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Movie Analysis — Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted in movies by commorancy on December 30, 2015

Star_Wars_The_Force_Awakens[Updated: 2018-01-11]: Check out my The Last Jedi review and see how it compares to this analysis of The Force Awakens.

So while I have already written the movie review for Star Wars: The Force Awakens, this article intends to go in depth into some of the problems that plague the story of this film. Again, if you want to see this film and have not yet seen it, you should stop reading now.

Kylo Ren

So a lot of people are ragging on this character and the actor who portrays him. Yes, I was also personally unimpressed by the depth of this character. Granted, we don’t have much backstory for any of the new characters in this film yet. Not Finn, not Poe, not Rey and definitely not Kylo (other than his lineage). The lack of depth of all of the newly introduced characters is a problem. The most glaring problem of note is Kylo Ren. Not only because of the lack of backstory here, but the conflicted and almost childish brat nature of this character. Kylo apparently idolizes Darth Vader, but Kylo himself is but a sad pale imitation of Vader. The mask that Kylo wears looks cheap and serves no purpose. I realize that this is supposed to be a gritty world and not much is kept tidy, but still. This mask looks cheaply made even for a film of this caliber. Meaning, it looks cheap from a costume perspective, not from a character perspective. We don’t know enough about Kylo to justify the cheap look of that mask.

On top of the cheap mask, his temper tantrums are just over the top. Not only does he continually smash random consoles in fits of tantrum anger, he’s conflicted about his parents and in particular, his dad. Overall, this character is more or less a spoiled brat who seems to have gotten his way. I can’t even imagine Han and Leia bringing up such a spoiled brat. But hey, that’s what the storywriters propose here. When Kylo joined up with Snoke (The Supreme Leader), it seemed to be some desperate attempt to get away from his parents and his unhappy (?) home life. Though, that’s just a guess as we have no backstory here to back this up. Still, putting a spoiled brat who continually throws temper tantrums into the lead villain part just doesn’t work well in this movie. Kylo ends up neither menacing nor important. He just ends up playing a spoiled brat trying to ‘play’ the role of someone menacing.

On top of a character that doesn’t really work in the context of a play about good and evil, the actor who portrays Kylo is also a questionable casting choice. If you’re planning on putting a 19 or 20 year old in a part like this, either make them so dashing we can forget that they have no acting chops or find a prodigy who can really take this part to the next level. Unfortunately, the casting choice in this particular part was questionable at best. When Kylo takes his mask off, you can hear snickering all around the theater… which says everything about how the audience feels for this Snape-like character.

Personally, I’d prefer to see the part recast for the next film. Since he was wounded in the lightsaber battle, there’s now a reason to put the mask on and leave it on and never take it off again. Now that this character has finally seen real combat and has also faced injury at the hand of Rey, maybe his rantings might feel a little more sincere.

Kylo’s Force Abilities

As equally weak as his character is in terms of depth, this character is also insanely weak in the force. Yes, he seems to have been trained to some degree, but if Rey (strong in the force, but untrained) can best Kylo (who has been trained), his force powers must be especially weak. For someone like the Supreme Leader, why would you ever put someone who could be so easily bested with the force in charge of anything?

With Kylo, there’s just too much inconsistency here to make this character believable. If he had been killed off on this first installment, that at least would have been something to make the Supreme Leader find a worthy right hand man.

Rey and her force powers

Rey seems to manifest the force like a pro, like she has already been trained. So, either she has been trained and is just playing it dumb or she’s some kind of force prodigy. Even Anakin wasn’t that much of a prodigy. Neither was Luke. Problem.

The Death Planet

As big as the new Death Star (Starkiller Base) was, it would have caused so much disruption to gravity in the systems it entered, the planets would likely have been torn apart. In addition to the gravity disruption it would have caused just by being there, sucking away an entire sun would have caused all of the planets in that solar system to completely freeze and, at the same time, hurtle off into space because there is no more gravity to hold them place (other than the new Death Star, but its gravity is likely far weaker). The sun vanishing would cause planetary and solar system destruction without the need to fire a single shot. So, making these Death Stars ever bigger and bigger has consequences for wherever they end up in the universe, the least of which is gravity. So, this is a huge story weak point.

Story

Since we’re talking about story weak parts, let me just say that entire story was rather weak. Not only did it somewhat plagiarize from both A New Hope and, again, Return of the Jediit isn’t even plagiarized very well. As I said in my review, I liked what I saw, but it could have been far far better. I’m not saying George Lucas himself could have done better, but it seems that Disney does better when it comes to things like Star Wars Rebels than it does when it comes to full length movies. In fact, I find that TV story arcs in general are better done than most movies today.

Let’s explore the Rey character. She’s a scavenger who’s been living on Jakku since a very young child. She scavenges and sells what she scavenges for food rations, which seem to be getting less and less with each sale. Note that this information at all doesn’t spoil the film. Because, after the very long boring opening of her performing this activity several times, we never see her do it again. So, while I do understand that it is intended as character development, it could have been done in a much more offscreen way (like, through dialog, through a series of montages or even flashbacks). Instead, JJ feels compelled to bring us every boring moment of her scavenging on screen. If the only reason for this is to see the crashed Star Destroyer, that could have been done in a much more compelling way than seeing her scavenger her way through that site. In fact, they do it in a more compelling way later in the Millennium Falcon. Hey, no need for the scavenging which dragged down the opening.

As with most JJ stories (though I realize it was also in combination with Lawrence Kasdan who also brought us The Empire Strikes Back), it’s just enough to get the job done, but not enough to be anywhere near as good as The Empire Strikes Back. Note that Empire worked because it was a middle film. This first film needed a rousing opening, an even more thrilling middle and an intense end… and ultimately it didn’t deliver on all three aspects. Instead, it had a slow boring opening, a somewhat rollercoaster and exciting middle and a contrived ending. It also didn’t really need the Starkiller Death Star at all to establish the evilness of the First Order. There are many ways to show how evil can manifest on screen. The Starkiller was contrived, unnecessary and reeked too much of previous films.

I want to see stories that haven’t been done. Sure, we all want to see space battles between X-Wing fighters and Tie Fighters. But, give us a space battle that involves something other than trade blockades and death stars. Can we think of no other plot elements that require ships in space fighting? Seriously?

Let me count the ways

I want to love this film as much as Rotten Tomatoes does.  I want this film to be as endearing as A New Hope. Unfortunately, it isn’t and I don’t. I do like it, but only to the degree that I would like any blockbuster released in the last 10 years and only on that level. Basically, it’s as good as Transformers or the Avengers or even Ironman. It’s a good watch, but it is in no way fresh and new. To some degree the universe has been established by George. But, there are still ways of taking that universe and making it into something entirely new and fresh and endearing. Unfortunately, the story was just a too weak to carry it off in this way.

The only controversial thing about this movie is Kylo Ren (and the title of this film). Even then, it’s only from the perspective of Kylo being a spoiled brat in the Star Wars universe (and somewhat miscast). If you’re going to cast a character with a helmet on, make damned sure that when the helmet is removed, that person is menacing to anyone he/she faces. There is no room in the Star Wars universe for spoiled children. That’s not the reason we go see Star Wars films. Characters should always act larger than life, but never as spoiled brats.

As for the title of the film, The Force Awakens, to whom did this reference? It isn’t clear. Does it refer to Kylo’s force power temper tantrums? Does it refer to Rey’s manifestation of her force powers? Does it refer to Finn’s use of the light saber. After all, I’m pretty sure that Finn wasn’t taught light saber training as part of The First Order. We still don’t know to whom the title of this film refers.  Partly the reason is that the one thing that was entirely forgotten was Yoda, Ben and Anakin as force beings. None of these people chimed in at all during any part of this film to attempt to explain anything. These small snippets of Ben and various other Force manifestations helped carry the story along in episodes 4, 5 and 6. Where are they in 7? Were they just conveniently hiding among the midichlorians?

Note: this article is still under revision and may continue to be updated as I further analyze this and future installments.

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Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Posted in movies, reviews by commorancy on December 19, 2015

[Alert: This review may contain spoilers. Though, I have done my best not to reveal critical plot points and only discuss the technical merits of the film as a whole. If you are interested in seeing this movie, you should stop reading now. I have also written a deeper dive critical plot analysis article separately from this review.]

starwarsposterLet’s just start by saying that I’m usually very critical towards films, just as I am towards any other technology, device or game. I also don’t review every film I see. I only review those films that I feel deserve a review and Star Wars: The Force Awakens does deserve a review. Since The Last Jedi is out, please check out my new review. Let’s explore.

Disney and Lucasfilm and Star Wars

This is the first in a series of films to be produced by Disney in their newly purchased Star Wars franchise. How many total films that will be in this series is as yet unknown. However, I’d expect the current storyline to run at least 3 total films with The Force Awakens being the first in this trilogy. Why is this important? It’s important to understand the place of this film not only in relation to the past 6 films, but to future films that have yet been created. In other words, this film is only a small part in a larger story. So, even after seeing the film, there are still many questions unanswered… and this is as it should be for a first part in a larger set of films.

Star Wars Redefined

Star Wars is a much beloved series. Episodes 4, 5 and 6 set the tone for this series with iconic likable characters that have become a huge part of pop culture. Though, cracks did begin to appear as early as Return of the Jedi with George introducing the saccharine cuteness of the Ewoks in Episode 6. However, we could forgive George this one blemish in an otherwise amazing universe. Unfortunately, by episodes 1, 2 and 3, those beloved icons were no where to be found and the films ended up disappointing on so many levels. With unnecessary characters like Jar Jar Binks, wooden acting, badly cast child actors, horrible screen chemistry and the inclusion of a storyline about political satire that could bore your dog, we were less than enchanted with the prequel series by the end of episode 3. Though, I will admit that episode 3 was much better than episode 1 by a long stretch. In other words, the prequels set the bar pretty low for Star Wars films. That’s all in the past, thankfully.

With this newest episode, JJ Abrams has brought a film to the screen that is at once both fresh, new and exciting and looks and feels like that old pair of amazing fitting gloves that just never seem to wear out. In other words, Disney, Lucasfilm and J.J. should be commended on the restraint used in producing The Force Awakens and in keeping the universe look and feel fully intact. Also, it seems that someone kept JJ’s wild fantasies in-check and out of the film such as lens flare city and odd story changes that really wouldn’t have enhanced this franchise. Disney also managed to keep their disneyfication to a minimum. Keeping JJ’s fanciful, but unnecessary additions at bay and limiting disneyfication to a bare minimum has helped to solidify this film as easily one of the best for 2015. Though, BB-8 might have been a disneyfication.

This newest Star Wars installment has firmly set the tone for the things to come. Yet, the film is far from perfect.

The Opening

The film opens identically to all other Star Wars films with the exception of the missing THX deep note (which was getting tired anyway) and the missing 20th Century Fox fanfare (this is Disney now, remember?). Though, it was also oddly missing the familiar Disney castle logo. There is little fanfare in the opening. More or less, it was just the same as all other Star Wars films. The film segues nicely into its first scene, but this is where the pacing is off. Instead of opening to a rousing battle scene or some other rush of action, blaster fire and lots of people or ships shooting one another, we are treated to a much slower paced opening. In fact, it’s so slow of a pace, for a short time I was beginning to wonder if it would ever pick up. No need to worry, it does.

