Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Posted in botch, entertainment, movies, reviews, storytelling by commorancy on December 22, 2021

theriseofskywalkerUsually, I write reviews and analysis immediately after I see a film. Well, I have to be honest, I did just see Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker recently. You might be wondering why that is? Well, let’s explore.

Obligatory Note: This review contains major *spoilers*. Stop reading now if you haven’t seen this film.

Rewarding Poor Business Decisions

I’m not one to necessarily boycott businesses, but with Star Wars I’ve made an exception. I boycotted seeing the film in the theater and I, likewise, boycotted paying money to see it at any rental venue. The reason I saw it last weekend is because finally a channel has released an on-demand version that’s included with something I already pay for.

To be honest, Disney will get a small amount of money from me watching it via on-demand. It’s called the pay-for-play royalty system. That means that every time someone plays it, Disney will derive some amount of money from the playback (probably 10-25¢ at most). I’m okay with that because that’s about what it’s worth. Though, I don’t have to pay directly. I refuse to reward companies for producing crap. I simply won’t do it. I know that this paragraph’s sentiment is entirely brutal… but hey, that’s part of the review.

Retroactive Continuity Bonanza

Congratulations! You’ve hit the Retcon Bonanza! One thing about applying retroactive continuity (retcon) to a story line is that it’s fairly obvious. See, the thing is, retcon runs all through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker in very blatant and obvious ways. I already knew going into The Rise of Skywalker that it would be chock full of retroactive continuity.

So what’s wrong with retconning a story? Let me count the ways.

  1. Trite
  2. Cliché
  3. Poor writing
  4. Bad planning
  5. Bad storytelling
  6. Contrived
  7. Unsatisfying

Great storytelling sets up little bits and pieces all along the way. Then brings those bits and pieces together at the end in a cohesive way to explain why those seemingly unrelated bits and pieces were included. It’s a standard storytelling practice that shows the writer had planning of forethought when crafting their story.

It’s also an immensely satisfying storytelling practice. If you’re an astute observer, you can put these foreshadowing pieces together early to conclude what’s about to occur. If storytellers are too obvious with their clues, it makes guessing the ending too easy. For example, many people were able to easily guess the premise of M. Night Shyamalan’s Sixth Sense, when the ending was all but revealed by four words of dialogue spoken very early in the film. However, this situation also depended heavily on whether you believed the visuals of the film or you chose to believe the spoken words. It also means the writers concocted a poorly conceived clue delivery system. It should have been way more subtle than that. In fact, those words shouldn’t have been uttered until much later in the film.

That’s not the case with The Rise of Skywalker, though. With this film, it wasn’t a matter of clumsy clues. It was the fact that no clues were given at all, not in The Force Awakens and not in The Last Jedi where it makes much more sense to leave these clues behind.

Emperor Palpatine

Palpatine was the primary villain in the first 3 Star Wars films. He was dispatched at the end of Return of the Jedi by being dropped down a power shaft. This villain was firmly dead. However, The Rise of Skywalker latches onto this story context for all that its worth. That, and cloning.

The thing is, Attack of the Clones wasn’t really referenced… or more specifically, Kamino. Specifically mentioning this planet somewhere along the way, such as earlier in The Force Awakens would have set up the notion of cloning as a possibility somewhere in the story. For example, if Snoke had been found to be a clone based on DNA testing or something similar after he’d been chopped in half in The Last Jedi, that would have explained what was said by Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker. Yet, no such reference in either of the first two films exists.

As an another example, even the simple act of dropping Palpatine’s name in any small kind of way, such as mentioning the similarity to Snoke’s villainy. Even simple name dropping can open whole doors up later and it’s those kinds of clues that avoid retroactive continuity problems. Simple name dropping Palpatine or Kamino or Cloners in any capacity along the way in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi would have been enough to prove the writers were thinking about closure of the story at the beginning of it.

Instead, the writers and filmmakers were so self-absorbed in their own self-indulgence that they couldn’t even consider such prior setup in the writing of the first two installments.

To be honest, this is really the fault of J.J. Abrams. He had the task of opening the storyline in The Force Awakens, but fails to really give a hint at what’s to come. Hints and clues are what make great stories. It’s called foreshadowing and it’s an incredibly impressive storytelling tactic when it’s done correctly. When it’s not done at all, then it’s called retroactive continuity… or building a new story by making up establishing facts instantly rather than relying on clues laid down earlier.

Sure, the original films and the prequels had information that could be leveraged, but not in a way that would be seen as clues for Disney’s trilogy. You don’t just pull crap out of the air and hope people somehow magically get the reference. Proper build-up is essential to a story. Without it, it makes a story fail.

Palpatine Again!?

When Palpatine is, again, introduced as “the man behind the curtain” in The Rise of Skywalker, it’s groan time… ugh! I’m thinking, “Not again”. Can’t these guys think up anything original? At least there wasn’t yet a third Death Star… at least we’ve made some progress, I guess. Not much, though.

Bringing Palpatine back to life without really so much as an explanation is such a bad storytelling idea that it makes the rest of the story feel like garbage. You either believe Palpatine is back or you don’t. The worst thing about Palpatine is that he stands there like a statue and simply taunts people with words. Granted, in Return of the Jedi, he was also fairly catatonic. Though, he did get up and walk around a little. In this film, he’s a literal statue standing in one spot the entire time spouting platitudes. It’s his same old tired self-assured, over-confident, self-righteous Sith rhetoric about eliminating the Jedi. He died for those same clichéd thoughts in The Return of the Jedi. Has he learned nothing? You’d think that after his first death at the hands of Vader, he’d be a little more cautious and wiser the second time around. Yet, *crickets*.

The storytellers don’t give Palpatine an ounce of credit as intelligent or thoughtful. The man is made out to be as dumb as brick. Seriously, after Palpatine’s trip down the power conduit, you’d think he’d rethink his over-confident, self-assured, self-righteous threatening demeanor and, instead, try something new. Nope.

Snoke

You might also want to point to Snoke as an example of that, but then you’d be wrong because Snoke was summarily chopped in half midway through The Last Jedi. That was that for Snoke. It’s one thing to use Snoke as a puppet, but it’s clear that that puppet failed utterly to its own demise. Stupid Villains!

Just to make it perfectly clear, none of the above was mentioned anywhere in The Last Jedi. Again, no such clues were left behind for bringing it all together in the end. Nope. No where was it mentioned that Snoke was a puppet of Palpatine, though a clue should have been left somewhere in TLJ if not by Snoke himself. For example, a quick scene where we see Snoke nodding to a shadowy figure in a cloak which fades out followed by Snoke going directly into communication with Ben. That would have been something.

