaws are miniscule compared to it’s sheer and massive successes. Yes, the runtime was too long, but it at least kept me interested throughout most of it. The action was engaging, the chemistry of the cast was genuine, and George Lucas ultimately gave a fitting conclusion to one of cinema’s most cherished trilogies. We can forgive him for the Ewoks.

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“STAR WARS: THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The Galactic rebellion intensifies.

How do you improve upon perfection? The second installment in the Star Wars series, The Empire Strikes Back, answers this question with profound confidence, wiping away any doubt with the swift of a lightsaber and the influence of the force. It’s hard to imagine that at one point, creator George Lucas doubted the impact his series would hold. And now here stands The Empire Strikes Back, not only every bit as strong as its predecessor, but also cementing its influence on cinema forever.

Taking place a few years after the events of Star Wars, The Empire Strikes Back follows its core characters as they continue the intensified conflict against the empire. Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) is viciously in pursuit after Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill). Han Solo (Harrison Ford) has a debt he desperately needs to pay off from a criminal overlord. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has a war she’s still trying to fight. And while all of this is going on, Luke receives a message from his long-deceased friend, Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness), telling him to go to the Dagobah system to train with the only Jedi master left in existence. Now all on separate paths towards their destinies, these rebels and friends must complete their own journeys as they continue to fight the empire and save the galaxy from its evil clutches.

After the massive success of Star Wars, you’d wonder how on Earth George Lucas would be able to provide a follow up to his science-fiction saga. Yes, he had created these wonderful characters, but character appeal can only last for so long. You have to give them something to do to test the strength of their resolve and the changes that they go through. For the sequel to work, Lucas needed to not only reproduce his memorable heroes: he needed a story just as compelling to allow them to grow and evolve.

Thankfully, Lucas delivers just that alongside director Irvin Kershner and screenwriters Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. One improvement that The Empire Strikes Back has upon its predecessor is in the scope of its storytelling; in the stakes that it sets up and in the challenges it pits against its characters. That’s perhaps the most noticeable way in how this movie excels, is in its buildup and anticipation.

Take, for instance, the dynamic that pits Luke Skywalker against Darth Vader. As the movie builds, you quickly realize how similar Luke and Vader are to each other, and how dangerous of a path Luke is on if he isn’t careful. Luke is training to become a jedi. So was Vader, at one point. Luke is very strong in the force. So is Vader. Luke wants to get powerful fast so he can protect his friends. So did Vader, before he turned to the dark side. The parallels this movie draws on its protagonist and antagonist are very strong, and Kershner is effective in highlighting the conflict going on inside of Luke. It shows that if Luke isn’t careful, the greatest thing he will lose is not his friends, but his soul.

The other characters are just as great as they were the first time we became acquainted with them. Han Solo is still the smug, over-confident rebel, Leia is still the stubborn and headstrong leader that gives a good name to female protagonists. Darth Vader, however, is just as imposing and fearful as he was when we first met him. I would argue even more so, given more of the history we learn about him in this movie. When listening to him, I had forgotten how pivotal James Earl Jones was in his character conception, how his voice lends so much to his performance and his agony. It isn’t just the deepness of Jones’ voice that perfectly encapsulates Darth Vader: it’s in the sincerity of his words, how he says some lines with intensity and quietly utters others in softness. In the first movie, we got a great introduction to Darth Vader as a villain. Here, we’re beginning to understand him as a character, and Jones continues to be pivotal as that comprehension continues to be constructed.

What of the technical elements? Read my first review. You know what I think of its technical elements. The landscapes are vast and barren, contributing to a deep sense of loneliness and vulnerability. The action is exciting and suspenseful, teaming our heroes up against near impossible tasks, then having them find solutions in the most creative and dynamic ways possible. John Williams’ score doesn’t even need any elaboration. Can’t you remember the emotions you felt the first time you saw the words “Star Wars” on the screen and heard the horns blasting proudly in harmony?

This movie is just as strong as the first film was in its production value. Yet, production value means nothing without a strong arc for our characters to go through, and The Empire Strikes Back has that in spades. On the surface, it’s another sci-fi action blockbuster not too dissimilar to its first entry. In deeper insight, it’s a character conflict on how these heroes and villains react to stakes rising and how similar they are in their struggle and in their pain.

There are other characters and story elements that I would like to talk about, but doing so would cheat you of the experience and take away the enjoyment of seeing it for yourself. Star Wars was a masterpiece. The Empire Strikes Back, even more so.

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“STAR WARS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The force is strong with George Lucas.

What is your favorite piece of science fiction of all time? Nine times out of ten, most people’s answer will be Star Wars. Not Star Trek. Not Terminator. Not Alien, or Blade Runner, or Metropolis, or 2001: A Space Odyssey. It’s always Star Wars. Why is that?