The Characters

Other than saying that Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill are all in the film along with Chewbacca, this film is about the new guard taking over the reigns from the old guard.. and that’s exactly what this film does. This is a transitional film. The cast is unknowns who do a decent job with their parts, but nothing spectacular. Though, I will say the on-screen chemistry between the new characters has yet to congeal. Not so much because there is no chemistry, but because there are few scenes were they are all actively together for more than a few minutes at a stretch. So, it’s difficult for me to judge the full chemistry between these actors as yet. They always seem to get separated within moments of coming together.

Stormtrooper Gone Bad

This is an interesting concept introduced into this film that has not been in previous installments. In previous Star Wars, whatever process the Empire had used to indoctrinate Stormtroopers seemed entirely solid and without question of loyalty after the process was complete. In The Force Awakens, the whole thread of indoctrination (and failure of said indoctrination) is explored and discussed explicitly and somewhat in-depth. I hope this concept makes a resurgence in later installments as a wider story arc. In fact, I would love to see it used as a linchpin in the entire destruction of the First Order and the Supreme Leader.

Questions and Answers

The Force Awakens both asks and answers old and new questions. One of them is the Stormtrooper Gone Bad motif. This is a new question that has yet to have a full answer. I’m anxious to see where that thread goes or if it’s just dropped. However, just as we have new questions, we have many old questions answered. Questions like “Did Leia and Han have a kid?”, “Where is Luke Skywalker?” and “What happened to Han Solo?”. There are many other questions answered in this film as well. Just as many questions were answered, there were just as many questions asked that have no clear answer. With The Force Awakens, JJ has perfectly straddled the line of balance between the answers to old questions with asking new questions. Questions we won’t get answers to until future installments. Because this is the first of many installments, it was inevitable that there would be cliffhangers and unanswered questions.

Death Star on Steroids

Yes, there is a Death Star story in The Force Awakens. In fact, like A New Hope and like Return of the Jedi, the Death Star makes a reappearance and on a much more grand scale. You’ll have to watch to find out what happens. Suffice it to say that this Death Star is far more destructive than anything ever built by the Empire. But, this isn’t the Empire. This is the New Order.. and likely if the New Order built one of these massive death machines, they likely built two or more of them. So, I’d expect to see another one or possibly a fleet of them in the next installments.

WYSIWYG story

While I realize this applies to computers, it also applies here. JJ didn’t put anything behind a veil. It is what you see. Yes, there might be subterfuge at work that we won’t realize until later installments, but in this film people take off their masks so we get to see them. There is little to be hidden behind masks for a 3 film story arc to reveal. It’s all revealed right here, right now, which is immensely satisfying. Who really wants to wait 3 films to finally see someone peel off their mask or find out who is really behind it all? In this film, it’s all put right out there immediately. No hiding. Limited use of masks. No hidden identities. No cloak and veils. What you see is truly what you get.

Though, we’ll have to wait and see in the next installments exactly what ‘points of view’ changes have yet to reveal themselves… and yes, there are questions that have yet to be answered.

Pacing

If there is anything here to fault of this film is its pacing. It starts out almost unbearably slow. Lots of scavenging scenes. Lots of random shots of conflicted moments of this failed Stormtrooper. An opening scene with the stormtroopers that while intended to garner some sympathy from the audience is mostly extraneous to the plot. We get that the New Order is to be feared. There is no need to beat us over the head with it. There were some scenes that even failed to advance the plot of the story and also failed to offer much in character development. In short, the opening is slow. After we finally leave Jakku, the pacing picks up and boy does it ever pick up. Once Han Solo is here, it’s a rollercoaster ride that lasts almost until the very end.

And then later… in the middle of the Death Star starship battle, we get interrupted by a longish lightsaber battle that leaves the Death Star scene hanging. Meaning, The Resistance (Rebels) trying to deal with how to bring down the death star and for the next 10-15 minutes, the pacing is killed with an awkward lightsaber battle that ends weirdly and doesn’t really conclude much. So, what were those X-wings up to the whole time the lightsaber battle was going on? Were they like on pause or something?

I would have expected to have more intercutting between the X-Wing battle and the lightsaber battle (like the lightsaber scene between Luke and Darth in Return of the Jedi and the space battle). The pacing between the space battle and the light saber battle in Return of the Jedi was amazing to behold. George didn’t always do everything right, but his editing skills were amazing. Unfortunately, JJ didn’t really seem to get the pacing or the tension here correct. So, the tension is almost completely killed while we watch this lightsaber battle unfold. I was hoping that these scenes would have been intercut better to keep the tension between both events high.

Overall

I enjoyed the The Force Awakens and want to see it again in 3D. I wouldn’t necessarily rate it a 93% that Rotten Tomato viewers have given or the 95% the critics have given it. I’d rate it more like 85%. It’s a good film and worth seeing. It especially ties up loose ends from what happened after Return of the Jedi nicely, but the pacing problems left me feeling less than impressed. Because TFA had nothing to do with the prequels, we can forget all about those films entirely and focus on what happened in episodes 4, 5, 6 and now 7. Well done Disney, JJ, Lucasfilm and George. Now, let’s see if we can keep this up and improve it for 8, 9 and beyond.

 

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Carrie Fisher to appear in Star Wars: Episode 9

Posted in business, movies by commorancy on July 27, 2018

star-wars-e9It was announced today by LucasFilm that J.J. Abrams has come up with a way to include Carrie Fisher in the upcoming Star Wars Episode 9 installment. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

Every film has outtakes and footage that doesn’t make the final cut. So, where does that film end up? It seems that the outtake footage of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens will end up in Episode 9.

What does this mean for Episode 9? It means that J.J. Abrams will need extraordinary writing and editing efforts to shoehorn this existing footage into a cohesive narrative for Episode 9.

Will It Work?

This is, unfortunately, a constraint that the saga doesn’t need. I realize that Carrie Fisher’s untimely death left the Star Wars franchise with a dilemma. I also realize that the filmmakers wanted a way to properly close Leia out from this Saga. I further realize that the story needs to be cohesive and round out the ending of this already perilous trilogy after the divisive The Last Jedi.

On the one hand, I’m like any other fan. I want to see Leia complete her role in the final installment. On the other hand, I realize this isn’t possible because Carrie Fisher is no longer with us. I also realize that the series needs to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s legacy in these films.

At the same time, The Last Jedi arguably one of the worst Star Wars films ever made and it needs to be forgotten as we try to ignore (as best we can) the crap that Rian Johnson introduced. With that said, J.J. Abrams needs to try and salvage and close out this trilogy in some befitting way.

By grabbing random film stock of Carrie Fisher from The Force Awakens, it is intended to do one thing, honor Carrie’s memory… something this franchise does need to do. However, there are many ways of honoring a person’s memory without resorting to fitting …

Square Pegs in Round Holes

This is where I believe J.J. Abrams has just tied his own hands. J.J.’s abilities to write solid functional stories for film is difficult enough at the best of times. When trying to honor Carrie’s and Leia’s memory at the same time using this old stock footage, I’m highly skeptical that J.J. is actually proficient enough at screenwriting to pull this final installment off with these constraints. I’m not saying that J.J. can’t pull it off, but his ability to pull it off successfully has just dropped dramatically.

Final Trilogy Installment

We all know that this trilogy (and the Star Wars franchise in general) is already in serious trouble. I’d personally consider using Carrie’s The Force Awakens footage as a highly risky move for this film. Yes, we do need to close out Leia’s involvement, but I’m uncertain that this existing footage will even make sense in the context of a new story.

Considering the performance of the Solo movie, I wouldn’t have suggested making an announcement that this possibility exists at all. Just let it happen organically. If it works, so be it. We’ll see it when the movie is complete. Since the principal photography is to begin in August 2018, it’s way too premature to know if what Carrie filmed in 2015 will even work. And, if it doesn’t work when a rough cut is viewed, it could end up on the cutting room floor again. After all, it was already on the cutting room floor. Having announced it in the press means fans will expect it to be in the film. If it’s yanked because it doesn’t work, that choice will be reflected in the movie’s box office receipts. This announcement seems way too premature.

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Did Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver have on-screen chemistry?

Posted in botch, business, movies by commorancy on July 2, 2020

I’ve recently come across this question on social media and I decided to answer this one in a full length blog article as I have much to say on this topic. Let’s explore.

On-Screen Chemistry

Whether two characters have any on-screen chemistry is a riddle that has plagued casting directors for many years. Putting two or three actors together on screen can make or break a film.

What factors go into on-screen chemistry? There are lots of factors including:

  • Looks
  • Acting prowess (when together)
  • Camaraderie
  • Ease of being together
  • Friendship
  • Believeability

There are way more factors than the above, but these are the primary contributing factors that make or break an on-screen relationship. When you see one, two or more characters together, you need to believe that these characters actually know one another and that they have an ease that says they can rely on one another and be friends.

There have been many exceptional on-screen chemistries. From Harry Potter’s Emma Watson, Rupert Grint and, of course, Daniel Radcliffe to the original lineup of Charlie’s Angels with Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith and Kate Jackson to Moonlighting’s exceptional casting choice of Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd and, of course, this list wouldn’t be complete without mentioning Star Wars’s “Golden Trio” ensemble of Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford.

Not all movie and TV productions get it right, however. There are many that, in fact, don’t even know they’ve gotten it wrong until it’s too far into the production. For TV shows, they can solve this blunder by recasting. For a movie series, that’s a bit more difficult.

The Force Awakens

When Star Wars: The Force Awakens opened, there was no way to easily judge the on-screen chemistry for most of the cast throughout much of this film. The scenes involving the primary characters together were few and far between… with the exception of Rey and Finn. These two had exceptional on-screen chemistry together… which is likely why the first half of the film involved these two actors almost exclusively.

Even the second half of this film heavily involves these two characters, again when romping through Han Solo’s cargo ship, The Eravana, after accidentally releasing Rathtars from the cargo hold.

However, we do get to see glimpses of Rey with Kylo together in TFA, but this scene only lasts a very short time before he leaves her alone. Even then, this is their first encounter, so it’s very hard to judge their chemistry together because of their entirely adversarial relationship, for the moments that they are on screen together. At this juncture, we aren’t really getting a sense that these two belong together… part of the reason I believe this scene with them together was so short. Let’s talk about Kylo, for a moment.

Kylo Ren

This character was introduced in the beginning of the film along with Poe Dameron. These two characters have limited screen time together. The amount of screen time they get is limited to Poe cracking jokes at Kylo’s expense. Even then, Kylo has still not yet unmasked. We’re not even sure who’s in that suit. There’s no way to judge any chemistry between these two characters.

When Poe and Finn meet, these two bond almost instantly. This pair, like Rey and Finn, again have tremendous and instant on-screen chemistry. Again, their scenes are short, but it’s easy to see exactly how Poe and Finn will get along in future scenes. Alas, though, meaningful scenes between these two is not meant to be in this film. Yes, there are a few more exchanges later in the film between Poe and Finn, but their screen time together is exceedingly short in duration.

Rey and Finn obviously get the maximum amount of screen time together.

The Force Awakens Part II

I’m focusing on this film to the exclusion of all others because this is the film that sets the tone for success or failure of future franchise installments. It is also this film that tells us if on-screen chemistry works or doesn’t. The then future films, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker would continue to show us character dynamic growth, but it is The Force Awakens that tells us if on-screen chemistry works.