Of course, in Star Wars revisionist tendencies, Disney may go back into both The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi and retrofit dialog, extra scenes and whatnot to shoehorn these clues…. which is an even worse practice than what they did in the contrived storytelling in The Rise of Skywalker. Revisionism has no place in movies, let alone Star Wars films. To be honest, what George Lucas did with his revisionism was add better FX and reintroduce scenes that he wanted, but those changes didn’t fundamentally alter the storyline and were not introduced to ‘fix’ a story problem for a later film.

No, George’s stories were solid from the beginning, so the stories didn’t need ‘fixing’.

Disney Hires Crap Writers

Part of the problem here is that Disney doesn’t have a clue how to run a live action film business, nor exactly what a good live action script is. Disney comes from an animation background. The stories in Disney’s animated films have been simplistic and intended for children.

For some reason, Disney thought they could insinuate themselves into a live action movie business and have those films turn out great. Well, it’s clear, that’s not true.

No where is that more apparent than in how the stories for the Disney Trilogy were handled. The first mistake was hiring J.J. Abrams to write these films. Instead, Disney should have hired actual film writers with experience in writing. Before that, they should have hired actual story writers to come up with the overall story arc encompassing the three films prior to embarking on filming them. This would have meant that going into each film there was an outline of the necessary elements needed to craft each film’s story which would support the rest.

The director might take some liberties in some areas around portions of the story telling, but the required story elements must be included for the entire story arc to work. This would have also meant that all three films were essentially written up-front. Instead, Disney apparently allowed the writers of each film to craft their own story in pre-production for each film. Basically, the films were made up at the time of each production.

This isn’t a recipe for success. In fact, it’s a recipe for failure. It’s exactly why J.J. Abrams Alias and Lost series failed to ultimately work. The stories were “made up” as they went along rather than attempting to at least write an overarching story outline that encompasses the entire season. Each story doesn’t need to be written, but certain specific points must be included in the season to reach the conclusion properly. Without such inserted clues, the conclusion absolutely cannot be satisfying… and so it goes with Lost. Lost‘s conclusion was such an awful mess that not only did it make no sense, what little pieces did try to make sense were awful. It was like watching a train wreck unfold.

So then, Disney hires this two-bit hack to pen Star Wars? Here’s a guy who can’t even write two TV series properly and yet Disney hires him for Star Wars? Yeah, I could see this wasn’t going to end well… and so it goes.

Endings

Speaking of things not ending well, let’s continue with The Rise of Skywalker and its ending. Disney would have been smarter to leave a thread open that could be followed up with a new trilogy. Instead, Disney, and more specifically, J.J. Abrams and Kathleen Kennedy were so focused on damage control that they forgot to add intentional cliffhangers leading into a new series of films. However, I believe at the time the film was being created, damage control was the primary means of closure for the The Rise of Skywalker storyline.

With that said, the ending is simultaneously satisfying and disappointing. On the surface, it’s a satisfying conclusion to this series of films. Diving deeper, the entire story is incredibly unsatisfying, thus leaving the conclusion disenchanting. The whole shoehorn-this-story-into-a-Palpatine-issue is deeply distasteful. Not only does it ruin the thought that Palpatine is, in fact, dead, it does so in a way that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and simultaneously leaves a gaping hole open as wide as the Grand Canyon.

The original Palpatine was shrewd, cunning and incredibly intelligent. Yet, this film treats Palpatine as one of the dumbest villains to have ever graced the Star Wars universe. Granted, the Palpatine in The Rise of Skywalker is supposed to be a clone. I suppose one could argue that the cloning process dumbs down its clones unintentionally (or even intentionally). The Kaminoan cloners might have seeded its clones so that they would never become aggressive towards Kamino, thus dumbing them down in other ways. It would make sense for the Kaminoans to protect Kamino from its clones turning on its masters or on the world. This argument could be said of all of the Clone Troopers. Yet, this fact has never been established in canon outright.

Palpatine, the original, would have also known and understood this dumbing down limitation of Kamino Clones and probably would have attempted to mitigate it long before it became a problem. Yet, it seems that didn’t happen based on clone Palpatine’s overall dumb self-righteous behavior. This cloned Palpatine is one of the least intelligent villains I’ve yet seen in a Star Wars film, save that perhaps Snoke was likely also a clone considering that Palpatine claims to have “made Snoke” (implying a clone).

Whether Palpatine used Kamino to produced the clones or if Palpatine bought and established his own cloning technology separately, it’s not really stated. Watching this film, I assumed that all of the cloning occurred on Kamino… or at least, Kamino cloning technology was utilized by Palpatine even if not cloned directly on Kamino.

I know that Palpatine suggested bringing the dead back to life in the prequel Revenge of the Sith (which was lightly referenced in The Rise of Skywalker). Don’t take my word for it. Here’s the conversation from Palpatine himself.

This platitude by Palpatine may have been a veiled reference to cloning or to an unseen force power or both, which by the time of this scene, the world of Kamino and its technology had been established by the prequel, Attack of the Clones. Of course, this information wasn’t definitively stated in The Rise of Skywalker or even in Attack of the Clones or Revenge of the Sith. The information in The Rise of Skywalker was all left to the audience to put 2 and 2 together and theorize Palpatine was talking about cloning and/or the conversation above. If you hadn’t watched the prequels before seeing The Rise of Skywalker, you wouldn’t be able to correlate this information, leaving the means by which Palpatine reappears as a mystery that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense and isn’t resolved in the narrative.

What this all means for the ending is a somewhat convoluted, complex, yet simpleminded ending. In fact, the ending was so simpleminded and single tracked, it was easy to predict the outcome.

Is It Over?

This is a lingering question that remains. If there’s one clone, there can be many. Did Rey fight the last and final clone? We don’t know. This is the gaping hole the size of the Grand Canyon. If it took Rey to the point of death to kill one single clone, then fighting any more means she probably won’t succeed in killing any others. After all, she won’t have Ben there to give her his remaining life force and bring her back to life again.

For the reason of clones, the ending is entirely unsatisfying. Once you open this story door to clones (plural), it’s a never ending cycle. You simply can’t win against potentially thousands of Palpatine clones strewn throughout the Star Wars galaxy. This is why the ending is simultaneously satisfying at face value and completely unsatisfying when you dig deeper.

