Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts

Ghostbusters: Ain’t Afraid of No Ghosts



I can’t remember the first time I saw Ghostbusters.

The first film in the franchise hit theaters in June of 1984, which means that I was three years old and far too young to understand the magnitude of what I was seeing. My first real viewing was probably an edited-for-content-and-time version on non-premium cable, I have vague recollections of the big tickets from the classic: The cards flying out of the catalog drawers in the library, the eggs frying on the counter, Venkman and Slimer in the hotel, “we came, we saw, we kicked it’s ass!”, shutting down the containment unit and Mick Smiley’s “Magic”, Gozer’s dogs, the fight against Gozer, and, of course, the march of the Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man. I didn’t really get the full context of some of the jokes (including the late night ghost dream “encounter” for Ray) until I bought the DVD and immersed myself in it.

Most of my memories from the franchise are from Saturday mornings spent with The Real Ghostbusters cartoon series, and that’s really where my Ghostbusters fandom percolated and grew. It’s heretical to say after thirty-ish years, but the Ghostbusters film wasn’t an instant hit with me.

Three decades on, the jokes and quotable lines are the stuff of legends, but looking at the film itself, it’s definitely a slow build production with a ton of the dry and often risqué humor that Aykroyd, Ramis, and Murray specialized in. It’s the story of three down on their luck parapsychologists and a blue-collar dude who investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them, and the story really takes a long time to get moving as the guys build their support base. In fact, the gears on the main plot don’t really start turning until after about an hour of origin story. It’s full of technobabble, but also filled with the rich culture of immense world-building, from Tobin’s Spirit Guide to a massive pantheon of powerful spirits in the planes beyond.

One thing I respect about the film was how it let the characters be themselves. Egon was an unabashed nerd, Ray was a goofball idiot, Peter was a manipulative sexist pig, and Winston was a hard-working religious man. Even if I don’t love the elements of particular characters – Egon is a bit too much of the stereotypical nerd for me, and Peter’s sexism grates on me from time to time – I still love how sincere and fleshed out they are. This extends to the supporting cast as well, especially Janine, Louis, and Dana.

My enjoyment of the original film comes from watching it multiple times and reveling in how it embraced the 1980s metropolitan culture and comedic style. It’s an experience locked in time, and is just off-the-wall fun.




It’s the fun aspect of the franchise that helps me enjoy Ghostbusters II. Again, that’s heresy in the fandom, but I don’t share the venom and hatred that most people do for the 1989 sequel.

My big problem with Ghostbusters II is how the cynics won the battle even after the team saved the world five years earlier. The first movie was full of cynics and skeptics, but at the end they were all celebrating. It doesn’t ring true when real-world events like 9/11 are considered since, nearly fifteen years later, we still celebrate the people who put everything on the line to save innocent lives that day. Was the giant marshmallow man just a group delusion invoked by sewer gas?

Ghostbusters II also loses the more risqué humor elements, mostly because of the audiences they were trying to attract. The franchise’s popularity skyrocketed with The Real Ghostbusters, and the studio wanted to capitalize on that. I don’t necessarily miss the dirty jokes, but I do miss the reality that it adds to the characters. But, it also helped to make Ghostbusters II the film that hooked me in one viewing as a kid.

One of the elements that I loved was Louis Tully’s character. He stood up for his friends at the trial, and he did exactly what I wanted to and became a Ghostbuster. I wasn’t too keen on the Janine/Louis relationship, but I loved his initiative. Another element I loved was the expression of hope in humanity. Sure, the Statue of Liberty sequence was pretty hokey, but the message that we can still put aside our differences and come together under a common cause spoke to me.

I also adored how Sigourney Weaver’s Dana was essentially elevated to a main character. She’s a strong actress and I have enjoyed her performances throughout her career. I would have liked a bit more resolution on the baby storyline – Who’s your daddy, Oscar? –  but giving her more power in the film was a nice addition.

I also occasionally break into an impression of Janosz Poha: “Why am I dripping with goo?” Peter MacNicol’s acting was silly but fun.




As I said before, I was a big fan of The Real Ghostbusters, enjoyed the 1988 Ghostbusters game for the Nintendo, and even tried Ghostbusters: The Video Game on both Wii and Xbox 360. The last one was especially fun since it reunited the core actors, but I still can’t get past the library level. The one series that I haven’t watched yet is Extreme Ghostbusters, but based on recommendations, it’s on my list of things.

For years I had heard rumors that something new was on the horizon for the franchise, but when Dan Aykroyd started talking about delays and then when Harold Ramis died in 2014, I figured that those dreams were done. I was pleased and excited when the Ghostbusters reboot was announced, and doubly so when they decided to shift gears and headline an all-female team.

Even with the whining in fandom about a female Ghostbusters team ruining everyone’s childhoods, or even the vocal sexist minority that is hell-bent on derailing the movie, my excitement has not diminished. In fact, it has only grown after watching the new film.