Unfortunately, because the scenes between the primary characters were of such short duration, it’s exceedingly hard to gauge the effectiveness of most of the on-screen chemistries in this film. The only character relationships we effectively get to see is that of Rey and Finn. We don’t really get to see the chemistry between Poe and Rey, Poe and Finn (much) or, especially, Rey and Kylo (a key element of The Last Jedi carried into The Rise of Skywalker).

I’m not considering on-screen chemistry with scenes between a primary character and someone dressed in full concealing armor, such as Phasma and Kylo. You can’t judge actor chemistry when one is clad head to toe in concealment. I’m only counting scenes where actors faces are fully visible, when the audience can judge facial expressions and body language… very important to on-screen chemistry.

What it comes down to with The Force Awakens is that there were not enough scenes between the primary cast to actually determine if the primary character chemistry works for all three characters when together. For example, in Star Wars: A New Hope, all three characters are together for an extended amount of time when they need to escape the Death Star. Not only do we get to see these three work together, we get to see it for a long segment of the film. They do split up at times with Luke and Leia doing their swing across scene. With Chewie and Han doing their thing diverting attention away from Luke and Leia. Before that, they all work together in the dumpster scene.

We get to see these three characters many, many times over the course of all three films: A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi. It’s also very easy to see the chemistry between these three actors. On screen, their chemistry just works, and boy does it ever.

With Poe, Finn and Rey at the end of The Force Awakens, we’re left wondering if these three truly do have any chemistry. The only two where we get to see any chemistry is, again, Finn and Rey… and they most certainly do have it. Unfortunately, the TFA story didn’t lend itself to a trio situation, leaving the audience wondering if this is truly about a trio or just a bunch of characters thrown together.

By The Last Jedi, we completely understood the answer to that question. It’s just a bunch of characters thrown together. It’s not really a trio. Luke, Leia and Han acted as a team much of the time. Unfortunately, in Disney’s trilogy, Poe, Rey and Finn didn’t act as a trio. Occasionally, these three would pair off and work in twos, but never did they work together as a team of three towards a common goal, like Luke, Leia and Han or even the prequel team of Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan and Padmé.

This is where the Disney series learns a harsh lesson. This is also why the Disney trilogy just didn’t congeal with the fans of the series. More about this at the end. I digress.

Reylo

A lot of fans were so adamant that Rey and Kylo had some kind of thing going on. Oh sure, they had a thing, but it was forced by the hand of Snoke. When Kylo and Rey were both together, the scenes always felt awkward and uncomfortable, like a brother and sister kissing. This lasts from their first lightsaber duel in the snowbound forest to the red guard scene in The Last Jedi to pretty much any scene in The Rise of Skywalker. With ‘uncomfortable’ being the operative word. When two actors are on screen together, ‘uncomfortable’ denotes bad chemistry, not intentional design.

I can’t recall one scene between Rey and Kylo that didn’t feel ‘icky’. By ‘icky’, I mean disturbing and uncomfortable. It’s like oil and water. The two don’t mix. That’s how every scene I watched between Kylo and Rey felt. It felt like these two didn’t belong together in the same scene. THAT is a primary hallmark of bad (or zero) chemistry. These two effectively have no on-screen chemistry.

Let’s explore this a bit further…

Miscasting

Kylo Ren, played by Adam Driver, was entirely miscast for the part of this series primary villain. Some observers have claimed that Adam was playing the part conflicted. Let’s understand internal conflict.

Both Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader (Anakin dressed in concealing garb) played this character conflicted. Yet, not once did Hayden Christensen nor did David Prowse resort to exhibiting a temper tantrum to get his “conflicted” point across. Brooding solace is much more effective at displaying conflict than lashing out at consoles in a fit of childish anger. Every actor must choose how to portray certain aspects of their character. Unfortunately, Adam Driver’s choice (or perhaps the script’s choice) was too infantile. This didn’t happen just once in the first film. It happened several times throughout the film and the series.

Infantile screaming outbursts don’t say conflicted, they say spoiled man-child. Let’s not even consider how Ben Solo managed to get this way. Spoiled brat behavior doesn’t convey internal conflict. Darth Vader, for example, learned to hold his anger in check and focus it towards the times when he needed to focus it. Anakin, before he became Darth, wasn’t great at holding in his anger, but didn’t resort to childish outbursts… mostly because Obi-wan was there to guide him.

Did Kylo and Rey have good chemistry?

The simple answer to this question is, no. Daisy Ridley and the miscast Adam Driver simply had zero chemistry when on-screen together. It was always awkward and uncomfortable when these two were acting in a scene together. Their scenes only moderately worked, but always felt unconvincing. The characters didn’t feel conflicted at all. When they were together, the scenes felt empty and contrived… again, both hallmarks of lack of chemistry.

I know a lot of people feel that these two had on-screen chemistry. I urge you to rewatch these films and examine for yourself how you feel when you watch these two together. Do you feel happy and elated or uncomfortable and unconvinced? Examine how you feel when you watch. That’s how you determine if chemistry works or doesn’t.

When chemistry works, you know it right away. You can see it. You can feel it. It’s an intangible, but very real sensation. When chemistry doesn’t work, you can also feel that too. You might be revulsed, indifferent, empty or you might even feel ‘icky’.

Let me give you different examples of exceedingly bad chemistry, weak chemistry and good chemistry so you can understand these differences:

Exceedingly Bad Chemistry

  1. Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman in The Star Wars Prequel Trilogy
  2. Toby McGuire and Bryce Dallas Howard in Raimi’s Spiderman
  3. The entire “cabin” cast of Joss Whedon’s The Cabin in the Woods
  4. Farrah Fawcett, Kirk Douglas and Harvey Keitel in Saturn 3
  5. Adam Driver and Daisy Ridley in the Disney Star Wars Trilogy
  6. Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and Shelley Hack or Tanya Roberts in Charlie’s Angels
  7. Mariska Hargitay and Adam Beach in Law and Order SVU
  8. John Boyega and Kelly Marie Tran in The Last Jedi
  9. Marjoe Gortner and Caroline Munro in 1978’s horrendous Starcrash

Weak Chemistry

  1. Toby McGuire and Kirsten Dunst in Raimi’s Spiderman
  2. Patrick Stewart and Gates McFadden in Star Trek TNG
  3. Bryce Dallas Howard and Chris Pratt in Jurassic World
  4. Jeff Goldblum and Julianne Moore in The Lost World
  5. Blake Lively and Ryan Reynolds in The Green Lantern
  6. Harrison Ford and Karen Allen in Raiders of the Lost Ark
  7. Kate Jackson, Cheryl Ladd and Jaclyn Smith in Charlie’s Angels
  8. Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino in Law and Order SVU
  9. Laura Dern, Sam Neill and Jeff Goldblum in Jurrasic Park (all 3 together)
  10. The entire cast of the original Blade Runner
  11. The entire cast of The Abyss

Brilliant Chemistry

  1. Jenny Agutter and Michael York in Logan’s Run
  2. Barbara Bain and Martin Landau in Space 1999
  3. William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelly in OG Star Trek
  4. William Frakes and Mirina Sirtis in Star Trek TNG
  5. Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford in Star Wars
  6. C-3PO and the rest of the Star Wars cast
  7. Kate Jackson, Farrah Fawcett and Jaclyn Smith in Charlie’s Angels
  8. Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd in Moonlighting
  9. John Ritter, Joyce DeWitt and Suzanne Sommers in Three’s Company
  10. Mariska Hargitay and Christopher Meloni in Law and Order SVU
  11. Laura Dern and Sam Neill in Jurassic Park
  12. The entire cast of both Alien and Aliens films
  13. The entire cast of Gilligan’s Island
  14. The entire cast of The Brady Bunch TV series

Charlie’s Angels

Here’s a case study in both casting and chemistry. The late 1970’s TV series is a shining example of how cast changes can see chemistry range from brilliant to piss poor. When Kate Jackson left the series in 1979, the remaining cast chemistry between Cheryl and Jaclyn fizzled out. Because Cheryl Ladd didn’t bring with her the same level of chemistry as Farrah Fawcett, the show relied on Kate and Jaclyn to carry the chemistry. For the most part, this worked… until 1979 when Kate departed.

After that, Kate’s role was recast with a new angel. First, Shelley Hack, then the following season by Tanya Roberts. Neither of these two lovely ladies brought with them any semblance of chemistry or cohesion to the series or the cast. In fact, any remaining chemistry between Jaclyn Smith, Cheryl Ladd and either of these two ladies fizzled out entirely by series end. The series was merely pulled along by its premise, not by the cast chemistry.

The too early departure of Farrah Fawcett left a gaping chemistry hole in the cast with huge shoes to fill. Cheryl stepped in and did a respectable job and she looked great in a bathing suit, but the cast chemistry was much, much weaker with her there. If anything, this cast change is what ultimately did the series in… not because of Cheryl specifically, but simply because her chemistry between the other two leads was much, much weaker.

Another series that also suffered cast changes which weakened its cast…

Law and Order: Special Victims Unit

Dick Wolf’s SVU series began with brilliant casting and the show has since been running for 21 seasons and counting. The best seasons, however, still feature Mariska Hargitay as Olivia Benson and Christopher Meloni as Elliot Stabler. These two were the perfect team and had perfect chemistry. The series was on point with these two together. Apparently, Christopher’s contract ran out at the end of season 12 and it was not renewed. As a result, Christopher didn’t return for season 13 and Stabler was written off as retired. I won’t get into exactly how poorly Dick handled his departure, but suffice it to say that Christopher’s departure would disrupt the chemistry of the cast (and show) for many seasons to come. In fact, the season when Adam Beach joined is clearly the lowest chemistry point of the entire series.

It wouldn’t be until Dick settled on Mariska Hargitay, Ice-T, Kelli Giddish and Peter Scanavino before SVU got back some semblance of its chemistry, however small. Unfortunately, like Charlie’s Angels before it, this cast’s chemistry is much, much weaker than when Mariska and Christopher were together. Those two just exuded chemistry like Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepherd before them.

The Magic of Chemistry

You can’t predict chemistry when casting. It happens or it doesn’t. Sometimes, you don’t even know how well it has worked until the production has wrapped and you see the final product. With a TV show like Charlie’s Angels, where episodes are weekly, it’s much faster to see chemistry because time to completion of the final product is only a few weeks. With a film, it could be months before you see the end result, before you know if the chemistry has worked.

For this reason, films like The Force Awakens must take risks and assume cast chemistry works. Unfortunately, sometimes the chemistry between all of the actors just doesn’t congeal, but that was more a problem with the story than the cast. If the story had put these three together sooner, including Kylo, we could have seen that it didn’t work. In the case of Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, it really doesn’t work. These two are like oil and water. They just don’t mix. The same can be said of Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman. Together, Hayden and Natalie were unbelievable as a couple. Trying to believe they were actually in love was about as convincing as watching two WFC wrestlers in the ring. The same can be said for Rey and Kylo.

Miscasting vs Chemistry

Both kind of go hand-in-hand, but both are separate things. Miscasting can lead to bad chemistry, but sometimes it doesn’t. When a character is miscast, it’s difficult to believe that actor is portraying that character. However, that actor might still work okay with other cast members. It may be weak chemistry, but it can still work.

Miscasting is when the wrong actor is cast for a part. It could be that the actor just doesn’t have the acting depth to properly portray the character or it could simply be that the character needs to be way more mature than the actor’s looks allow. For example, casting a 20something who looks 18 into a part designed to be a 35 or 40 year old is usually ripe for miscasting. If the character’s age is 40something, then a 40something (or someone who looks like a 40something) should be hired. Unfortunately, casting the correct age into the role doesn’t necessarily solidify good chemistry.