Cheap Cop Out

Ultimately, the two main problems in this story stem from relying on the concept of cloning combined with using a duplicate (cloned) Palpatine to carry this story. Out of thousands of better possible ideas, JJ chose these two weakest and most trite ideas over any others? This simply shows just how inept a writer JJ actually is. Though, the “Mary Sue” idea was almost completely squashed by introducing the “Palpatine’s Granddaughter” idea. My problem with the ending of this story is, why did we miss a generation? In fact, the whole “Palpatine having children” storyline could have been a far better story idea to base this final set of films on over what’s included in this mess of a trilogy. Definitely, the “Palpatine having children” story idea is a far, far superior story in establishing the idea of the carrying forward of the Sith vs Jedi conflict over the mess-of-a-story shown in this bankrupt trilogy. This is particularly true if you truly want to hand off this conflict to a new generation of Sith and Jedi. Unfortunately, JJ has already given away the farm.

Following the “Palpatine had Children” idea, when did Palpatine procreate and with whom? Why wasn’t it THIS story that begins these final 3 films? If, as a storyteller, you’re going to tease us that Palpatine had children, then we need to know more about this situation. Who was his “wife”? How many children did Palpatine have? Was Rey an only child? Have these children chosen to be dark or light? None of these questions are answered. They’re left open. JJ’s story elements weren’t added to tell us that Palpatine had children. They were useless contrivances included simply to carry The Rise of Skywalker to conclusion. These contrivances are the very definition of retroactive continuity, “Let’s add something random about the past that lets the future proceed in a specific way.” That’s entirely retroactive contrivance

If past historical events had been introduced early in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, I’d not be critical of these “convenient” story elements included in The Rise of Skywalker. It would have meant that the writers were thinking ahead to the future film. It also means that the story arc was properly planned. Without these elements in any prior films, it’s included for mere convenient storytelling. It’s also the very definition of a “hack writer“.

Palpatine’s Children

Before we dive deep into the the “hack writer” concept, let’s explore what we could have had in this final trilogy. Oh, and boy is it a doozy! It’s actually hard to believe that JJ chose not to run with this story idea, which would have made the final trilogy not only completely satisfying, but would have opened the door up to so many more films and TV shows. Disney could have made twice the amount of money off of this (and it would still be going) and the Star Wars brand would be stronger than ever instead of petering out after The Last Jedi ended up like dropping a gallon of water on lit candle.

If The Force Awakens had opened, instead, using one of Palpatine’s children as a primary villain with that child obviously dark side leaning, the whole tone and concept of this entire trilogy would have completely changed. Talk about introducing a “new generation”, well this was the way to do it! It would have also changed the entire story concept over these three films. Instead of a Mary Sue story unfolding around Rey, we could have focused on the brashness, harshness and destructiveness of a Palpatine child and in a growing Jedi order to combat that new Palpatine threat.

Except, this time it’s not Palpatine. It’s the child of Palpatine and they have a completely new idea on how to squash the Jedi order, not using Palpatine’s old, tired rhetoric… that didn’t work anyway.

If Palpatine had had more than one child, which of course we knew nothing about those other children, another child could emerge as a conflict mechanism, both against the Jedi and also against the Sith. This would allow the story to pit both Palpatine children against one another, but at the same time against the Jedi. See, so much potential lost!

This could have turned Star Wars a bit darker, more modern, updated, yet still fall within Star Wars ideas and visuals. Instead of the crappy Disney trilogy that we got, which was a bunch of cotton candy fluff, we could have dived deep into a darker, more sinister plot involving Palpatine’s children. Snoke could have still been involved as a puppet of this Palpatine child, but we don’t even have to bring back Palpatine as a clone to accomplish it. We simply need this dark side leaning child to “carry the torch”.

So many ideas and so any concepts swirling, it’s amazing JJ didn’t realize that THIS is where the story should have headed… not with his carnival of cotton candy and candied apples. JJ’s trilogy was, in fact, so candy-bar sweet as to get diabetes. No, that’s not where Star Wars needed to go. Star Wars needed to begin with a darker, more sinister villain to launch the story, then slowly emerge (over 3 films) from that darkness with a huge win at the end… a win that perhaps doesn’t even stem from the Jedi. Such a win could then lead into not only more films, but also spin off into a whole bunch of TV series.

Disney missed the boat here in an immense way. So much potential completely wasted and lost.

Hack Writer

A hack writer is a pejorative term for a writer who is paid to write low-quality, rushed articles or books “to order”, often with a short deadline.

That’s exactly how J.J. Abrams comes to The Rise of Skywalker. He was most definitely paid to write a rushed low-quality script and the film most definitely reveals that. It also reveals that JJ doesn’t have the creative chops to come up with solid, great story ideas and concepts, such as using a Palpatine child to not only bring Star Wars to a brand new generation of children, but also breed a whole new generation of Sith and Jedi alike. Instead, we got…

High Gloss Cotton Candy

One of the things that most disturbs me about this film is its high gloss nature. This gloss defines the term putting “lipstick on a pig“. This phrase means taking a low quality, bad product and dressing it up to disguise its fundamental failings.

The “gloss” here is the film’s far too quick pacing and the overuse of CG effects, right from the opening. Yes, it’s a pretty film. It also includes throwing random and rapid paced information at the viewer, but not giving the person not enough time to react to that information. If the viewer attempts to think anything through, they’ll miss the next scene of the film. This is intentional. You can’t really go into deep thought and stay focused on the film in front of you. You can only go into deep thought after the film is over, at which point you’ll already be initially “satisfied” (or at least sated) by the film’s intended conclusion.

However, thinking the film through, you’ll understand all of the points I’ve made above.

That’s the whole point of the “glossy coating” and, thus, to put “lipstick on a pig”. It’s not that the story is the worst story I’ve ever seen in a film, but it’s definitely not a great story by any stretch. It was cobbled together from elements not established in this trilogy. Instead, the story had to fall back on story elements established from the prequels and the original films, but which hadn’t been discussed in this trilogy until the final film. Yes, that’s the very definition of a “Cop Out”.

Instead, this trilogy should have relied on itself and its own stories to carry its way through to conclusion. It didn’t need a cloned Palpatine to carry this story. That’s perfectly clear. Here’s one of the primary problems I have with this whole cloned Palpatine issue. How and when did Palpatine become cloned? Is someone else pulling the strings? Was that cloned Palpatine merely a test for Rey? Was it merely the first in a series of tests? Was that clone the only one?