The 2016 Ghostbusters shares quite a few things with the 1984 Ghostbusters, but it is definitely not a remake. To me, a remake takes the same characters, settings, and plots and tells a similar story to the source material. A reboot takes a basic premise – even with the same characters like Star Trek from 2009 – and heads in a different direction. This Ghostbusters is the story of a successful scientist who, due to spoilery circumstances, joins two down on their luck scientists and a New York metro worker to investigate the rise of the paranormal against the grain of the normal world around them. Just like the 1984 version, this film is pretty slow in the beginning, but the plot has plenty of the spirit world mythology helping it ramp up to a somewhat cheesy and heart-warming conclusion, and it also uses contemporary humor to soften the scares. The special effects are just as awesome, even if they are less practical and more computer generated.

It also has cameos from most of the original cast, including all of the big four. One of them is definitely a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moment, but it was very touching.

But this version also has plenty of originality to bring to the table. The main four have elements of the original cast scattered throughout their characters, but they all bring a unique take to the ensemble. Kristen Wiig is more of the comedic straight woman, Melissa McCarthy shares Egon’s nerdiness without going deep into stereotype, Leslie Jones embodies the blue collar to a tee, and Kate McKinnon has mad scientist down to an art. McKinnon is worth the price of admission alone, especially with her character’s barely restrained enthusiasm over the ghost busting tech.

The end credits have a ton of extras built into them, including a fun sequence that involves the scrolling credits in the hijinks, and cap the film with a final hook that might lead into a sequel.

There were a few of things I wasn’t entirely happy with. The main villain is the stock rejected oddball character, and the receptionist (played by Chris “Thor” Hemsworth) is fun for a little while but rapidly becomes superfluous. In fact, I honestly wonder if they should have merged these two characters. The humor was rough at first, including a couple of toilet humor gags, but it evened out later on and certainly never reached the risqué levels of the original film. The other negative was in the setting: The 1984 film went to great lengths to showcase New York City, effectively making it a silent character in the film, but the 2016 film takes the setting for granted.

I went into this one with an open mind and zero expectations, spent the first twenty minutes wondering where they were going, and finally kicked back as I realized that this was the ideal update to a classic. It matches up well with the 1984 film, and will probably take a few watches to really grow on me.

All told, the ladies and their director, Paul Feig, captured the original spirit quite nicely.




The strong spirit of today’s Ghostbusters gives me hope for the future.

We’ll all see a lot of buzz in coming days about how the film is a failure because it didn’t make back the $144 million budget on opening weekend, but that honestly doesn’t matter. Ghostbusters is the highest-grossing premiere for the Paul Feig/Melissa McCarthy team, and that’s success enough for Sony to consider future installments. In fact, the 1984 film opened to almost $14 million, which is about $35 million when adjusted for inflation. The 2016 film has already beat that, even though it came in second place to The Secret Life of Pets.

(By the way, if we want to play the box office game in an attempt to take down the 2016 film, even Ghostbusters II debuted higher than the first film. So maybe, just maybe, box office performance is more nuanced and relative rather than being a stark win/loss dichotomy.)

We’ve already seen the fallout from original generation fans that can’t get over change, ranging from unfounded pre-release ratings on IMDb – the lowest I saw the star rating on opening weekend was 4.1 – to so many angry rants on YouTube. I honestly get the aversion to change with as much as those fans love the classic film, but I’ve also seen the Ghostbusters fan-base at Dragon Con who have accepted all fans into their ranks with variations on the uniforms, vehicles, and gear. They truly understand that Ghostbusters is for everyone, and I’m looking forward to seeing the new fans because of the movie.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a passing of the torch between generations. Violet Ramis Stiel, daughter of Harold Ramis, recently wrote about that and acceptance of change. The new film keeps the franchise alive, and it keeps the memory alive as well. I’m excited about seeing these women in another adventure, as well as the potential multiverse that Sony is possibly building. We may yet see the passing of the torch by the 1984 team to a new one. We may yet see Ghostbusters movies (live action and/or animated) or television shows set in Chicago, San Francisco, Atlanta, or Salt Lake City. We may yet see any degree of imagination because the sky is the limit. The potential alone is amazing.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it’s a paradigm shift in Hollywood. It’s a high-budget action film showcasing four women over 30 in an industry where they’re normally considered over the hill. These four women are in starring comedic roles in an industry that doesn’t consider women to be funny. Every shot in the film highlights the action and their roles, not their bodies and their sexuality like Megan Fox from Transformers. These women go into business for themselves and grow beyond the need for validation and approval by the institutional systems of academia and government.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is a signal that the tide may be changing. In an era with Rey (Star Wars: The Force Awakens), Jyn (Star Wars: Rogue One), and Anna and Elsa (Frozen), the Hollywood dynamic is evolving, and it’s about time.