As I said, these two concepts are separate. To determine chemistry, the actors need to be put together and filmed in test scenes to determine if they have any chemistry at all. Chemistry is the magic of filmmaking. It is the heart of a blockbuster or a bomb. If the cast doesn’t work, then the film won’t work. If the cast works perfectly, then so too does the film… usually. Though, there’s no guarantee in filmmaking. You never know if the story being told is something people will embrace or discard. While chemistry makes the cast work properly, the story makes the film work. Both need to align for a project to succeed.

Even then, it’s still up to the fickle nature of the audience. If the material rubs the audience the wrong way, no amount of cast chemistry can make up for this situation.

As an example, there’s 1969’s Hello Dolly, starring Barbra Streisand and Walter Matthau. While at least one of these two might be considered miscast, one cannot deny that these two together had a chemistry that worked. Barbra was definitely miscast as the middle aged meddling matchmaker Dolly Levi, but even still, Barbra’s and Walter’s charm came through boldly on screen… even when together. Unfortunately, another pair’s chemistry in this film wouldn’t fare quite so well… Michael Crawford and Marianne McAndrew, which both sported a very weak chemistry. Though, Danny Locklin and E.J. Peaker’s chemistry was brilliant.

This is a film that I expected to feel badly for this casting pair, but surprisingly their chemistry works… even though apparently Barbra and Walter didn’t get along on set.

Unfortunately, Hello Dolly came at a time when musicals were on the way out. The time of breaking into song randomly in the middle of a park singing about love had passed. Those days ended around the early to mid 60s. We would see a brief resurgence of musicals around 1980 (Grease and Victor/Victoria) which would later turn into single individual musical films that occasionally worked for audiences.

Hello Dolly, however, would become one of the first casualties of the audience’s fickle nature, causing this musical film to ultimately bomb at the box office. It would make up that loss much later in rentals and sales long into the future… but in 1969, it bombed hard… not because it wasn’t a good musical, but because 1969 audiences had grown tired of the genre.

Chemistry and the Problems of Star Wars

Star Wars has had a mixed bag of chemistry when it comes to actors. The original trilogy arguably offered the most brilliant casting choices of any of the films. The prequels probably had some of the worst casting choices, particularly the casting of a child actor. The Disney Trilogy’s casting choices were ultimately better than the Prequels, but still worse than the original trilogy. The “Golden Trio” as the original cast is sometimes called is actually the perfect description. It would have been more difficult to find three better actors than the actors chosen for Star Wars: A New Hope.

This casting set the tone for the future films. The sheer brilliant actor chemistry in the three original films carried these films through to conclusion even as the stories weakened. If George had made even one casting change prior to filming, the original Star Wars might not have done as well in the box office. Everything in the original films congealed perfectly to create a juggernaut that couldn’t be stopped… at least, not until the prequels.

Disney’s Questionable Choices

Disney hasn’t helped this series much by creating flaccid and vacuous stories that really don’t say anything significant and, yet, rehash the same tired tropes of the original series. It’s one of the biggest problems with the films. The cast works okay, with the aforementioned chemistry problems. However, the least of Disney’s worries was the casting and chemistry. It was the poor quality stories. These film’s stories are so derivative as to be pointless rehashed film exercises.

There’s nothing truly original in any of the Disney trilogy films. We’ve seen everything in it before and it’s been done better. As the saying goes, “Let sleeping dogs lie”. Disney should have bought LucasFilm and focused on producing new TV series. Leave the film universe alone. Everything that’s been done has already been done better. Disney forcing films down our throats that simply don’t tell us anything new are not films, they’re clones. We’ve already had enough clones in The Clone Wars, we don’t need yet more film clones of the original films.

Disney needed to have brought something new to the table with the Disney trilogy, but unfortunately they failed and they failed hard. That’s not to say that Disney’s films didn’t make money, because they did. Making money and being good quality films are two disparate things. You can make money from a crappy product. Many companies do this everyday with their As-Seen-On-TV junk. Disney is no different. They figured they could shove random rehashed stories down our throats wrapped in a new coat of paint and that it would go unnoticed and be well-received. Well, we noticed.

The films are done and locked. There’s nothing we can do about that. Disney can decanonize them, but that doesn’t make sense. Why would you invalidate a product you spent perhaps a billion to produce and made billions off of? No. The only way Disney can salvage the disaster that is presently Star Wars is to sell the film rights (and the canon) off to Sony, Warner Brothers, Fox or another large studio. Let them right this ship. Only a new studio can truly right the wrongs of Disney. Only they can rewrite the stories over. Only a new studio can decanonize Disney’s efforts and claim it doesn’t exist and do it with impunity.

Chemistry may have caused small problems in Disney’s films, but it is ultimately the crappy stories, the rehashed tropes and the poor writing that did these films in. That’s all on the writers, directors and producers. If these folks can’t understand what crap is, then perhaps they need a new job in a new industry.

Under Disney, the Star Wars brand is not salvageable. Under another studio, it can be salvaged. Disney must sell off LucasFilm to another studio so Star Wars can start anew. There really is no other way. In answer to the original question that began this article regarding chemistry between Daisy Ridley and Adam Driver, no. Just, no.

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What went wrong with Disney’s Star Wars

Posted in botch, business, entertainment by commorancy on December 22, 2019

StarWarsLogoRoundedThis article is not intended to review The Rise of Skywalker, even though it is in the theaters as I write this. I will write a lengthy review of this final film later. No, this article is intended to explain what went wrong at Disney with Disney’s not-so-recently acquired Star Wars property. Let’s explore.


Star Wars as a Serial

When George Lucas envisioned Star Wars, he envisioned it as a new take on the Saturday morning “Damsel in Distress” story. In fact, he held true to that vision throughout the Star Wars Original Trilogy (Episodes 4, 5 and 6) and even into the Star Wars Prequel Trilogy (Episodes 1, 2 and 3). I’ll deep dive into how these two separate trilogies manifested this “Damsel in Distress” Saturday morning serial ideal.

Prequels

While George’s Prequel trilogy story idea was, for the most part, a snoozefest, George maintained and held true to his Saturday morning serial idea of the female heroine coming under constant distress. If you review Padmé Amadala’s role in films 1, 2 and 3, this idea is readily apparent. In the first film, Padmé’s planet of Naboo comes under fire requiring help… and she, with the help of two Jedi, makes her way to Coruscant to plead her case. Along the way, she runs into all sorts of treacherous situations where her new found Jedi colleagues have to bail her out. These situations are not necessarily of her own making, but they are situations that require rescuing her. In The Phantom Menace, however, there weren’t a lot of occasions where Padmé needed rescuing personally, but there were global situations that warranted her protection by the Jedi.

However, this constant motif of peril and rescue is an important story element in George’s Star Wars universe no matter the form it takes. This situation happens with more and more regularity as the prequels progress, putting Padmé in ever more and more perilous situations requiring rescue by someone… someone like Obi-Wan on Geonosis and again someone like Anakin. Further we see Anakin rescue her again and again once he becomes her lover. This peril and rescue story element sets up incredible tensions and keeps the story narrative flowing properly. It also breeds another story motif which I’ll describe shortly.

Even as much as the acting was stilted and wooden, this “Damsel in Distress” motif comes through clear as day.

Midquels

During Episodes 4, 5 and 6, Princess Leia is the damsel. In these films, once again, Leia is set into ever more and more perilous and precarious situations requiring rescue by Luke, Han, Chewy and on occasion, even Lando. It’s a never ending motif that lends credence to the story and helps the audience keep its eye on the ball.

I’ll point out a few of these. Leia’s rescue by Luke during the swing across in A New Hope. Leia’s rescue by Han from Hoth Base in The Empire Strikes Back. Leia’s rescue by Han at the end of Return of the Jedi after being injured. Leia’s rescue from being Jabba’s slave. There’s nothing more motivating to another character and satisfying from the audience than getting the damsel out of harm’s way. Such a situation allows a character to overcome insurmountable odds to achieve success to save the damsel. This one is yet another motif that is common in Star Wars… “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds”. This motif is in all of the films, even Disney’s versions. But, the two concepts of “Damsel in Distress” and “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” go hand-in-hand. The characters need motivation to put themselves in very dangerous situations (and for the audience to believe it — eye on the ball). Thus, rescuing the a lead character, male or female, is just the motivation the character needs.

After all, Luke’s motivation for defeating the Death Star in Star Wars was predicated on saving Princess Leia (and the rest of the rebellion, of course). Luke, however, had personal stakes in this fight. Even Han’s last minute rescue of Luke was born out of both vying for Leia’s attentions. Both Luke and Han knew what they stood to lose (or gain). Luke then was able to overcome insurmountable odds by leveraging the force.

Disney’s Sequels

Here’s were things begin to go awry, but not right from the start. The Force Awakens manages to keep both the “Damsel in Distress” and the “Overcoming Insurmountable Odds” motifs mostly in-check throughout most of the film. In fact, The Force Awakens uses Finn as the agent to carry this motif along throughout most of this first Sequel film. Unfortunately, this motif remained relatively paper thin and Finn is unable to “save” Rey most of the time simply because Rey is not in danger. However, JJ is very good at copying ideas, but not at implementing them properly. For this first film in the final trilogy, these two important story motifs manage to maintain their place mostly within The Force Awakens, but only weakly. Although, by the end of The Force Awakens, these motifs begin to fail by seeing Rey become far too powerful and far too independent way before she should have. In fact, by the end of the film, Rey was so capable of managing to save herself, no other characters really needed to be there to help her.

By the second film, The Last Jedi, the “Damsel in Distress” motif was entirely tossed aside. No more saving Rey. It just wouldn’t be a motif in the film at all. Rey was such an independent and powerful “Mary Sue” that she could handle any situation with ease. No need to have Finn, Poe or any other character feel the need to “save Rey”. For as far as they were concerned, she didn’t need saving. The removal of the “Damsel in Distress” motif yanked out one of the core themes of this “Saturday Morning Serial”. It also left many fans disenchanted by this change in direction of Star Wars.

By The Rise of Skywalker, not only does the series entirely abandon the idea of “Damsel in Distress”, it throws the idea in the face of audience as entirely unnecessary. It states definitively that Rey is a “Mary Sue” of the highest order and is fully capable of rescuing herself without need of anyone else. No longer is Star Wars about being a team effort, it’s about a single person’s rise to power… something which the Jedi order actually forbid.

…. And here is where Disney’s Star Wars falters ….

By The Last Jedi, Rey is so capable of saving herself that there’s no need for anyone to “come save her”, not even when strapped into an interrogation chair when Kylo is laying the figurative thumbscrews to her.

When Leia is trapped in a cell on the Death Star in A New Hope, Luke and Han hatch a plan to save her against impossible odds… and they succeed, even if not for the garbage shoot. When Rey is trapped in a cell on Kylo’s carrier, no one hatches any plans to save Rey. She has to save herself. In The Rise of Skywalker, it goes way beyond that. Rey has become so powerful and self-sufficient, anyone trying to “save” her would look like an idiot. This is the reason why Disney’s Star Wars has more in common with fan fiction than it does actual canon. Disney has effectively turned Star Wars into a series about wish fulfillment.