So many questions left unanswered. So many questions that needed to be answered for a proper conclusion. Yet, no. These are not “cliffhanger” questions. These are fundamental questions which should have been answered over the course of the Disney trilogy, yet were not. To really underscore the Cop Out problem, we must examine…

The Last Jedi

The closing shot of the kid in the The Last Jedi shows a force capable child. Yet, The Rise of Skywalker doesn’t even attempt to close that narrative. The ring that Finn and Rose bestow onto that kid meant nothing? The whole almost 30 minute romp through the Casino was pointless? Indeed, it means the whole Rose storyline was more-or-less pointless considering they set up an almost blatant new romantic interest in The Rise of Skywalker in Naomi Ackie’s Jannah character. Yet, neither the romantic storyline between either Rose or Jannah materializes in The Rise of Skywalker. Rose has a few scenes in the Leia camp, but it’s all for naught and is a fairly useless means of closure for this character. Set her up in The Last Jedi to be a romantic interest, then ignore Rose as mere wallpaper in The Rise of Skywalker. The interest around Rose was molded into yet another new character of Jannah.

Yes, The Rise of Skywalker trounces all over The Last Jedi in an attempt right-its-wrongs for better or worse. More specifically, The Rise of Skywalker simply chooses to ignore those things it deems as unimportant from the previous film. Examples: the force-capable kid, the Casino romp, Rose and even the ring. Whatever The Rise of Skywalker writers deem as unimportant are left without acknowledgement or conclusion. Indeed, The Rise of Skywalker plays too much fan service and not enough at closing elements already opened in prior films.

It wouldn’t have taken much to include a small scene showing that force-capable kid wearing the ring somewhere in The Rise of Skywalker. It doesn’t need to be a long or even important scene, it simply needs to be in there. Maybe a scene between Rey and that kid moving rocks around briefly, as though she or Leia is training him. We don’t need to know more about the kid other than he’s still around and he may or may not become important later, just not in this film.

Change of Clothing

One of the most obvious and out of place elements is that Rey wears the same outfit and hairstyle throughout much of all three films. At least Leia was given proper costume changes along the way including her film’s iconic opening outfit with buns, her braided pony tail ceremonial outfit at the end of Episode 4, her Hoth ice outfit, her Bespin outfit, her ever important Jabba Bikini and so on. With each new environment, she changes clothing. No, it’s not explained how Leia does this, but she does.

Rey, on the other hand, almost never changes clothes. She effectively has two outfits. Her scavenger outfit which she wore in The Force Awakens and again in The Rise of Skywalker. In The Last Jedi, the costumers gave her a new darker outfit and a new hairstyle while on the Luke Skywalker banishment planet, but that was a short stint with that outfit. However, once she leaves, she’s back into yet another version of her scavenger outfit. For battling, I guess that outfit is fine, but you’d think that Leia could have issued her more appropriate resistance clothing along the way. For scavenging on a hot planet, what she was originally wearing was fine. For a resistance member, she should have changed into something more befitting of her new role. Additionally, being a budding Jedi, she should have at least donned more Jedi befitting clothing. Nope, she was placed right back into her scavenger outfit all throughout The Rise of Skywalker, even at the end of the film.

This is a small point, but it’s a relevant point to the development of a character. The costumes indicate growth of a character as much as her actions and words.

Story

After all of this lead up, let’s finally talk about the film’s story as a whole. The story itself is both simplistic and meh. It concludes in a way that leaves a bad taste for Star Wars and for Disney in general. Because hack writers were chosen to not create a cohesive whole, but a chopped up mess of a hack-job over three films which almost have no relation to one another other than characters, it ends up a truly sad affair. It also concludes in this way.

However, Disney also felt obligated to conclude this problem child. They did so only because they had started down this road and felt the need to finish it. Personally, I think Disney should have shelved the entire project after The Last Jedi and called it done. The whole thing was too irreparably damaged by that point, at least as a creative project. For Disney, the dollar $igns lingered too much in front of someone’s eyes to give it up.

Let’s talk about the film itself. When we begin The Rise of Skywalker, we’re greeted by the familiar text crawl followed by the familiar and obligatory space pan shot. Before we step into the visuals, let’s talk about this text crawl. The text crawl mentions Palpatine by name and that he’s back, never mind those pesky details of exactly how. Basically, the story opens with retroactive continuity before an actor ever graces the silver screen. We already know the lay of the land before one single actual live action shot. From that crawl alone, we now know exactly what we’re in for in The Rise of Skywalker, but we don’t yet know how it will unfold. Though, giving it two minutes of thought, you can understand where the story is heading, we simply need to see it visually.

How it actually ends up playing out is a series of scenes, the Millenium Falcon, a cameo by a now aging Lando Calrissian and a bunch of throwbacks and nods to the original Star Wars, simply to keep the visual interest high. In other words, visually the film relies almost solely on reminiscing over the original three films by attempting to ignore the failings of The Last Jedi specifically, but also glosses over some of The Force Awakens. The Rise of Skywalker attempts to be the one and only one film that matters in this Disney trilogy. In fact, it tries way too hard at this and ultimately feels hollow and disappointing.

It’s a film that feels whole and solid while you watch it, but like a chocolate Easter Bunny once you bite down and realize it’s hollow, the film ultimately lacks any real reason to exist. For this reason, this is why George Lucas decided not to create films 7, 8 and 9 himself. He realized that once the 6 films were complete, there was nothing left to say.

The Rise of Skywalker proves this fact out in amazing abundance. At the end, we’re left not with the question about how great Rey is, but what the hell just happened? More importantly, what was the point? How exactly does Rey’s existence perpetuate the Star Wars narrative in a positive or useful way? Rey is clearly not a Skywalker. She’s a Palpatine. She’ll always be a Palpatine. She’ll always have the potential for falling into the dark side. Yet, she takes the Skywalker name because, plot.

Was it necessary or important for Rey to be a Skywalker? *shrug* I’ve no idea. There’s nothing that comes after to explain the need for this inexplicable naming. Yet, that’s exactly how the story ends. She’s now Rey Skywalker in name only. She’ll always be Rey Palpatine or whatever her father’s family surname was. We don’t even know if it was her father or mother who was the daughter or son of Emperor Palpatine. For all we know, Palpatine didn’t even have a child. Instead, he may have made a clone of himself who ultimately broke away, got married and had a child. We just don’t have enough backstory to know how this whole Rey situation came about.