The 2016 Ghostbusters is important because it is the future.

Ignore the negative buzz and go see it. Even better, take someone along who is young and excited by science, technology, engineering, and math. Answer the call.


Ghostbusters (1984): 7.5
Ghostbusters II (1989): 7.0
Ghostbusters (2016): 7.0


Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Seven – A New Hope

Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Seven



Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope
(PG, 121 minutes, 1977)
(PG, 125 minutes, 1997)

This is the final installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

The series progressed through each of the films in reverse chronological order, starting with 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and moving onward to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, Star Wars: Return of the Jedi, and Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back. Today wraps up everything with Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope, which is the one that started it all.

A New Hope – or (as some of the old guard fans who saw it in first run frequently chastise me) simply Star Wars – is an interesting mix of the science fiction and the sword and sorcery genres. As a result, Star Wars isn’t science fiction, but more of a space opera fantasy. It’s a tale of people and sweeping elements of human mythology, and as a result I give a lot of leeway when – with apologies to nitpickers like Neil DeGrasse Tyson – it comes to the science of spaceflight.

I can’t remember the first time I saw A New Hope, but I know that it was on a pan-and-scan VHS tape, and no matter how many times I saw it that way, it still didn’t compare to the Special Edition theatrical experience. My parents accompanied me to the opening weekend premiere in January 1997, and I knew that they were having a blast watching me watch Star Wars in a way I had never seen it before. I got completely engrossed in the film, and crept to the edge of my seat during Luke’s trench run. I cheered when the Death Star exploded, and when I glanced over with embarrassment for breaking silence during a movie – a cinematic taboo in my youth – my parents were grinning ear to ear.

The Special Edition changes didn’t bother me in general. Most of them were visual updates that neither added nor detracted from the story, but added depth to the atmosphere and environment. The Jabba scene was only okay with me, even though it grinds the plot progression to a halt by repeating information we learned in the cantina.


The lone exception in my eyes is the shootout in the cantina. By not letting Han shoot first, or even alone, it removes part of the character’s definition for me. I liked having a Han Solo that was an independent, proactive, and rough smuggler. That element is lost in Han being reactive; even if he’s preparing to kill Greedo, he still hesitates in the Special Edition.

Many people point to Darth Vader in this film as an iconic evil character, but he’s actually quite shallow in this story. He’s a mustache-twirling caricature of a villain, but not terribly complex. He’s visually set apart from both the Imperial troopers and Princess Leia. Interestingly, the Imperial officers are in black, presumably because they are not as expendable as those in white, and Tarkin (who is far more complex a villain than Vader in this movie) is in a somewhat ambiguous grey.

Before I get into the itemized list of things I love about A New Hope, the winning point for this film is how it can be viewed through the lens of any of the heroes. A modern action film, including the prequels to an extent, would limit the story to one character and their journey. A New Hope tells several distinct parallel tales, including those of Luke, Leia, Han, Obi-Wan, and Artoo-Detoo. In fact, A New Hope defines Artoo’s character by making him one of the main characters and true heroes of the film.

That’s really the magic of Star Wars: The franchise has an entire galaxy as a rich setting, and it drops the viewer directly in it instead of feeding elements to an audience through precious minutes of exposition. That element is taken care of in a scrolling block of text, and it only provides enough to frame the home instead of completely furnishing it. The movies feel so realistic because of the immersion, and have defined my favorite type of movie: The one that doesn’t provide answers but rather makes me work for them and figure them out as we go.

That’s the magic that allows me to forgive shoddy dialogue and plot holes. That’s the magic that allows me to indulge my inner child as I travel to a galaxy far, far away.


Obi-Wan Kenobi and The Force

The Force is one of the backbones for the story, and in comparison to the rest of the saga, it’s amazing how much it has evolved from this point. Obi-Wan describes it as “an energy field created by all living things” that surrounds and penetrates and binds the galaxy together.

Consider that. From the perspective of 1977, it’s an all-encompassing energy field that Jedi can tap into. From the perspective of 2005, it’s Obi-Wan Kenobi learning from Qui-Gon Jinn that the Living Force has merit and value.

Obi-Wan truly became a Jedi Master, but it took his failure with Anakin Skywalker, his exile, and his communion with the spiritual world to get him there. It is the foundation for the nature of the Force in this franchise, and an inspiration for millions of fans worldwide.

Of course, by this time, Kenobi is a crazy old wizard living on the outskirts of Tatooine civilization. The first time Luke mentions Obi-Wan, the looks between Owen and Beru are telling, and it’s a detail that I didn’t notice as much before seeing Revenge of the Sith. Now, they stand out as much as the meaning behind the claim that Obi-Wan died around the same time as Luke’s father.