Star Wars was not and has never been about empowering the female lead to become entirely self-sufficient and “save the galaxy” by herself (like Holdo). Star Wars was also not about wish fulfillment. Star Wars is about having a team of people save each other, but specifically still managing to afford the “Damsel in Distress” motif at times. Even still, it wasn’t always the damsel who always needs saving in Episodes 1 through 6, but Leia did need help relatively frequently. After all, Leia did have to rescue Han after being frozen in Carbonite and sent to Tattoine… an alternate form of “Damsel in Distress”. This motif is not always about rescuing a female. It’s about a team effort of rescuing each other against great odds.

While the “Damsel in Distress” motif may be considered a bit antiquated in these more female empowering times, it still has a place in storytelling… and in particular, it is a key element of Star Wars that simply can’t be discarded. Star Wars is, for better or worse, stories about the female ending up in situations needing assistance by her male cohorts. Though, setting up the reverse in today’s times might be perfectly acceptable.

Unfortunately, Disney has lost its way in this franchise. It sacrificed the core “Damsel in Distress” motif to its own sociopolitical ideals of “female independence and empowerment”. Female independence is not a central theme in the Star Wars cinematic universe and never has been. Star Wars is a story about working together as a “team” (male or female) to create a positive end result.

Listening to Leia’s speech on Hoth to her pilots right before battle sums up what Star Wars is about. I can hear some people saying, “Well it should be about female independence”. I counter with, look at how that turned out for both The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker… hint: not well. Even trying such shtick as “Role Reversal” (aka 2016’s Ghostbusters) is so obvious as to what it is, it’s almost impossible to avoid the backlash. The Star Wars universe has already overcome such petty squabbles such as “female” versus “male”. In Star Wars, the characters live in a universe where the most important thing is SURVIVAL, not which gender is most important.

While a Star Wars TV series may be able to expand on many different motifs, including delving into female empowerment, due its lengthy episodic nature, theatrical releases have only a few precious minutes to unfold a story that makes sense using the existing Star Wars motifs. Holding true to the Star Wars original story methodologies and ideals would have fared far better for Disney than what we were handed in Disney’s trilogy.

I liken this problem to the idea of “tossing out the baby with the bathwater”. It may solve a certain problem, but it creates more problems than it solves (aka JJ’s 2009’s Star Trek reboot). With Disney, that’s where we are… and that’s why Disney’s Star Wars films consistently draw fan ire, contempt and criticism.

This article is not intended to describe everything wrong with Disney’s Star Wars. Instead, it is intended to draw attention where Disney first went astray from what Star Wars is fundamentally designed to be. Clearly, there are many, many more story and situational problems within Episodes 7, 8 and 9. However, all of these other problems stemmed directly or indirectly from the primary problem described above.

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Rebuttal: Kelly Marie Tran’s NYT Op-Ed Piece

Posted in Employment, entertainment by commorancy on August 21, 2018

Rose and FinWhile I can’t identify with Kelly Marie Tran’s problems growing up as an Asian female as she describes in the New York Times, I definitely feel she has made some very empowering points regarding her observations. However, I also believe Ms. Tran missed some points that many Star Wars fans were trying to address within the Star Wars series. Let’s explore.

Haters Gonna Hate

It doesn’t matter much how much of a celebrity you are, you can’t please everyone. This is simply not possible. In fact, it’s not even worth trying. However, the bigger of a celebrity you become, the more of these folks will appear and attempt to make your life miserable. You can’t let them. This is why everyone needs to make a decision about social media and celebrity. I don’t know a specific number, but I’d venture to guess you’ll find at least 40% of the people at most social media sites spout some form of vitriol towards at least one or more people. Perhaps that number is even higher. While I personally believe vitriol has no place on social media, I acknowledge that it exists.

Judgmental Society

No matter who you are, you can’t let the vitriol define you.. not on Twitter, not on Facebook, not on YouTube, not on any other social site. Criticism is everywhere in every form everyday. It happens when you drive your car. It happens when you eat out at restaurants. It happens when you drink at a bar. It happens when you post pictures to Instagram. Simply… it happens. Everyone around you is always judging you.

People judge you for what you wear, how you look, how you walk, how you talk, how you act, what you say, your shoes, how your hair looks, your makeup… etc. People judge other people everyday. You can’t stop it. You can’t do anything about it. But, what you can do is ignore it.

I know it’s hard, particularly if people use cruel words that you read or that you can hear. However, you can’t live your life by other people’s judgement of you. You must live for yourself, not for anyone else. If you find someone who is particularly cruel or judgmental, eliminate them from your life. You don’t need Negative Nancys and Toxic Tommys around you. Simply cut those naysayers off. That doesn’t mean killing your entire social media presence, but it does mean actively using the moderation tools given by these sites to block those who only serve to harass you.

Constructive Criticism vs Prejudice

In any profession where you must perform, act, sing or even create visual art, your work will be criticized. Some people will like your work, some won’t. Many will be vocal about that criticism. As I said, you can’t please everyone. Criticism is the unpleasant part of the performing and visual arts. But, it doesn’t have to define you. When reading criticism, you must always review that criticism objectively. If you don’t, you’ll always assume that everything is a personal attack. Step back and see it for what it is, someone else’s problem. Not yours.

Someone who is looking at your work isn’t necessarily judging you personally, even if it may seem that way. If you put your acting skills up onto a silver screen, people will judge that work in the context of that entertainment. As I said, some will like it, some won’t. If you’re an actor and you don’t understand this concept, then you probably chose the wrong profession. The same goes for any other performing or visual artist.

Basically, if you can’t take criticism of your work, then you should consider a profession that doesn’t require putting so much of yourself out there to be judged in harsh ways.

What this all means… it seems Ms. Tran is a little bit too sensitive to be a celebrity in today’s Hollywood. It’s a rough business to begin with. If you feel dejected every time you release a film or because fans tongue lash you, then you’re way out of your element.

Star Wars fandom and Acting Roles

What’s worse, a lot of Star Wars fans can’t seem to distinguish an actor from the role they play. Ms. Tran did the best with the material she was handed by Rian Johnson. None of the vitriol aimed at her after the film’s release is in any way justified. However, being judged and criticized is part of being an actress and part of the Hollywood business. That is something you need to accept being in the public eye.

However, if Ms. Tran is guilty of anything in this, she’s guilty of not understanding the reason behind why the Star Wars team cast her in the role. This casting reason is not her fault, but it is her fault in failing to foresee and act on the potential problems caused by her being cast in that role. She states she was the first Asian female lead in a Star Wars movie. True. Though, we need to read on to find out why she might not want to be proud of that fact here.

I can fully understand Ms. Tran’s temporary blindness of insight she might have suffered after her agent told her she got the role. Seriously, who wouldn’t want to appear in a Star Wars movie? With that said, this franchise was already off on the wrong foot with the affirmative action program enacted by The Force Awakens casting folks. It was completely foreseeable that this program would both carry forward and escalate within The Last Jedi. To no one’s surprise, it did.

There was absolutely nothing wrong with Ms. Tran accepting a part in The Last Jedi… had the part been anything other than blatant attempt by the filmmakers to escalate an affirmative action program by creating a character and a role that didn’t need to exist. This is what Ms. Tran should have foreseen. This is what she should have understood about that role she accepted. This point was crystal clear to me the moment her final scene appears on the screen. This is what her gut should have told her before accepting the part. This is what her agent should have seen and explained to her. This is what she likely would have understood by reading the script in full. These were all mistakes made by her and the team around her. She was more than likely blinded by the words, Star Wars.

Film Roles can Backfire

Not every film role that an actor or actress accepts will be a success. Sometimes the filmed work never makes it into the final film. Sometimes the role is wrong for the actor. Sometimes roles occasionally end up backfiring on the actor or actress. This goes with the territory. No one can fully understand the consequences of a role they might accept until a film is released. However, an actor can usually ascertain if the filmmaker has created a part that is genuinely necessary to a film by reading the script. You can’t blindly take the word of any filmmaker, you need to read each script and understand the full role being offered.

In other words, as an actor, you shouldn’t jump into a part because it has a name like Star Wars which blinds you in excitement. You still need to do your due diligence to understand if the part fits with your personal ideals before accepting it. As an actor, you always want to be taken seriously. You don’t want yourself and your craft to become the butt of an inside joke only to become immortalized on the silver screen. You don’t want your craft to be taken advantage of by a filmmaker’s personal agenda. This is the reason that doing research about the project, even a high profile project like Star Wars, is extremely important.

In fact, this problem is not limited to the entertainment profession. You need to always research the company and the folks where you might consider working. If their company ideals don’t match with your own personal ideals, you likely won’t be happy in a job there.

Star Wars as a franchise

Rian Johnson broke away from the Star Wars mold by introducing a new lead character in the middle of an existing storyline. One might argue he introduced two of these. Yes, but kind of. Holdo was technically a dispensable secondary character. The new lead role was for a love interest to Fin, Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran). There’s a right way and a wrong way to introduce new lead characters into a narrative. Rian Johnson did it entirely the wrong way. Not only was the Rose Tico character’s presence entirely unnecessary for the greater narrative, Rose also served no real purpose in the side narrative. Rose’s presence, in fact, only served to distract the storytelling of the greater narrative.

That story and character problem is most definitely not the fault of Kelly Marie Tran. She didn’t have a hand in writing the character or the story to which the character is involved. That’s on Rian Johnson, Kathleen Kennedy and Disney. No, she simply acted the part on film. Unfortunately, many fans don’t understand this fine point in filmmaking. Instead, they see Ms. Tran as the problem. She’s not the problem, she’s the victim. She even admitted that, for a time, she also saw this as her problem.

In fact, the producers were the ones who sowed the seeds of affirmative action in this franchise and they followed through with its execution. That’s a production problem, not an actor problem.

Fans need to wake up and point their vitriol at the place where it belongs, at the producers and Disney. Leave the actors alone. They did their part by acting their role. Kelly Marie Tran performed her part admirably, all things considered. Their job is done. The producers, writers and directors must take the blame for anything related to the film itself, including casting and poor story choices.

Kelly Marie Tran’s Message

While I understand and agree with much of what Kelly Marie Tran describes in her New York Times article, I also agree that Ms. Tran needs to do a bit of soul searching and determine whether being an actress in Hollywood is her best career choice.

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Fan Backlash: What’s wrong with Star Wars?

Posted in botch, business, california, movies by commorancy on July 6, 2018

the-last-jedi-theatricalI’ve been watching several YouTube channels recently… yes, I do watch YouTube. And yes, there has been a huge fan backlash against the latest Star Wars installment, The Last Jedi. Some of these channels outright blame the social justice warriors for the fundamental problem. I don’t agree. The SJWs aren’t to blame, Disney and Kathleen Kennedy are. Let’s explore.

The Original Trilogy

Episodes 4, 5 and 6 are arguably the best of Star Wars. These films were created and conceived by George Lucas. We got a tiny taste of the cutesy characters the Jawas and R2D2 in A New Hope and again with Yoda in The Empire Strikes Back, but these characters were tempered to avoid becoming cartoons. As fans, we were able to mostly ignore these cutesy characters because they were limited in scope and/or served a genuine purpose (more than being cute). George then pushed the bounds again in Return of the Jedi with the Ewoks. These little cutesy bundles of fur were almost entirely “for the kids” and very much cartoons. Thankfully, the introduction of these cuddly characters didn’t entirely ruin the plot of the film. Yes, they were cute, but most of us were able to get over the cute-cuddly teddy bear nature of them. However, George was skating on thin ice with these characters. Many fans weren’t impressed. Still, Return of the Jedi worked as a sufficient ending to the original trilogy.