We came too late in The Force Awakens to get this backstory. It was also never explained throughout the Disney trilogy. We’re simply left in the dark. Even at the very end of The Rise of Skywalker, we’re still left in the dark about how Rey came to be the granddaughter of Palpatine. Bad storytelling. If you’re planning on including retroactive continuity, you could at least fill in these rather important details so we can better understand how and from where Rey came… or, more specifically, how Emperor Palpatine managed to have kids. We don’t even know if Palpatine’s kids were from the “original” Palpatine or if one of Palpatine’s clones had kids. Yes, I said clones… as in the plural form, meaning “more than one”.

Ben and Rey

One thing that The Rise of Skywalker postulates is that Rey and Ben are a force dyad. The only way that’s possible is if Ben and Rey are twins, or at least from the same parent. That implies that Leia may have given birth to twins (like her mother who also had twins Luke and Leia) and somehow Rey was kidnapped by a Palpatine clone and assumed it to be his own child birthed by, well, whomever was on the ship with Rey whenever she was left on Jakku.

Again, this was not explained in the film, but a force dyad doesn’t make much sense unless they’re siblings or, in some way related… which makes that kiss at the end all the more “ewww”. Again, not explained.

Never Ending Ending

Here’s the ultimate problem that exists and persists after closure of The Rise of Skywalker and it’s a big one! An ending that never ends is what we have left over from The Rise of Skywalker. What exactly do I mean? I mean that because Palpatine is a clone, there were likely many Palpatine clones. If Palpatine were to make one clone, he would make several. Why? To ensure the survival of at least one of the clones, there must be many.

The question remains, how many and where are they? We don’t know. Clearly, Rey seems to have fought a particularly weak clone. Perhaps they’re all weak. The fact that they’re clones, they might not have inherited all of the force strength of the original. Because Rey couldn’t defeat this Palpatine clone all by herself implies that she herself was most likely born of a clone and not the original Palpatine. While that may or may not be a problem, the bigger problem is that the ending of The Rise of Skywalker has no end.

As Rey heads off into the galaxy for future travels, she’ll inevitably encounter more Palpatine clones and she’ll be forced to dispatch each and every one. In fact, it’s highly likely she’ll have to dispatch many Palpatine clones, because like the original Palpatine, even the clones will have the drive to survive and those clones will also hire cloners to clone the clone making yet more Palpatines. Like a virus, this situation perpetuates and never ends. Rey will never run out of an army of Palpatines to defeat.

This is the problem you bring into a story when forcing such concepts as clones as a story element for story closure. Like waking up from a dream sequence as an ending, using clones to close the final story element leaves the story’s ending unsatisfying. There’s nothing at all satisfying about the possibility of hundreds or thousands of Palpatines all infesting the universe waiting to attack the next Jedi that happens along.

See, I didn’t even have to resort to holding up the unmitigated pretentious disaster of a story that was J.J.’s Star Trek to illustrate just how much of a hack writer J.J. Abrams really is. Oops, I guess I just did. Yes indeed, J.J. seems to have the uncanny ability to ruin just about any franchise he touches.

Graphics: 5 out of 5
Story: 1 out of 5
Pacing: 2 out of 5
Overall: 2 out of 5 (wait until it’s available to watch without paying)

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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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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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Movie Review: Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Posted in movies by commorancy on December 23, 2016

I’m so glad J.K. Rowling decided to bring us to the U.S. with the next installment of the Harry Potter universe (I say with some sarcasm). Unfortunately, Fantastic Beasts is also kind of a mess. Let’s explore.

NOTE: SPOILERS AHEAD. Stop reading now if you want to watch the film.

Timid Characters

One thing I’m never a fan of in storytelling is setting up your main character as both timid and intimidated by nearly everyone around them. However, if there had been just one timid character in Fantastic Beasts, I might have given this trope a pass. Unfortunately, the timid characters extend to practically every role in the film. The timid characters include Newt Scamander (the timid oddball hero from Britain who randomly shows up in New York), Porpetina Goldstein (the demoted Auror who’s as timid as the day is long), Credence (a timid teen with a surprise), Queenie Goldstein (outgoing yes, but timid) and Credence’s witch-hating adopted sister (didn’t even catch her character’s name, but still timid).

I’m fine with a story using a timid trope if the character eventually emerges from their timid cocoon to take on the world. Unfortunately, that doesn’t happen in Fantastic Beasts.

Unlike Hogwart’s, where you plainly expect the students to be timid and intimidated by the teachers (who are clearly years ahead in magical learning), this trope fails to work in Fantastic Beasts where these magical folk should all be pretty much on even footing. Because these are adults and not children (with the exception of Credence and his adoptive sister), this trope fails so badly as to drag down the entire first half of the film.

No. When I see a movie, I expect the leading characters to eventually emerge as take charge individuals. Not only do they need to express conviction in what they are doing, they need to stand up for it and take charge of their actions and of those around them. This is especially true of the hero. In Fantastic Beasts, that never really happens. Which leads to…

Character Development

Because this story is so light on character development, we are lost with character names, what most of them do and why they are even there. While the place has been established pretty much up front (i.e., New York City), the film can’t help but break one of the cardinal wizarding rules, made so abundantly clear in the Harry Potter films, within the first 10 minutes of Fantastic Beasts… exposing the wizarding world to muggles and letting them go without ‘fixing’ it.

Worse, they start off by discussing nomenclature (“muggle” versus “non-mag”) as though we should run into all sorts of these Americanisms. Yet, later in the film, Percival Graves (the on-again, off-again villain) clearly uses the word ‘squib’ without thought. One could argue it wasn’t Percival Graves during any part of the film. However, if the US folk are calling muggles “non-mag”, then clearly they should be calling “squibs” some other word.

Story

Let’s just say that the first half of the film was a mess. It was all over the place. First, it was about Grindelwald terrorizing London. Then it transitions to be about finding and catching Fantastic Beasts that Newt accidentally lets loose in New York… after he bumps into a non-mag named Jacob who he exposes to magic, first by wand, then by disapparating. And, that’s not even the half of it. Because one of his beasts bites Jacob, he befriends Jacob and takes him ‘home’ (to heal him) and then into his suitcase (which is one of those spaces that’s larger inside than out).

Again later, it transitions to be about an Obscurial (a witch or wizard who doesn’t know it, usually a child). The repressed magic becomes a dark force that can damage or kill.

We’re exposed to many different concepts all at once, but that keep being thrown at us without any full understanding of why any of it’s happening. On top of that, we have all of the timid characters who refuse to take charge of their own situation. They just sit back and watch from the sidelines only occasionally becoming a participant in the action around them when it’s absolutely necessary. Otherwise, they stand there with head hung low like they’re waiting for a scolding.