In the post-Revenge of the Sith world, Obi-Wan’s expressions appear more pained when discussing his friendship with Anakin Skywalker and the betrayal of Darth Vader. He lies – a “certain point of view” – about it just as much as he does about Anakin wanting Luke to have the lighsaber, but the conversation still appears to eat away at the Jedi Master.

I also see Kenobi’s small smile as he embraces his destiny in a new light. It still carries an element of acceptance, but it also has a bit more assurance behind it after knowing the Qui-Gon Jinn has passed on his knowledge to his apprentice.

Obi Wan


The Droids

The odd couple of Artoo-Detoo and See-Threepio help drive the plot for a good part of the movie. In what was unique to me, Artoo’s dialogue and feelings are interpreted through See-Threepio and the audience’s own impressions, bringing the viewer into the film instead of leaving them out in the theater.


A New Hope is where these two droids, characters that have appeared in every film, are introduced. Artoo is unique in that he knows the complete story (so far) and has the power to inform Luke of his father’s destiny and mother’s fate. I consider him one of the true heroes of the franchise.


TIE Fighter Attack

The musical sequence starting with Obi-Wan’s sacrifice and leading into the escape from the Death Star is one of my favorites to play loudly in my car.

It starts with the Force Theme as Kenobi realizes his fate, and then launches into a passionate version of Princess Leia’s theme and the Rebel Fanfare as the Millennium Falcon rockets from the landing bay. Luke mourns with Leia’s consolation over the Force Theme before the music leads into the Rebel Fanfare as a battle theme intercut with bits of the music for the Empire. It is an exhilarating piece that gets the blood pumping.

han tie fighter


This concludes the Seven Days of Star Wars celebration. Of course, there is so much more to the franchise than these seven feature films, including the current official canon of comics and books leading into The Force Awakens, and the thousands upon thousands of hours of content from the former Expanded Universe, which is now called Legends. Even though it isn’t considered “official” by Lucasfilm, it remains a treasure trove of good stories, and as long as they entertain and inspire, they still serve a purpose.

Tomorrow, a movie premieres that fans were told would never happen. It is the beginning of a new era and a brave new world in the Star Wars universe. We don’t know what lies in store for our heroes old and new. Some will live, some will turn, and some will die, but the constant is that we carry on as a society, and our lives and lessons follow suit from generation to generation through tales of the human condition told in metaphor and mythology.

May the Force be with you always.




My Rating: 8.5/10
IMDb rating: 8.7/10

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Six – The Empire Strikes Back

Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Six



Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back
(PG, 124 minutes, 1980)
(PG, 127 minutes, 1997)

This is the sixth installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

So far, the series has progressed through each of the films in reverse chronological order, starting with 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars, and moving onward to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith, Star Wars: Attack of the Clones, Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, and Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Today continues the race toward the beginning with Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back, which is set three years after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.

The Empire Strikes Back is usually the top film for Star Wars fans, and it’s not hard to understand why. In fact, it’s kind of difficult to find anything in this film that doesn’t work for me. It’s definitely the one I have seen the most out of the entire franchise, and it’s the one that packs the most punch for me. The characters and their motivations are so vivid, even among the secondary characters, and the settings are incredibly detailed and complex. Even the pacing, which is a major complaint from me with modern cinema, is top notch.

Similar to Return of the Jedi, I can’t remember the first time I saw this one, but I do remember my first (and only) experience with it on the silver screen. Just like Return of the Jedi, I saw the Special Edition on opening night back in February 1997, and it was phenomenal.

Out of all of the Special Editions, the changes made in Empire are the least jarring and made the most story sense. The best changes for me were the superficial modifications to Cloud City, including the more dynamic atmospheric lighting. It made the city look so much larger and expansive, and a bit less confusing in the later chase sequences.


Joss Whedon aired a criticism about the film back in 2013, noting that it doesn’t actually end. He does have a point there: Empire doesn’t actually resolve the primary conflict in lieu of pushing it off to Return of the Jedi. I’m willing to ignore that to an extent because of how far this film pushes the mythos and characters, and how closely the concept of a cliffhanger tracks with the Flash Gordon roots of the franchise.

I love The Empire Strikes Back. But, what do I really love about The Empire Strikes Back?


Han and Leia

The Han and Leia romance is really the centerpiece of the film, and it shows in every aspect. I love that the story gives us a strong woman who doesn’t like to admit that she’s not in control and a stubborn man who actually learns how to speak to her instead of at her.


It’s not that Leia has to cede control of her life, but more of the situation: From the moment when the Empire assaults Hoth, Han is in charge of trying to get the princess – a valuable member of the Rebellion – to safety. They run from the snow planet to the asteroid belt, escape the hidden danger of the space slug, hide themselves on a Star Destroyer and in the refuse, and seek refuge on Bespin. Along the way, Leia discovers that this simple blue-collar snarky smuggler actually knows what he’s doing in the galaxy and that he can be trusted. She’s not treated like cargo or a damsel in distress, but like a human being who needs help. When the tables are turned and Han is the one placed in danger, she does everything she can to rescue him.