Thankfully, at the time, social media was non-existent. The only people who could effectively and loudly complain about it were the newspaper critics. The fans had no outlet for their own outrage. The Internet was just budding, email didn’t exist and neither did Twitter, Facebook or any other social site. Fan complaints traveled almost entirely by word of mouth (or via the convention circuit).

The Prequels

By 1999, when Episode 1 — The Phantom Menace premiered, email, text messaging, blogging and even early versions of social media began their rise to becoming ubiquitous. This is the time when fans finally had not only an outlet for their words, but people to read them. Not long after this period of time is when the term ‘social justice warriors’ would be coined. At this time, they were simply called, ‘keyboard warriors’.

When George introduced Jar Jar Binks, he took the cutesy cartoon idea to extremes producing one of the biggest pop icons of the era and simultaneously one of the most derided characters ever to grace the silver screen, let alone a Star Wars film. Many people have a love-hate relationship with Jar Jar.

Not only is Jar Jar very much a cartoon character, he’s also a politically incorrect figure in so many different ways. Not only in his voice, but in his manner of speech and in simply what he says. This is through no fault of the voice actor who portrayed Jar Jar. This is the fault of George Lucas. This is also where Star Wars effectively “jumped the shark”, but not solely because of Jar Jar. Oh certainly, Jar Jar heavily contributed to this, but writing a trilogy long story about the origin of Darth Vader is, well, pretentious. It really doesn’t take 3 films to show the entire Anakin Skywalker story.  That could have been condensed into one film leaving two others to show Darth Vader doing nasty things and birthing the rebellion. Instead of boring senate scenes about trade blockades (*yawn*), we could have been watching Darth Vader and the Emperor fighting the beginnings of the rebellion (much more interesting).

This is where George has not only fallen on that thin ice, he fell through it. This is where George finally got a taste of fan backlash. Backlash that he would have gotten a whole lot faster had social media existed when the Ewoks showed their cute little faces on screen the first time. No, he had to wait until the prequels were released to finally get a taste of what would become Social Justice.

It also didn’t help that George’s revisionist tendencies led him to re-release the original trilogy with updated CGI visuals and modified scenes. In combination with the prequels, this led fans to begin their disenchantment with the direction of the Star Wars film universe. Did it really need to be revised who shot first in the cantina scene?

The Disney Films

Because of George’s less than stellar trilogy story in the prequels (Episodes 1, 2 and 3), George felt downtrodden and unable to produce more Star Wars films. Ultimately, he sold the franchise to Disney.

By 2015, with the release of The Force Awakens, fans were more excited than skeptical. By this time, not only had social media well matured, we now have instant access to it anywhere. Yes, even in the theater while watching it. It was inevitable that people would post their reviews within minutes of exiting the theater, possibly writing it while they were watching. Initially, fan reviews of The Force Awakens were positive. However, as fans mulled over the film on social media and via other means, it became clear just out vacuous this first new installment really was.

Yes, The Force Awakens feels like a Star Wars film, but it isn’t a Star Wars film in structure. It’s a J.J. film. After a few months of mulling over what The Force Awakens meant, it was quickly clear that it simply wasn’t what fans wanted.

Hollywood’s Affirmative Action Plan Initiative

Since at least 2014, the gender and ethnic equality war began in Hollywood in earnest. Since then, Hollywood has been sacrificing its screenplays and film profits (and projects) to the Hollywood Affirmative Action Plan Initiative (HAAPi — pronounced “happy”). Instead of telling stories as written with characters as created, directors and producers now feel the need to rewrite and cast politically correct ethnic and/or gender bending casts at the expense of producing a high quality entertaining film that will become a box office success.

Here are are two examples:

  • 2016’s Ghostbusters reboot was recast entirely with women in the lead roles
  • 2015’s Johnny Storm was recast as a black male against his white female sister in the latest failed Fantastic Four… not how the comic was written.

Both of these films I’d classify as box office bombs sacrificed to HAAPi. Bill Cosby and Harvey Weinstein have additionally been sacrificed to this movement. I’m not sure if the women of Hollywood intend to bring down the entire film industry or what exactly is their agenda, but trying these silly shenanigans in an effort to force a cast of women and ethnic minorities at the expense of a logical story is insane.

I am 100% for gender and ethnic diversity in casting … When. It. Makes. Sense. Don’t do it because you can, do it because the story requires it.

Do you want to make money or do you want to make a point? Let’s hope this trend ends before all of the studios in Hollywood end up bankrupt. On the other hand, perhaps it is time for Hollywood’s day to end.

The Last Jedi

To some extent, The Force Awakens’s sacrifice to HAAPi was both inevitable and thwarted. Because this was the first installment and these were brand new characters, we ignored HAAPi (for the most part). As excited fans, we were able to look past HAAPi and ignore any specific casting defects in starring roles.

However with The Last Jedi (helmed not by J.J. Abrams like The Force Awakens, but by Rian Johnson), this film not only succumbed to HAAPi, but slapped us fans in the face with it like a dead fish. Instead of casting smart, Johnson (and Kennedy) cast HAAPi. With Rose Tico, we ended up with an Asian female. There’s nothing specifically wrong with this casting choice if it had happened in The Force Awakens. Instead, because of HAAPi, this character was shoehorned into a main character role at a time when the character was not needed. This character was also shoehorned into a plot device that just didn’t work. In fact, the entire romp between Finn and Rose was entirely pointless for this film and wasted about 15-20 minutes of screen time. Perhaps the resistance ring Rose handed to the boy may have some level of significance in the final film… or it may not. That ring could have been given to the boy in so many other better ways by already established characters.

Also, why introduce Rose at all? She’s a wrench jockey who fixes things. She doesn’t appear to have force powers. What is she likely to bring to the story of any real importance? You can introduce a Rose-like character in a series like Clone Wars or Rebels because it’s a multipart series. There are so many episodes, characters need to come and go. In a trilogy, every character introduction counts. And, such an introduction takes away character development time from other characters. We already don’t know enough about Finn, Poe and Rey, we don’t need yet fourth character to have to get to know.

The reason Star Wars the original trilogy worked is primarily because of the triangle lead roles of Luke, Leia and Han. We had that triangle going with Finn, Poe and Rey. Yet, now we have Finn, Poe, Rey and Rose (?). This character has upset that triangle. If you’re going to do that, then the story should have introduced this character in the opening film to this trilogy.

The Rose problem exists entirely because, like 2016’s Ghostbusters and 2015’s Fantastic Four, The Last Jedi has been sacrificed to HAAPi to solve a perceived film deficiency, not because the story needs it. This time, however, fans were able to lift the HAAPi veil and see through it for what it is… sad. And so, the fan backlash ensues.

Star Wars is a fantasy series. Bringing Hollywood casting agendas into a film’s story isn’t what fans want to see. This not only insults the fans’ intelligence, it insults the fans. What else would Disney expect to happen? Using a franchise like Star Wars to further a Hollywood agenda is entirely insane. Disney and Kathleen Kennedy, you need to get your shit together and wake up. HAAPi is trying to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and it doesn’t belong in Star Wars.

The Final Film

This film has not yet released as of this article. However, it’s almost certain that not only will this film bomb at the box office, it may end the franchise entirely. Disney would be wise to shelve this last film and any future Star Wars film projects until this whole thing blows over… and Disney, you need dump the current team working on it including Kathleen Kennedy.

Let the final film stew for a few years. Make the fans wait until they clamor for it. Make the fans want it. Putting it out right now is a recipe for box office failure. This franchise is already skating on thin ice because of HAAPi. It’s almost certain that the final film will also be sacrificed to HAAPi. Abusing HAAPi makes me (and many other Star Wars fans) very, very sad.

What is an inclusion rider?

Posted in california, Employment, film by commorancy on March 5, 2018

As Francis McDormond spoke while accepting her Oscar, she left the audience with two final words, “inclusion rider”. What is it? Let’s explore.

Hollywood Contracts

Being a Hollywood actor, director, writer, cinematographer, producer or other cast or crew requires signing a contract with the production for employment. Contracts, as we all know, are legal agreements that you legally agree do whatever is stipulated within the contract. If you’re an actor, you’ll act. If you’re a producer, you’ll produce…. and so on.

However, there are also other items that can be added to contracts to make them sweeter, such as getting a percentage of the back end. The back end could include residuals from such things as box office sales, merchandising, video sales, rentals, etc etc. These can make whatever that person got paid even sweeter. If the production does well, that percentage of the back end could mean an even bigger paycheck. It’s always reasonable to try and negotiate percentages in productions, and while many lead actors and actresses try, getting that deal isn’t always possible. Negotiation of a back end deal is a form of rider. However, this is not the type of rider of which Francis McDormond speaks.

Affirmative Action

Before Affirmative Action began, minorities didn’t get their fair share of consideration during the hiring processes in many companies. Affirmative Action was created to ensure that employers remain equal opportunity for anyone who chooses to apply for a position. This means that an employer cannot turn away anyone for the position solely based on race, creed, color or national origin (among others). The idea is that everyone must be considered for the position equally so long as they have the necessary skills and qualifications. What does this have to do with an ‘inclusion rider’? Everything..

Inclusion Rider

Hollywood is facing its biggest upheaval in many, many years. With the fall of Harvey Weinstein (and many others), Hollywood faces much scrutiny over unfair practices in productions against not only minorities, but also against women. In particular, McDormand refers to the fact that women have been unfairly treated in Hollywood for far too long. Not only in the sex object perspective, but also from a pay perspective. Francis McDormand’s comment conveys a ton of information in those two words.

An inclusion rider is a legal addition to a contract, specifically, a movie production contract, to ensure that women are fairly compensated and properly represented within the production. However, there’s a whole lot more veiled in these two words. In particular, McDormand’s comment was intended toward the Hollywood A-Listers who command not only a high salary, but a lot of negotiating power when it comes to their employment contracts.

Basically, an inclusion rider means hiring folks into the production in all capacities that represent all ages, creeds, colors, races, lifestyles, genders and so on. Unfortunately this also means sometimes shoehorning cast members into a production who don’t fit the story or setting of the film. For example, the most recent Fantastic Four is a very good example of the use of an ‘inclusion rider’ on the cast. This production hired a black actor for Johnny Storm. This is so far out of place from the original FF comics, it actually made no sense. Basically, that film version took extreme liberties from the the source material of Fantastic Four and rewrote that Susan Storm was adopted into a black family! This was never the case in the comics. In the comics, Susan and Johnny Storm were actual siblings, not adopted siblings and not from a mixed race family. Unfortunately, the production shoehorned in this black actor into this role without thinking through if it made any sense to the source comic material. This is when an ‘inclusion rider’ goes way too far and gets in the way of the casting for the production. To be fair, that casting mistake (and it was a relatively big one) was actually one of the lesser problems with that film version of Fantastic Four. Though, it didn’t help either.

The second example is Star Wars: The Force Awakens. J.J. Abrams intentionally requested a diverse set of ethnicities to be represented in the Star Wars reboot. However, because these stories didn’t exist, casting these characters wasn’t as big of a problem like The Fantastic Four. However, by The Last Jedi, the production had shoehorned the newest character, Rose, played by the Asian female actress, Kelly Marie Tran. Apparently, the production thought they didn’t yet have enough ethnicities represented and threw in yet another another character at a time when the production already had too many characters in the cast. The Rose character just doesn’t work. Sure, they added an Asian female actress, but that was too little, too late for the China audience. China had already written off the latest Star Wars as stupid way before Rose joined the cast. The casting of Rose did not in any way help sway China to accept these newest Star Wars films.