Halfway Point

At about the halfway point, the pace starts to pick up as some of the pieces finally start falling into place, not just for the characters, but also for the audience. Yet, even though we have a rousing pace that’s pretty much relentless until the end, you still feel more like you’re watching something from the Marvel universe than something in the Harry Potter universe. It just felt too disconnected and too distant from what we came to know of Hogwarts. Is the American wizarding world that much different?

Overall

I liked the second half of the film, but the neat and tidy ending combined with the timid characters left me flat on the characters, the character development and ultimately the hodge-podge story. If it was all just a setup to expose Grindelwald, then that could have been accomplished in so many better ways. For this franchise, I’ll reserve my judgement and hope that a second film might turn out better. For a franchise opener, I guess it’s alright. I was just hoping for a lot more. I certainly got a lot more out of the first Harry Potter film than I got out of Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. Your mileage may vary.

Rating: 3.5 out of 5 stars

Movie Dissection: Tron Legacy

Posted in entertainment, film, movies, reviews by commorancy on December 18, 2010

Updated: 1/7/2012 – Disney greenlights Tron Legacy sequel

To start off, I am a reasonably big fan of the original Tron film. Yes, the first Tron story was a bit of a letdown, but it worked for what it was. After all, it was the first film to use computer graphics to that level within a film. Definitely a ground breaker.

Achievements

Tron Legacy is also a ground breaker once again, but much less so. Its technological advancements in film are much more subtle. A lot of people may not have thought about this, but Tron Legacy is the first film to use an actual actor’s likeness in a film to play the actor at a younger age using a CG head and real body. I had predicted that this would happen eventually, and here we are. Tron Legacy now opens doors up to creation of new films by Marilyn Monroe and Elvis Presley. Granted, the animation on the face is a bit stilted and unnatural, but it works for the CLU character. It doesn’t work so much for Kevin Flynn’s younger self. Nevertheless, the character works in most instances. If they had spent just a bit more time on the face, they could have made it look and act even better. Avatar is proof of that.

Story

While I really wanted this story to work well, it doesn’t come together as I had hoped. Basically, the CG is so strong that the story has to be twice as strong to overcome the incredible visuals. The trouble is, it doesn’t. But then, the same can be said of the first Tron film.

However, the two main problems with this film are 1) lack of formidable villain and, by association, lack of a real payoff at the end and 2) Tron is not the main character and is visibly absent most of the film. After all, this film is named ‘Tron’. Tron is the character we expect to see. We do see him in flashbacks and, without spoiling the film, in other places as well. However, for 95% of the film, Tron is absent. In the small parts he’s in, Tron really contributes little to the overall story.

I realize that this one is about the ‘Legacy’ aspect of Kevin Flynn (i.e., Sam Flynn). So, Sam takes the front stage in this production. That’s okay were Sam Flynn a super likable character. Unfortunately, he’s not. I liked him well enough, but not nearly as much as I liked Kevin Flynn in Tron. In the first Tron film, we the viewers felt just like Kevin who was plopped into this fantasy world unexpectedly. So, we’re experiencing it all for the first time just like he is. With Tron Legacy, the audience already understands much about the world having seen the first film. So, wasting time on the introductions of the world isn’t really necessary. To their credit, the producers/writers did try to skip much of it. But, the whole clothes cutting and redressing scene was a bit overkill and kind of showed us just how cheesy the costumes were. Like the first film, it would have worked better and saved lots of time if Sam had awoken in the world fully costumed. That whole costuming scene could have been skipped (which was awkward anyway). I understand the setup between him and one of the female dressers, but that meet-and-greet could have happened in a different way.

Tron original film rules ignored

I also keep thinking more and more about Tron Legacy vs Tron and I keep coming up with more and more holes. Holes that are big enough to drive a truck through. It’s really very obvious that the writers (former writers from Lost, I might add) just didn’t consult the original film before writing this story. Without consulting the original film, they just arrived at an idea that didn’t really take into account all of the previous rules that had been established in Tron. Worse, it seems like the writers and producers thumbed their noses at the fans by not following these rules. Following the rules, however, would have made Tron Legacy much more complete and true to the original film. It would have also made Tron Legacy far better than it is now. And, it would have shown that the writers were committed to providing a full experience to not only the casual viewer, but also to the die-hard fans of Tron. Instead, this film only appeals to the casual viewer and completely ignores and, worse, insults the die-hard fan.

First example, the whole reason the game grid exists in Tron is as a result of the arcade video games in real life. The game grid is a virtualized, but identical active game as what the gamer sees on the arcade CRT. Just as the gamer plays the game in real life in an arcade, so the game progresses identically in the virtual world with 3D people. As a result, the game grid exists because of real life gamers. As the gamers play games, so too do the game grid games. In 2010, with games like World of Warcraft, Halo 3 and Assassin’s Creed, the writers could have had a field day with such an updated game grid. Yes, it might have ruined the aesthetic of the game world to see people dressed as Master Chief or Ezio, but it would have made Tron Legacy far more true to what’s going on today in gaming and, at the same time, make Tron Legacy a lot more fun to watch.

In Tron Legacy, this entire arcade to game grid aspect was either forgotten or intentionally dropped. The trouble is, this rule has already been established. So, the movie should have at least popped out to the real world to see gamers playing on mobile phones, computers and Xbox 360s to show that the virtual game grid is still tied to a real world game.

Second issue… although, I have to admit I didn’t initially think of this one and don’t necessarily agree with the thinking behind it. Some people have surmised that the Encom mainframe had been shut off the whole time between Tron and Tron Legacy and thus the virtual world wouldn’t have existed. The reality is, there was a computer in Flynn’s Arcade that appeared to contain the virtual world. So, while Encom’s computers may have been shut off, it appears Flynn had moved the entire world into his own personal server. So, while some people seem to find this part of the film a problem, I don’t. Flynn was the CEO of Encom and easily had enough money and power to build a hugely powerful computer system in the basement of Flynn’s arcade to manage this world. Sure, it might have been shut down for a time, but it certainly appears that Flynn had successfully transferred both the world and the computer into the arcade’s basement. He certainly had enough money to do this. It also appears that this computer is fully functional when Sam arrives at the arcade. So, I don’t see an issue with this part of the movie.