To that end, this portrayal of Leia was the first female action hero I saw in cinematic pop culture, and she’s still my favorite.

Their love theme is also still one my favorite orchestral pieces ever, and that theme is in the very DNA of the film’s score. Even the chase through the asteroid field and the escape from Bespin use elements as their backbone. This is Han and Leia’s movie.



Yoda is my favorite character in the entire Star Wars franchise.

Luke takes an incredible journey in this film, bridging the gap between innocent farmboy in A New Hope and the contemplative warrior in Return of the Jedi. On that path, he receives a mentor in what seems to be a crazed hermit living on a swamp planet who speaks in fortune cookie clichés. It’s the wisdom that inhabits the character behind those sayings that I love.


Yoda is a puppet, but he feels so unbelievably real thanks to the talents of Frank Oz. The ears and the eyes convey so much emotion from the wise Jedi Master, and the performance felt so magical. Yoda’s musical theme is also a perfect encapsulation of the character, hiding the mystical power behind the almost whimsical and floating notes.

Yoda also reminds me of my late grandmother. She was my closest grandparent when I was growing up, and was kind and wise, stern when she needed to be, and had just a little bit of childlike magic behind her eyes.


The Duel at Bespin

Where I think that Return of the Jedi is the story that provides the greatest depth to Darth Vader, Empire is the one that defines his unparalleled power and legacy. At every turn, he is a match for the running Rebels, and he uses Han and Leia to lure Luke to Bespin through Luke’s attachments and the power of the Force. The parallel is striking: Anakin fell because of his attachment issues, and now his son’s attachments to precipitate another fall.


The duel is intriguing because Vader is obviously the cat in this game. He keeps whittling away at Luke’s defenses, toying with him, batting at him, and maneuvering him into the corner before making the killing blow. The trick here is that the killing blow is not a physical strike – sure, he slices Luke’s hand off to (literally) disarm him – but rather an emotional and mental strike. Vader defeats Luke emotionally by revealing a dark truth. He breaks Luke in a last attempt to lure him somewhat willingly to the Darkness.

Luke defeated

That is how the Empire struck back.


Tomorrow’s entry in the Seven Days of Star Wars will wrap things up with Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope.

My Rating: 9/10
IMDb rating: 8.8/10

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Five – Return of the Jedi

Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Five


Star Wars - Return Of The Jedi (1983) Style B by Kazuhiko Sano

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi
(PG, 132 minutes, 1983)
(PG, 135 minutes, 1997)


This is the fifth installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

Day one examined 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Day two looked at Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Day three was dedicated to Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Day four examined Star Wars: The Phantom Menace. Today is about Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi, which is set four years after the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.

Return of the Jedi has always been my least favorite of the original movies, but it’s still a good entry in the franchise. I really enjoy most of it, with the exception of the Tatooine sequences which I find rather slow.

I don’t fully recall the first time I saw Return of the Jedi, but I was very excited to see it opening week for the 1997 Special Edition releases. It was originally scheduled for a March 7th premiere, but ended up getting pushed back by a week after Lucasfilm saw how well the other two were performing. The Special Edition changes didn’t bother me at all except for Jedi Rocks, the new musical number in Jabba’s Palace that replaced Lapti Nek. The extra footage with Boba Fett carousing with the band’s backup singers is pretty funny to me, but the musical sequence itself kind of falls flat compared to Lapti Nek.

I was okay – okay, not excited, but just okay – with the 2011 Blu-Ray changes as well. I was apathetic about the Jedi Spirits change that replaced Sebastian Shaw with Hayden Christensen since the story logic makes sense – the spirits retain how they saw themselves at their death, Anakin the Jedi Knight died in Revenge of the Sith when he became Darth Vader, and I doubt he ever looked in a mirror after donning the armor – and Shaw is still in the movie when Luke removes Vader’s helmet. His screen time was reduced by, what, ten seconds? I don’t see that as a slight to the actor.

What I do wonder is how Anakin got access to the Force Spirit knowledge. Yoda and Obi-Wan learned from Qui-Gon Jinn’s spirit, but there’s nothing in the story to suggest that Qui-Gon also visited Vader. That is the major plot inconsistency between the Prequel and Original Trilogies that makes me really wonder.

Finally, the biggest thing that annoys me about Return of the Jedi is the music. The soundtrack on the film is fantastic, and when Sony released the full soundtracks in time for the Special Editions, I jumped on the opportunity. The problem with Jedi is how Sony mixed the music when converting it to digital: The sound is muddy and muted, like they over-compressed it when removing some of the background noise. The better sounding version actually comes from 1993’s Star Wars Trilogy anthology release, which compiled one CD for each movie and a fourth disc with previously unreleased tracks. It’s still not the complete soundtrack, and it does have a significant hissing sound, but it sounds a lot better than the Special Edition. It also contains “Lapti Nek” and two versions of the Ewok “Yub Nub” track.