Is an inclusion rider good or bad or even necessary?

I’ll leave that for you to decide. However, from my perspective, the source story material should always rule the roost. An inclusion rider should never attempt to shoehorn diversity in actors or actresses simply because it’s politically correct. If you’re a producer who’s adapting an existing novel to the big screen that contains primarily white male characters as the leads among similar background characters, you shouldn’t recast them using to black, Asian, Latino or female roles just because of an inclusion rider. You should also not include extras who are demographically out of place or who don’t make sense for the source story. The source material should always be upheld for casting as the source story dictates. If you can’t cast a film the way the book is written, you should find another book to translate to film that fits your casting ideals.

Rewriting the source material’s story just to fulfill an inclusion rider is not only heavy handed, it’s insanely stupid, insipid and likely to cause the production to flop. The characters in a book are written to be a certain way and that’s why the story works. If you’re adapting that book to film, you should make sure that you’re being faithful to the source material which doesn’t include changing genders or the ethnicity of any character in a book just to fulfill an inclusion rider. Stick with the source material or expect your movie to fail at the box office.

See: Fantastic Four (2015) and Ghostbusters (2016) to understand just how badly ‘inclusion riders’ can affect your final product.

If you’re writing an original story for film, then by all means write the story so that the characters can be cast in the way that makes the most sense for your production’s inclusion riders. But, don’t bastardize an existing book or adaptation just to fill the cast with random genders and ethnicities that don’t make logical sense for the story or the setting.

As for whether an inclusion rider is even necessary is entirely up to the actor to negotiate. If you feel it’s important for your participation in the film, then yes. But, what’s really more important is you doing your best work possible with the cast who’s hired. Putting unnecessary demands on the producers might, in the long run, hurt your career longevity. That decision, however, is entirely up to you.

Best Production Possible

As a producer, don’t tie your production’s hands unnecessarily by adding stipulations that limit the potential quality of your project. You want your project to succeed, right? Then, keep all of your options open. Adding an inclusion rider that limits your hiring practice may, in fact, limit your production’s chances of succeeding. Don’t limit your production solely to hire under-represented minority groups. Do it because it makes sense for the film’s story and to make that story’s setting more authentic, not because you have an inclusion rider present.

Hiring Values

As for your behind-the-scenes production crew, by all means, hire as diverse as you possibly can. The more diverse the better. As with any business, and don’t kid yourself that a film production isn’t a business, diversity in hiring applies just as much the crew as any other employee in any other business. Diversity in hiring should be included in any capacity that your film needs. Of course, these folks are all behind the camera. However, hire smart, not diverse. This means that you don’t hire just because you want diversity. Hire because the person has the right skills for the job… which means, don’t turn away well qualified Caucasian candidates just because you want to hire diverse. Hire each one of your positions because the candidate offers the skills you need to get the job done, not because of an inclusion rider. Hire for skills, not diversity.

For the cast members in front of the camera, always hire the cast that makes the most sense for the story and produces the most authentic results. Don’t hire diversely just to fill a quota because you feel that an ethnic, lifestyle or gender group is underrepresented on film. That’s the wrong reason to hire a cast. Hire a cast that makes proper sense to tell the story. If that means diversity, great. If it means all white females or all black males, then that’s what the story needs. The story should dictate the cast, not an inclusion rider.

Original Hollywood Sign photo by raindog808 via Flickr using CC 2.0 license

Movie Review — Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Posted in entertainment, movies by commorancy on January 7, 2018

the-last-jedi-theatrical[Alert: This review may contain spoilers. Though, I have done my best to not to reveal critical plot points and only discuss the technical merits of the film as a whole, you should decide for yourself what is a spoiler. If you are interested in seeing this movie, you should stop reading now, bookmark this review and read it after.]

The Last Jedi is a very long film. Clocking in at 152 minutes, it seems like a marathon. After trailers, your time spent can easily exceed 3 hours sitting inside of a theater. Giving up 3 hours of your life for a mediocre Disney romp is a very tough indeed. Movies with run times close to 3 hours also need an intermission. Let’s explore.

The Force Awakens

I want to like The Last Jedi. I really do. This film begins pretty much where The Force Awakens leaves off. If you’re interested, please check out both my The Force Awakens review and my The Force Awakens Analysis from 2015. If you haven’t seen The Force Awakens recently or at all, see it first. I will also state that my review of The Force Awakens is generally positive touting the look and feel. That look and feel is still retained in The Last Jedi, but I also expected The Last Jedi to have grown and matured this story. Unfortunately, it hasn’t matured nearly enough. With that said, The Last Jedi features lots of battles both in ship and out of ship with blasters and with lightsabers, but no battles of consequence. This film typifies what’s wrong with Hollywood writers. They have no vision. This problem is no more evident than in the many stories that unfold in this romp. There are certainly lots of plot contrivances and save-the-day tropes, but nothing new or notable to see (or say) here. It doesn’t expand on the Star Wars universe in any new or compelling way. It just uses the universe and abuses all of its existing George Lucas tropes, but never feels fresh, new or exciting. It doesn’t even feel like the writers truly understand or ‘get’ this universe or its inhabitants. It almost feels like professionally made fan fiction.

Middle Film Dilemma

Of course, this is a middle film. So, it can’t exactly resolve what was started, but it does its level best to make a dent in what will close out this trilogy. Unfortunately, this film is far too ambitious, trying to interweave too many side stories and not telling any one of them particularly well. There’s the Poe-as-a-rebelious-officer thread. There’s the Finn vs Nobody-Mechanic love interest thread that appears out of nowhere. There’s the Luke vs Rey thread. There’s the Leia vs Poe thread. There’s the Snoke vs Kylo vs Rey thread. There’s the topsy-turvy Rey and Kylo force connection thread. There’s the Millenium Falcon thread. There’s the useless Moz Kanata thread. There’s the new general who appears out of nowhere and gets killed thread. There’s the Phasma vs Finn thread. There’s the Luke vs Kylo thread. There are even more threads than that. There are far, far too many different story threads all competing for precious screen time.

For a middle film, the primary story arc should have been front and center. The rest of the story arcs should have been side stories for character development purposes. You know, stories to flesh out a character’s backstory, likes and dislikes, ruthlessness, charisma, scoundrelness, etc. These are why there are side stories. We need to get to know the characters while the main story is unfolding. And this is the problem with this new trilogy.

We still don’t know anything about Rey or Poe or Finn. Yes, we know Rey was a scavenger based on The Force Awakens, but there is no information immediately before that? Was she a scavenger her whole life? Clearly, she knows how to handle herself with that staff. So, that means she’s seen combat before. What other adventures has she had? What about Poe? He’s been in the Resistance for quite some time. He’s got stories. Where are those? And Finn, he was in the First Order. He’s definitely got stories. His field trip to Jakku in The Force Awakens can’t have been his first time out with The First Order. Yet, it’s like these characters began their existence at the start of The Force Awakens. We still don’t know anything about them even after The Last Jedi ends. Come on writers, give us stories that develop the characters.

Hack Writers

This story needs to be simplified, reduced, rewritten and refocused. The Last Jedi is all over the place and, at the same time forces the writers to cut too many story corners to make ends meet. It also sacrifices character development for unnecessary action scenes and CGI. It’s the typical Hollywood blockbuster writing team that cares less about making sense and more about writing too many threads and then cheating to close those threads because they’ve simply run out of time. It is, for example, killing off much loved characters like Luke, not in glorious battle, but alone on a remote planet using some extraordinary force power he has never once exhibited before. It is tying Kylo to Rey with some kind of force sensitive connection that allows them to communicate over vast distances, which isn’t explained and wasn’t even hinted at in The Force Awakens (the hallmark of bad writers). It’s Poe and Rey and Finn all running off on their own missions, not working together. It’s Finn and Nobody-Mechanic off on a mission to save the fleet with no backing and who are destined to fail (and they do) because of a cheap mole trope. And, to top off the cheesiest of the cheesy plot devices, Leia being blown into the vacuum of space and then exhibiting a force power she has never once even hinted at to inexplicably pull herself from space (with no oxygen) back into the ship, flying like Superman. Wait… what? Am I watching a Marvel superhero movie? C’mon writers, at least throw us a bone with Leia and set this up beforehand.

I’m torn. I want new original story ideas, but not like this. On the other hand, I’m almost now wanting to see copycat stories from the original trilogy because at least copying those formulas might actually work better than this disjointed romp of a movie. Let’s hope that whomever they get to write the last installment can get their head out of their ass and actually produce a cohesive focused ending that makes more sense than these too many unnecessary and unfocused dead end threads in The Last Jedi.

Cliché Story

The story starts off with a rag tag fleet of rebels on the run in space trying to find a new base. Unfortunately, the long of the short of it is, the fleet can’t get a break. Every time they think they are ahead of the game with the First Order, somehow they are found. In the opening of the film, the First Order fleet begins beating the crap out of the Resistance fleet and destroying their ships one at a time. Poe in an extraordinarily brave and stupid move, decides to order the last few bombers of the Resistance to attack a Dreadnought (a glorified battle cruiser). After that ship is destroyed and everyone celebrates for an instant, Leia looks at the amount of ships that were destroyed to make that sacrifice and figuratively face palms. Then they hyperspace jump.

Suffice it to say, this face palm sets the tone of the entire film to come. The scene switches to the planet Luke is on and we continue the story just as The Force Awakens left it. Rey does a whole bunch of nothing with Luke. At this point we’re back with the fleet. We continue with more yelling, screaming, blowing up ships and posturing from both the First Order and from the Resistance. This cat and mouse game continues throughout the entire run of the film until the Resistance thinks they’ve gotten a break on an old fortified rebel base planet. But, that’s just a pipe dream because the First Order, yet again, comes knocking. At this point, the First Order deploys a logic probe (oops, this isn’t Tron)… er, I mean an energy weapon that knocks down the base’s big metal door.

By this time Rey and Kylo are friends and Snoke, well, let’s just say he’s having a divided moment. Back on the new rebel base, Luke chimes in with his new improved ‘magical power’ and begins to taunt Kylo (after Rey runs off) into doing stupid things based on emotion. Rey is nowhere to be found as yet and Finn has decided to ram his speeder into the energy cannon when Nobody-Mechanic knocks him out of the sky for a love-story-then-pass-out trope.

The whole thing comes to a close while Kylo is occupied and the Resistance makes their way to some place safer.

I’m leaving a lot of stuff out.. It’s almost 3 hours. Overall, the contrived storytelling of the rag tag fleet barely making it to the next step each time is an old twice told trope. It’s already been done in Battlestar Galactica, but so much better. There are so many ways this story could have unfolded, but this is not how I would have written it. The fun of Luke, Leia and Han is that they worked together most of the time… only splitting up occasionally. Finn, Rey and Poe are almost never together in a scene. If you’re going to write for a triangle of characters, at least put them together at some point for a together adventure.

The final scene is of a foretelling. It’s of a child holding a broom like a lightsaber. Let’s just hope that by the time this child makes it into the final film that he isn’t still a child. No child actors in the final act, please.