Third issue (see Encom below for more of this). When Flynn took control over Encom after Tron defeated the MCP and released the files incriminating Ed Dillinger, I full well expected Flynn to drive Encom to become a game development company. In fact, had this premise been realized, this would strengthen the idea behind the game grid and the existence of the virtual world. Instead, for whatever reasons, the writers decided to turn Encom into an operating system company like Microsoft. Now, that doesn’t mean that Encom doesn’t make video games, but it does mean that it is not Encom’s core business. If that whole board room meeting had been related to a new video game title, the whole Tron Legacy story would have been dramatically strengthened. Also, in Tron, Encom was an R&D group think tank. That is, they designed extremely cutting edge prototyping products, like the digitizing laser. The very same laser technology that digitizes and transports both Sam and Kevin into the virtual world. Again, the writers ignored this part of Encom’s business completely to the detriment of Tron Legacy. Considering that that digitizing laser was designed in 1982, I would have expected to see that digitizing system being sold on the market and people entering into their own virtual worlds (separate from Flynn’s world) by 2010. Yet another lost opportunity for the writers to create an interesting spin on what happened with Encom.

Fourth issue, after Sam ends up back in the real world at the end of Tron Legacy, he’s fully dressed in street clothes. As far as I know, he didn’t pack an extra set of clothes. So, the whole costuming process inside the virtual world (where his clothes were cut off and discarded) doesn’t make sense. Worse, Quorra, who isn’t even human, also pops out into the real world fully clothed in street clothes. Again, where did these clothes come from? I’m quite sure that Sam didn’t expect to be leaving Flynn’s with a female companion. So, I’m quite sure that an old dusty arcade wouldn’t have such clothes stashed away. So, again, this is a problem. Although, some people surmise that Quorra didn’t actually make it out. Instead, Sam is somehow having a delusion or an hallucination of Quorra and she’s not actually there. I don’t know that I agree with this. I have my suspicions as to what’s going on, but I’ll leave that for Tron 3 to fully explain.

[Updated 1/16/2011]

Fifth issue is that the original digitizing laser consumed the space of at least 2-3 building stories and at least one football field. This is a huge laser equipment laboratory. In Tron Legacy, this digitizing laser is now located in the basement of Flynn’s Arcade? Unfortunately, I just don’t think that this sized laser equipment fit within Flynn’s arcade basement space. So, the question is, where is the rest of the huge laser infrastructure? Just not thought out well enough. However, if one of Encom’s newest products had been a self-contained USB digitizing laser (for home use) and that had been what was being discussed in the board room, then having this laser in Flynn’s basement would have made a lot more sense. And, it would have made sense from a time perspective (all technology gets smaller). But no, this issue was not addressed at all.

Sixth issue.. this is not so much an issue, but an observation about how the laser works. According to the first film, the molecules are digitized and then suspended in the laser beam. When the molecule model is played back, the object reintegrates. With Quorra, it actually does make sense that she could end up in the real world. How? Well, there were two users in that world: Kevin and Sam. Two real world users with real world molecules. Kevin’s molecules would still have been suspended in the laser beam. When Kevin explodes after reintegrating with CLU, those molecules are still trapped in the laser beam. There’s nothing that says that those molecules have to play back out as Kevin. In fact, Quorra could use Kevin’s suspended molecules to play back into her form and become human. Of course, that would leave no more suspended molecules for anyone else to exit the grid. That also means that for someone to leave the grid with a real form, that a real person would have to enter the virtual world. I’m assuming that as long as that person lives, those molecules are tied to that individual. If the user dies in the grid, then an ISO or another program could exit into the real world using that dead user’s molecules. Another issue is that Kevin’s molecules would be suspended in Kevin’s form when he went in. It would take at least Yori to reconfigure the laser beam protocol to play out Kevin’s molecules into Quorra’s form. Yori was the program designed by Lora to manage parts of the digitizing system. Unfortunately, Yori isn’t in Tron Legacy. So, Quorra should have exited the virtual world in Kevin’s form and clothing.

Encom 2010

Other than the bored room meetings (pun intended), we really get very little of what Encom does in the present. With technologies like the digitizing system that are displayed in Tron, I would have expected Encom to be a lot farther along in technological breakthroughs than selling ‘the latest greatest operating system’ (ala Microsoft). Clearly, this part of the film is an afterthought. It wastes screen time without really telling us much about Encom. It is really used as a vehicle to set up Sam Flynn’s character. However, even that vehicle falls flat. Honestly, the film would have been served better by not knowing or seeing that specific Sam Flynn escapade.

Villainy

Unfortunately, CLU isn’t the appropriate ‘Program’ to be a villain. First, CLU is supposed to be Kevin Flynn’s helper program. So, it seems odd that he has gone rogue anyway. Secondarily, he isn’t really designed to be a villain. So, turning him into one just seems somehow wrong. Worse, he really isn’t a worthy adversary in the games. If he is as good as he is supposed to be (along with his black guard henchman), they both should be able to best Sam Flynn easily. So, this whole part of the film just doesn’t really work. But then, Quorra interrupts the games early. Kind of convenient, but at the same time gives us no payoff.

Adversary

Unlike Tron, which has the MCP, we have no such villain in Tron Legacy. CLU is it, but CLU just doesn’t come across as a proper villain. He seems more like a henchman for something bigger. Yet, that something bigger just never materializes. I actually expected to see Kevin Flynn emerge as the villain in this film. That would have been something. It would have really justified the ending of this film, showed us a completely different side to Kevin and, at the same time, have given us a huge payoff at the end. Alas, that doesn’t happen.

Action

The movie definitely starts the pacing off on the right foot and continues at a pretty solid pace until just after Sam Flynn exits the game grid. After that, the story comes to a crawl, as does the action. So, unfortunately too, this leads to a lack of payoff. It also doesn’t give Sam Flynn any screen time to kick butt and take names which this film so desperately needs. The wins we see with Sam are more out of luck and accidents than out of skill. Sam never does get enough screen time to show that he has any skills that are translated from the real world. Even his lightcycle skills don’t show through no matter how much Ducati footage is included in the opening. We need to see Sam win at something where the stakes are substantial. Something that at the end of it, we cheer for him and his win.

Visuals and Audio

What’s to say about the visuals other than, “stunning”. The music by Daft Punk and the audio effects are superb at doing what movies do best: set the mood and tone.

Payoff

In the end, there really is no payoff. In the first film, Tron’s first goal is to get a message to his user. So, Tron fights his way through to a communication tower. In Tron Legacy, Sam’s and Kevin’s only objective is to get to the exit portal (not unlike the communication tower in Tron). When they finally get to the portal, it seems trivially easy. There is really no opposition along the way. Just a quick trip with a Solar Sailer and they’re basically there. No grid bugs, no hidden Mickey Mouse heads, no Recognizer chases, etc. Just a trip without any incidents. In Tron, getting to the communication tower is only half the way through the story. Tron still must battle the MCP. At the end of Tron Legacy, there was no battle. In fact, there was nothing to battle at all, other than Kevin’s own guilt.