Even as the weakest of the Original Trilogy, there are things that I love about Return of the Jedi.


Luke Skywalker

Luke really comes into his own with this film, growing from the wide-eyed innocent in A New Hope to the impulsive warrior in Empire Strikes Back and finally landing on a calm and pensive Knight in this story. He isn’t as cocky in this story as he was heading into the duel at Bespin, and he takes thoughtful action in an elaborate rescue plan for Han. He’s not afraid to take action, but he also reflects a lot of Qui-Gon Jinn and a later Obi-Wan Kenobi in watching and learning about what’s happening around him before jumping into the fray. He’s deeply in tune with the Force at this point, and confronts his fears to help bring his father back to the Light.

This is my favorite interpretation of the young Jedi.



The Death of Darth Vader

This is also the story that provides the greatest depth to Darth Vader. Many people tell me that they don’t like Return of the Jedi for neutering the badass Sith Lord we saw in two movies, but this is an enforcer whose motivations are being questioned by his über-evil boss and whose very essence is being torn by his own conscience.


After weighing the options between Palpatine and his son, Anakin re-emerges and saves Luke’s life by killing his own master at the expense of his own life. In one of the moments in Star Wars that brings a tear to my eye, he looks on his son – the very son he thought he lost when Padmé died – without the aid of the armor that defined his second life. The music behind the touching scene between Mark Hamill and Sebastian Shaw only adds to the feeling, using the Imperial March in muted and singular notes to signal Anakin’s passing.

It’s a little different after watching Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith because I find it a little more difficult to forgive someone who kills kids in cold blood, but the nostalgia still fuels my emotions when watching a son seeing his father for the first and last time. It’s not so much the details, but the sweep of the mythology that carries the meaning for me.


The Ewok Celebration

The Ewoks are an element of Star Wars that have never bothered me. First, they’re cute (even though they’ll eat you), and second, they make an example out of the Empire’s arrogance. All that military might at their disposal and they can’t defeat a primitive species that fights with rocks and spears.


The biggest thing I like about the Ewoks is how they party, both after accepting the Rebels into the tribe and after the destruction of Death Star II. I’m a big fan of both the original and Special Edition endings: The original was good for the time in wrapping up the movie, but the Special Edition version wraps up the trilogy and, in part, the six-film arc. I love “Yub Nub” and find myself humming it quite often, but I also love the new music and visuals developed for 1997’s releases. It adds a larger scope to the Rebellion’s actions and the Empire’s defeats.



Tomorrow’s entry in the Seven Days of Star Wars will take a look at fan-favorite Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back.


My Rating: 8/10
IMDb rating: 8.4/10

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Four – The Phantom Menace


Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Four



Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace
(PG, 133 minutes, 1999)
(PG, 136 minutes, 2001)

This is the fourth installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

Day one examined 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Day two looked at Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Day three was dedicated to Star Wars: Attack of the Clones. Today is all about Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace, which is set 32 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.

The hype was strong with this one. Not counting the Special Editions or the Ewok TV movies, sixteen years had passed since the last film installment of Star Wars. To say that The Phantom Menace was highly anticipated is an understatement.

I had discovered Star Wars sometime around 1985, but really got into it sometime around 1992 when I started reading Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. The only way I had seen the films was on pan-and-scan VHS tapes or edited television presentations, and after the experience of the Special Editions in 1997, I was stoked for a new story on the silver screen. All I knew about the story of how Anakin became Darth Vader was from the scant lines in the movies and the one-line description of the lightsaber duel “over a volcano” from the Return of the Jedi novelization.

When the trailers came out, I asked a friend of mine who had a CD burner to make a copy for me, which I watched almost every day in what could only be described today as terrible resolution. I bought tickets as soon as I could for opening weekend, and on my meager wage as a part-time elementary school custodian, I treated my family to a new adventure in the galaxy far, far away.

Despite all the hype, I was not disappointed.

Crazy, right?

I’m not an apologist fanboy, and as one can see from the last three days, I don’t love this franchise unconditionally. I get the anger over the prequels. They weren’t what die-hard fans who had been with the franchise since the summer of ’77 expected. Darth Vader’s a morally good and cute kid who likes to race and loves his mother? The conflict is about the politics of trade disputes instead of good vs. evil? The Force is really microbes in your cells? Jar Jar Binks!?

The crux the matter is that the movie those fans expected didn’t happen, and that infuriates them. It makes them believe that George Lucas destroyed their childhoods or tainted the three movies that became a legend. It’s fueled the careers of people like Simon Pegg who take every chance they get to complain about the franchise. It prompts supposed “true fans” to exclude anyone who doesn’t think exactly like them. It makes them cheer when Patton Oswalt suggests going back in time and killing Lucas with a shovel.