Star Wars Droids in the Story

One thing that has been totally lost on Disney’s Star Wars writers is that the Star Wars story is, more or less, told from the point of view of the droids (R2D2 and C3PO). Meaning, the droids are in almost every scene because they are both helping the heroes and recounting it from their droidy perspective. Since Disney began their version of Star Wars, that idea has been almost completely lost. I say almost because The Force Awakens and to a far lesser extent, The Last Jedi, tried to keep this idea alive with BB-8. However, in both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi, there are long stretches of story where there were no droids present at all. When BB-8 is included as a main character or even a plot element, the scene works well. When not, the scene is dry and boring. For example, in The Last Jedi, it’s funny when we finally get to see BB-8 driving an AT-ST walker. Unfortunately, it’s just a token gesture from the writers. They don’t keep it going. The reason it’s important to include the droids in the scenes is that they 1) make for excellent comic relief, 2) they help the heroes get things done with computers and 3) they are the perfect storytellers for such a romp. Unfortunately, BB-8 really had no substantial role in The Last Jedi other than being used as a trope to tie up loose ends. The original Star Wars trilogy showed us just how important droids are to the success of not only the missions, but to the film’s success.

Story Misnaming

This is the second film of, I am assuming, a trilogy. The Force Awakens was the first. However, even at the end of The Force Awakens, we still didn’t know who that awakening referred to. Was it Rey? Was it Finn? Was it Poe? Was it someone else?

At the end of The Last Jedi, we exit the theater asking the same exact question of both this title and of The Force Awakens. Who is The Last Jedi? Who really awakened? In fact, the film postulates the question that there is no such concept as a ‘last Jedi’. Luke explains that even if every last Jedi falls, another will rise on their own because the Force so wills it. I would assume this to also mean that there will be at least one Sith because the Force wishes to remain in balance. This means that there can be no last Jedi ever. So, why call this film that? Why call the first film The Force Awakens? If the writers cannot definitively answer the question posed by the title of the film, why produce a film with that title? If the ending of this film is foretelling of the rise of a new Jedi (and/or Sith), then a more apt title for this film should have been The Rise of the New Jedi or The Balance of the Force or The One Jedi.

A New Hope clearly refers to Luke. The Empire Strikes Back is as clear a title for that movie as there ever could be. You clearly understand exactly what the title means by the time you finish the film. Return of the Jedi is, likewise, the perfect title because you know exactly who is returning 15 minutes into the film. There is no question about why these films are named the way they are or what the titles mean. Even the prequel film names worked properly in this way with The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Leaving the theater after the prequels, there is absolutely no question as to why each film was given its respective title.

These Disney Star Wars films, on the other hand, are entirely misnamed. You leave the theater not knowing what the title means or who it refers to. If your writers can’t answer the question that the title poses within that film’s story, then the writers have failed or the title has. This series definitely needs to choose better titles.

Overall

This film is overproduced and the story is clumsily heavy-handed. The film is way too long and unfocused. The Last Jedi is definitely not any better than The Force Awakens. I give this film 2.5 stars out of 5 or in RottenTomatoes grading: 50%. The film is way too long, way too disjointed and it doesn’t congeal into a cohesive whole by the end. I realize this is a middle film and will be somewhat of a cliffhanger, but still, the way that The Empire Strikes Back was handled as a middle film was classic. This film, on the other hand, is entirely mishandled. Though, in some ways it is marginally better than The Force Awakens and in other ways it dearly sucks. The one thing I will say is that the 3D version of The Last Jedi is well done visually, but it doesn’t make the story any more palatable.

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Hot Collectible Toys and Scalping

Posted in business, collectibles, scalping by commorancy on October 4, 2015

I’m tired of it and I really don’t much tolerate it anymore. I’m a memorabilia collector, specifically film franchises and video games. Yet, what I find continually frustrating is the hoarders and scalpers. You know, you go to the store looking for something to be there, but there’s nothing there. But, then you find that collectible on eBay or Amazon in droves marked up to at least twice the price. I’m sick of this. Let’s explore.

Collectibles

Star-Wars-TFA-Elite-Series-Captain-Phasma-1aStar Wars The Force Awakens is right around the corner (December 18th) and the toys and other collectibles are now hitting the store shelves. Yet, you’ll be lucky to find much of it due to hoarders / scalpers. In the 70s, scalping was limited to concert tickets. Since Kenner introduce Star Wars toys, these same folks have now jumped from ticket scalping to collectible scalping. A practice of which I do not approve. I realize what it is. People want to make a few bucks on something. I get it. But, it’s not exactly fair to those of us who actually want to find the item in the store and buy it at retail price. We don’t want to have to resort to shopping on eBay from some would-be scalper at hugely inflated prices.

I really dislike heading over to eBay and finding page after page after page of that item marked up by 50% or more. It would be great if stores could do something about this. I’m glad to see that at least one store is doing something about this. Enter Toys R Us. While it may not be the perfect answer, it’s at least a step in the right direction.

Skylanders Superchargers

NitroStealthStingerMany stores are now releasing exclusives for the Skylanders franchise. For example, Toys R Us tends to get Legendary exclusives. The Legendary Skylanders are typically painted navy blue and gold. Target gets the Nitro series. This series also looks like the Legendary series, dark blue and gold. Sometimes the stores get individual characters, sometimes they get combo packs and sometimes they get play sets. For example some Supercharger exclusives this year include:

  • Target => Nitro Stealth Stinger Vehicle
  • Best Buy => Steel Plated Smash Hit SteelPlatedSmashHit1Legendary-Hurricane-Jet-Vac-02a
  • Toys R Us
    • Legendary Hurricane Jet-Vac
    • Legendary Sky Racing Pack (includes Legendary Astroblast, Legendary Sun Runner and Sky Trophy)

I don’t think Walmart has ordered any Superchargers exclusives yet, but I could be wrong. Though, it is guaranteed there will be more store exclusives in the coming months.

Star Wars The Force Awakens

Since Disney has now taken this franchise and plans on reviving it with at least three new films over the next several years, we will see all sorts of Star Wars merchandise and toys hitting the store shelves, including exclusives at the Disney store. Yes, the Disney store has its own line of exclusives. Specifically, a line of die cast 6.5 inch figures labeled Elite Series (see Phasma above).

Again, you’ll be lucky to find these Elite Series at the Disney store or online. In general, heading into any of these retailers, you’re not likely to easily find these exclusives. Why?

Scalpers and Collectibles

The primary problem is that stores order far too little stock for the number of people who want to buy them. Secondarily, scalpers make off with at least half, if not 3/4 of the limited stock fully intending to place the items onto eBay or Amazon at well inflated prices. Likely only 25-50% of the stock (perhaps even less) actually makes it into actual collector’s hands at retail price. The rest of that stock makes its way onto eBay, Amazon, Craigslist or into comic book shops on consignment at sometimes double the retail price.

Scalping isn’t the intent of these collectibles. The intent is to get the collectibles into the hands of collectors who will actually appreciate the toys and who want to display them, open them and enjoy them. Not into the hands of scalpers who don’t care about the item and whose only motive is to make some quick cash from selling the item.

Let’s understand, though, speculating that a toy will make you any money is about as risky as taking your money to Vegas and playing the slots. You might get something, you might not. You might end up keeping those toys as worthless. What may seem scarce today may end up being the peg warmer tomorrow after the mass shipments arrive. Of course, if you return the item to the retailer before the return period expires, you can get your money back from the store. But, that holds stock back from those who were looking for it. As a scalper, you should be careful about returns. Excessive returns could flag your credit card.

Countering the Scalpers

Because stores can’t know purchasing intent of any individual, they must sell the item to the person with the cash. So, there’s really no way to know if a person is a scalper or if they are a legitimate collector. However, there are other ways to counter this problem and Toys R Us has found the perfect way to do it… by opening an eBay store.

LegendarySkyRacingPackaFor example, Toys R Us’s Legendary Sky Racing Pack (mentioned above) is available exclusively on eBay from Toys R Us at retail price ($35.99). In among the listings for this pack, you’ll see a lot of eBayers with their scalped packs marked at $50, $60 and even $70 plus shipping. You may or may not find this pack in the Toys R Us stores and it is definitely not on their web store. It seems to be exclusively available in the eBay store. For collectors, this is the perfect counter to would-be scalpers. As long as Toys R Us continues to operate an eBay store putting ‘hot toys’ up at retail prices, this will undermine the excessive pricing of those attempting to scalp on eBay. This means those other sellers may have to pull their listing down and will hopefully discourage future scalping attempts.

I wholeheartedly applaud Toys R Us taking this action. It’s not only ingenious selling, it’s the perfect way to stop this problem. I wish even more stores would do this to thwart retail scalping at its source. By not placing that stock onto their web site and instead placing these ‘hot items’ into their eBay store at retail prices, this means is that would-be scalpers have to either drop their prices to match Toys R Us, thus not making any money, or they must eat the toy purchase (or otherwise return it to the store to get their money back).

Excessive Returns

If I were Toys R Us, and when these returns start rolling in, I’d place the people who are returning these ‘hot’ items on a watch list. If they exhibit this same behavior of returning ‘hot collectible toys’, especially in larger quantities, I’d place those people onto a do not sell list across the entire chain. Deny their credit card purchase for future sales of hot collectibles. It’s very easy to tag what’s a hot collectible, so it’s also easy to identify those trying to scalp through returns and then deny sales of future items to these individuals. For those of us collectors who never return our items, this whole issue would never affect us. It would only affect scalpers intent on scalping and returning when ‘things don’t work out’.

Countering unnecessary high prices

Of course, Toys R Us could run out of stock at some point and force people to contemplate a higher priced alternative.  As long as Toys R Us keeps the item in stock, those scalper listings won’t ever sell.

I would love to see the Disney Store, Target, Walmart, Gamestop and other retailers exacting this same selling strategy for their exclusive or hot selling items. Pull the items out of the store and put the stock on eBay and Amazon at retail pricing. Make sure you have well enough stock on hand to keep this store stocked continually. Would-be scalpers would need to think twice about using these outlets to perform their scalping efforts going forward. To Toys R Us, I say, “Bravo”… in attempting to counter this problem at its source. You should expand this concept and do this in more places where scalpers sell. I’d personally like to see the toy and collector scalper market shut down entirely for first run retail collectibles.

When do ‘collectibles’ become actual Collectibles?

Of course, once the stores have discontinued selling the item, the item is no longer available and the items can no longer be returned to the retailer (past the return period), this fully opens up the collectible sales market. However, until first run retail stock is discontinued and depleted and the item is no longer carried by the retailer, I don’t considered it a collectible in the sense that it should command a higher than retail price tag. Though, mistakes and variants have their place as unique, these can command whatever price someone is willing to pay. But, for non-special retail items, it is not a collectible as long as it is carried in the store.

As a collector, I don’t believe any item deserves to be opened up to the collector’s market until the item reaches 10 years in age past first run. But, I do understand that people want to rush their collectible to market to “sell it now”. I just don’t believe that any item should command the true collector price tag until after it reaches the 10 year mark. Though, some collectors rush to complete their collections at all costs. It doesn’t help that some buyers are willing to shell out nearly any amount of cash for something that could be had at a retail store for retail prices. These buyers are just feeding into the scalping frenzy which only serves to keep this cycle going. I’m quite happy to see Toys R Us is taking steps to help shut this market down, at least for the toys and collectibles that they sell. Well done Toys R Us.

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