Unfortunately, the ending was really explained by Quorra about 20 minutes before the end. So, I won’t give it away, even though Quorra does. But at the portal, there is no real payoff with CLU or Tron. In fact, there is no real positive payoff at all. The ending leaves more questions than answers. So, unless Disney plans on Tron 3, we may never know what happens. This really feels like half of a film. It feels like we’re missing the other half of this film.

Overall

The story could have been far better. However, the producers rely on the visuals and the music (which, granted, both were very impressive) to carry this film. Again I say, the plot could have been far far better. We need at least one payoff and we don’t get it. I was even hoping for a little payoff with Sam on the game grid, but even that doesn’t happen. Sam, like Kevin in Tron, also needed to befriend someone in the virtual world besides Quorra. He needed another companion to travel around the virtal world and show him the ropes. For a split second, I thought it might actually happen when one of his lightcycle mates almost gets his bike wand back. That is until CLU runs him over and Quorra steps in.

Also, there are lots of subtle things that just don’t work or are missing. For example, as a user in Tron (first film), Kevin is able to absorb energy and use it in unusual ways. Clearly, he is still able to do that to create CLU in Tron Legacy. He also uses this power to steal a non-working Recognizer in Tron. However, the writers don’t explore this aspect with Sam at all. It could have helped out in several instances and would have made for a more cohesive film. There was also no comic relief element like the ‘bit’ in the Recognizer in Tron. Not that we need ‘bit’ in this film, but I think that humor could have helped in places.

Even though the story is a bit weak in the film, the story for Tron Evolution (video game) is much stronger than this film. In fact, it has many of the elements and payoffs that the movie lacks, including a proper villain with Abraxas. However, that doesn’t mean that it’s the best game of 2010. Far from it. However, the story is definitely better than the Tron Legacy story. If you’re really into Tron lore, you should check out Tron Evolution to fill in the story gaps that the movie doesn’t fully explain (i.e., the ISOs). I am disappointed that the film glosses over the ISO storyline and, instead, leaves it to the video game to fully explain these concepts.

I like the film, but the story really needed to be far stronger to match the visuals. Overall, I rate this film 7.5 out of 10 stars.

Thoughts: Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince

Posted in movies by commorancy on July 16, 2009

After getting back from seeing this film (twice), I felt it needed some discussion.  So, let’s go.  Note, this may contain Harry Potter spoilers.. so do not continue if you haven’t seen or read.  You have been warned.

Conversion

The book to movie conversion was done reasonably well.  This movie, like most that have preceded it, have missed the mark on certain aspects.  What makes a Harry Potter book good is all of the nuances that J.K. Rowling includes.  Most of these nuances and subtleties just can’t be placed into the films and Half-Blood Prince (HBP) is no exception.  You would think that by 6 films into this series that the die-hard critics would understand and be used to all of the missing things.  Unfortunately, they aren’t and they are still complaining about this same aspect.  Critics, get over it.  If you want an exact conversion, do it yourself or wait for a TV series version.

Yes, there were a lot of small subtleties that were left out of the movie.  Some of them can’t easily be filmed and others just don’t work for the story.  However, there were some things that were left out of the films that I felt were important to understand.  Like, for example, the apparation classes in Order of the Phoenix (OOTP) that were completely left out of that film.  By leaving it out of OOTP, it means that this can’t be easily taken advantage of in HBP.  So, when Harry apparates with Dumbledore, it’s a surprise to everyone.  Yet, we would have already seen this in OOTP if it had been in the film.

The one thing that is noticeably absent from HBP is the Dursley family.  Gone is Little Whinging.  Other than cursory mention of it and a background street scene, there is nothing in the film.  Granted, I haven’t read the HBP novel since it came out, so I don’t even really recall how much of the Dursley’s were in the novel.  Note that I haven’t re-read the novel because I wanted to go into the film without having recently read the book.  I find that I enjoy the films more this way.  I will now re-read the novel having seen the film.

Thoughts

While I generally liked HBP, I felt that the movie wasn’t as thrilling or as much a rollercoaster as OOTP.  The Order of the Phoenix was one of my least favorite books in the series, yet it turned out to be one of my top favorites in HP films.  Why?  Because they were able to turn the lackluster pacing of the book into a spectacularly paced film. Half-Blood Prince’s pacing is a bit too even and, frankly, slow.  There was not enough going on in most of the scenes, even when there was something going on. Instead, HBP relies more on cinematography to pull off the slow paced scenes.  In most cases, it does so quite well.  This film was beautifully filmed for the most part. For the same reason that many critics filmatically liked Prisoner of Azkaban, I’d say those cinematography critiques also fit with Half-Blood Prince.

Unfortunately, the pacing was far too lackluster throughout most of the film to give the necessary emotional power needed after Snape does his deed in the Astronomy tower.  So, you really don’t feel emotional at a time when you need to.  The whole thing feels very detached.  I think part of the problem is that Dumbledore wasn’t given enough character build-up throughout the films to provide the necessary emotional attachment in this film.  In other words, we really needed to see just how dear Dumbledore was to everyone to really get the sense of loss.  Even still, this film should have been able to set it up enough to give that emotional punch at the end even when the previous films failed in character building. I also believe that this is part of the reason so many people weren’t completely convinced of the death at the end of the HBP novel.

Because of the lack of the emotional ending and the lack of the necessary rollercoaster ride needed for this film, it leaves the experience a bit on the flat side. There was plenty of teen angst moments throughout much of the film and that is probably the thing that carries this film.  We definitely needed to see that part of the story to fully understand what is about to happen in films 7 and 8 (assuming book 7 is still planned as a two-part film), but we also needed the emotional impact to feel for the character we’ve just lost (and that didn’t happen).

Overall

I liked Harry Potter and Half-Blood Prince, but not as much as the Order of the Phoenix.  OOTP is better primarily because the intensity level was much higher than HBP.  There were a few tense moments in HBP, but nowhere close to OOTP or even Goblet of Fire.  I also felt that for what’s about to happen in Deathly Hallows that this film needed to ratchet up the intensity and failed to do so. Whomever is directing Deathly Hallows will have to ratchet up the intensity in that film rather than relying on HBP to do it.

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