It justifies parents actually teaching and wanting their kids to hate. Think about that for a minute.

It also makes some fans think that Star Wars belongs to the public because it has so permeated pop culture. I can’t begin to describe how ridiculous that sounds to me. The ideas and discussions and interpretations certainly belong to the public, but the intellectual property still belongs to the artists who created it. Consider franchises that have been around longer than Star WarsDoctor Who, Star Trek, Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, and so on – and ask why this one is special enough to be fan property instead of Lucasfilm property. Answer: It’s not.

Don’t get me wrong: The prequels weren’t great movies, and I do place a lot of that at the feet of George Lucas. It’s well known that he didn’t have a lot of opposition in the prequel era. Sure, he’d directed before – American Graffiti, THX 1138, the original Star Wars – but each time he’d had a producer like Francis Ford Coppola acting as the angel/devil on his shoulder pushing him to think a little differently here and there. He was also still hungry to make a name for himself and defy the Hollywood establishment. By 1999, things were different.

George Lucas is a wonderful dreamer, a fantastic innovator, and a great experimental filmmaker. But for mainstream film like Star Wars, he needs a counterbalance, and I don’t think he had one strong enough for the Prequel Era. Those films needed tightening and more polish, and that’s what hurt them in the end.

Also, that “younger” Yoda puppet? That was painful. As much as I adore Frank Oz, I’m so glad they replaced it with a CG Yoda in the Blu-Ray releases.

Puppet and New CGI Phantom Menace Yoda

So, despite the flaws, what makes this movie work for me?


A Gateway to Fandom

Star Wars is, at its core, a children’s story about families and people, the choices they make, and the consequences of their actions. In particular, it’s a story about the Skywalker family. That’s not a dismissal of the story’s complexity, which attracts fans of all ages and drives them to analyze every corner of the universe, but it’s based on the movie serial adventures that inspired George Lucas as a youth.

In the same way that the original 1977 installment inspired young fans – today’s parents – The Phantom Menace inspired young fans in the Generation Y and Millennial sets, and it’s readily apparent in how the Star Wars juggernaut keeps rolling. If The Phantom Menace had been as crappy a movie as people claim, Star Wars would have died at that point. At the very least, it would have been relegated to cult status like so many ‘80s films.

But it wasn’t, and that’s amazing to me. The ‘80s got the Original Trilogy, the ‘90s got the brunt of the Expanded Universe, the 2000s got The Prequel Era, and the 2010s got The Clone Wars, Rebels, and the beginnings of the post-Disney Big Bang. Every generation gets a new vision of Star Wars, and the mythology and the fandom carries on.


Anakin Skywalker

Fan expectations determined that The Phantom Menace’s version of Anakin Skywalker should have been what we got in Attack of the Clones: a reckless Jedi Knight flirting with the Dark Side. Instead, we all got an adorable slave boy with a deep respect for family.

And I’m okay with that.

The Darth Vader we met in the Original Trilogy was a dark and evil mustache twirler who gained depth over the course of three movies. There was no doubt in A New Hope that he was evil: He had a deep, menacing voice, wore all black, and killed people on a whim. He was ruthless, a concept that was built upon in the Expanded Universe as he slaughtered every remaining Jedi and Rebel he could.

But in our history, darkness wasn’t readily apparent in childhood. Even Hitler wasn’t born as a genocidal maniac.

Anakin Shadow

If the episodic Star Wars films are truly about the Skywalkers, then it makes sense to know about Anakin before he becomes a Jedi. The trilogies run in similar narrative styles – if you have the time, take the plunge into Mike Klimo’s Ring Theory – and Luke was also introduced before he discovered the Force. It also provides a greater dramatic pedestal from which Anakin can fall.

I mean, it’s not entirely necessary for the redemption story, but it makes Anakin’s story a little sweeter for me. It also struck an emotional chord for me since The Phantom Menace came out around the time I was considering leaving home for college. When Anakin leaves and his mother tells him to be brave and not look back, I cry a little for the eight year old.

On the dark side of this topic, a lot of people criticized the film and its inclusion of a young Anakin by attacking Jake Lloyd. He was ten years old when the film came out, and he got smacked with a bow wave of negativity and threats, and he doesn’t like talking about his role in Star Wars to this day.

Some people say that it’s just how the internet is, but these are the same people who had no problem bullying a ten-year old kid online for something that wasn’t really his fault. It’s inexcusable.


Qui-Gon Jinn and the Nature of the Force

As I mentioned with Attack of the Clones, the Prequel Era came with the unspoken promise that we would see the Jedi in their prime. The Jedi in The Phantom Menace, with the exception of Obi-Wan and Qui-Gon, were effectively monks in thoughtful seclusion on Coruscant. That made Qui-Gon Jinn a breath of fresh air.