I think it’s because, unlike Gene Roddenberry, James Cameron, Ridley Scott, Fritz Lang, and yes, even the great Stanley Kubrick, George Lucas succeeded in making characters that were not only believable, but loveable. We didn’t just accept them. We embraced them as we found a piece of ourselves in each of them. If I bring up the name David Bowman, many of you might ask “Who?” If I mention Nyota Uhura, most of you would stare at me in puzzlement. But if I mention the letters and numbers of C-3PO and R2-D2, your ears would most likely perk up in excitement as you realize I’m talking about Star Wars.

That’s what happened to me in my small living room in Brownsville, Texas when I was just a little boy. When the opening credits and theme song for Star Wars opened up, my attention was immediately caught. When the vast imperial fighter boarded the small rebel ship and the tall figure of Darth Vader (James Earl Jones) entered the deck, I stared at the screen in bewilderment and amazement. But when those two geeky droids entered the frame, as R2 slid around beeping and 3PO clumsily blundered about, I knew I had found something special, as we all did when Star Wars hit the theaters in 1977.

The droids escape the rebel ship and soon land on the dusty planet of Tatooine, where they are soon captured and sold to a small plantation family outside of the city. It is here where we meet our hero Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and we watch as he grows from being a desert farmer to a jedi warrior.

After spending years apart from this picture, I wondered if its appeal would still hold up to today’s standards. Yes, I had grown up with the characters, but that was when I was a child. I had grown away from many things as I grew into adulthood. Would I grow away from Star Wars too?

The answer is no, I didn’t, and I don’t think anyone can grow away from Star Wars. Star Wars appeals to a very specific part of the moviegoing experience: imagination. Yes, plenty of science-fiction films existed prior to the release of Star Wars, but none left the impact on the genre that Star Wars did. And every time I view Star Wars, watching as the droids beep and the aliens groan and the stormtroopers march, I ask what was it that this movie had that all of the others didn’t? My answer is the same every time: George Lucas.

From the writing to the visual design, George Lucas was heavily involved with the film’s concept and creation. How could Lucas come up with such creative and dynamic characters? From the droids to the humans, every character is completely fascinating and appealing, reaching a deep part of our mind from when we were excited at those swashbuckling serials we read when we were kids. It’s almost childlike in its appeal, and its heroes and villains alike are people we learn to root for not because we are asked to as viewers, but because we want to as fans.

Luke is the well-intentioned hero of the story, the knight in shining armor so to speak that is looking for his own adventure out there, all while trying to help anyone he can along the way. 3PO and R2 are the Abbott and Costello of robots here, and provide some of the more comedic moments of the picture without trying too hard or seeming exaggerated. Then there’s Darth Vader, whose visual scope and deep, imposing voice sets a new standard of villainy altogether. James Earl Jones wasn’t a relatively popular actor before Star Wars’ release. Yet, when Star Wars hit the theater, Jones’ personification of the character summoned such a powerful sense of intimidation for Darth Vader that it emboldened his status as a movie villain forever.

In retrospect, these characters don’t do anything in Star Wars that other characters haven’t done in other movies before. A princess is captured, a dashing hero (or two) comes in to save her, a climactic duel builds between its two leads, and somewhere, in one place or another, an explosion happens.

Doesn’t that sound like something you’ve seen before? Indeed, in most classic westerns and swashbuckling pictures, this was the template for your typical motion picture. What places Star Wars above the standard is its characters, in their funny, witty remarks, their moments of lighthearted comedy, and their deepened sense of adventure that survives past the stars and beyond. Yes, the cast gets credit for servicing their characters well, but not as much credit as the man who created the characters.

The other technical elements of the motion picture are astounding and contribute to the overall vision of this science-fiction fantasy. The visual effects were groundbreaking for its time, its elaborate art direction, set design, costuming and make up creating this authentic and aged environment that makes it feel like an age long lost. The technology and the weapons they use make for some of the most exciting action sequences, with one light saber battle between two jedi in the movie serving as one of its high points. And the musical composition by John Williams is simply beautiful, with the horns and the strings switching from moments of ease and reflection to moments of excitement and anticipation. Williams demonstrated his mastery of handling different aesthetics from his Academy Award-winning score for Jaws. Here is another film where he arguably contributed just as much to the film as its creator did.

But a film can be technically well made and fail on the whole. What makes Lucas’ work stand out is, once again, his characters. We share the young farmer’s dreams as he wants to travel to different worlds and become a jedi. We share the droid’s frustration at each other as their situation quickly crumbles into shambles, and we share the rebel’s fear and gloom as the shadowy figure of Darth Vader approaches them. This is a film that is strong in both production and concept, as it makes us deeply care for the characters that exist from a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

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