In this adventure, Qui-Gon bends the Jedi Code because he believes in a cause. He remains dedicated to the Order, but sees the nature of the Force in a different light than his peers, which (for better or worse) prevents him from moving beyond going from mission to mission around the galaxy.

The Jedi at large focused on the Universal Force, but Qui-Gon paid more attention to the Living Force. Amusingly, this appears to have affected Yoda later on as he discusses more elements of the Living Force when he trains Luke in Empire Strikes Back. The Jedi Order played with the Living Force a little bit with the concept of midichlorians, which I see as more of an attempt to use science to explain spirituality and mysticism. At the height of the Republic, so much of everyday life was about technology and science that it makes sense to apply it in all aspects. By the time of Luke’s training, the Order was as much a legend as the Library of Alexandria in our culture. Midichlorians don’t bother me because they don’t stick around long in the saga.

Qui-Gon saw (and lived in) the shades of grey on the galaxy around him, and saw worth in every soul he met. I deeply admire the character, and believe that had he been Anakin’s mentor, things would have turned out so much better for the Skywalkers, the Jedi, and the Republic.


Jar Jar Binks

Qui-Gon Jinn is exactly why I don’t have any problem with Jar Jar Binks.

Yes, he was a misguided comic relief to a movie otherwise waterlogged in political games. Yes, he was silly, which was out of place in Star Wars to this point in time. But he was also valuable to certain messages from the film. He introduced the heroes to the other side of Naboo’s symbiotic relationship, and eventually prompted Queen Amidala to seek peace with the Gungans.

I never picked up on the racism that others saw in him, and wondered from a behind-the-scenes perspective if Ahmed Best, a black man, would portray and advertise a racist character in a movie even if the pay was good. I doubt that he would.

On the topic of behind the scenes movie magic, Jar Jar Binks is also responsible for the motion capture technology in modern cinema. Filmmakers in the last 15 years have built upon the foundations that George Lucas built to make Jar Jar Binks interactive with the actors. Without that character, I don’t know that we’d have character interpretations like Gollum or the Hulk.

Jar Jar Binks also held a message for me. Much of my youth was spent in isolation from my peers, mostly because I wasn’t athletic, I wasn’t dedicated to the majority religion in Utah, and didn’t run with typical in-crowd. I placed academics over dating, and I spent more time writing and reading than anything else. When The Phantom Menace came out, I was coming out of some of my darkest years. It was a period where I nearly always felt cornered, alone, and angry, and I sometimes wondered if the world would even miss me.

Jar Jar Binks actually gave me hope. He was an outcast – a “pathetic life form” – who wasn’t a hero, but someone who was appreciated for what he had to offer to the heroes. He taught the heroes something about the worth of common people in the galaxy who weren’t Jedi or politicians.

I’m not his biggest fan, but I place some value on what he brought to the story, and it makes me sad that he ended up being an ignorant stepping stone who thought he was doing the right thing during Palpatine’s ascension.



The Lightsaber Duel

Before The Phantom Menace, lightsaber fights were styled after battles with broadswords. In the Prequel Era, they became something we had never seen before, and the energy they imparted kept me engaged. In the years since, the three-way duel has waned as one of my favorites, but at the time it was both energetic and heartbreaking.

Unfortunately, it has also spawned an entire generation of lightsaber builders who think that swordplay is all about spinning blades and acrobatics.



The Music

The Phantom Menace was also a pioneer in modern Star Wars music, which carried over in several re-used sequences for the following episodes. When people think about music in The Phantom Menace, they start with “Duel of the Fates”, which is a great piece, but not one of my favorites.

“Anakin’s Theme” was a fantastic reflection of the character with its light and gentle airiness that speaks of young Anakin’s empathy. It also foreshadows with the subtle hints of “The Imperial March” in its DNA, telling you that tragedy is in the young boy’s destiny.

The other piece of music that I love from the film is “Augie’s Great Municipal Band”, which plays over the peace ceremony. The part that I love is how it tells you who the phantom menace truly is, and it does it with the voices of the children who will suffer in the future. When you slow and pitch down the children’s choir, it reveals the theme of Emperor Palpatine. I find it cool and so very, very creepy.



Tomorrow brings the Original Trilogy with Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi.


My Rating: 7.5/10
IMDb rating: 6.5/10

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Three – Attack of the Clones


Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Three



Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones
(PG, 142 minutes, 2002)

This is the third installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

Day one examined 2008’s Star Wars: The Clone Wars. Day two looked at Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith. Today’s entry is for the second of the Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones, which is set 22 years before the events of Star Wars: A New Hope.

I was still in college when this came out, and it was a special trip to The Gateway in Salt Lake City with my future wife, my sister, and a friend of hers. It was one of the first times I was able to get advance tickets for a movie. While it was an exciting movie for the saga’s mythology, it has become my least favorite of the Prequel Trilogy.

The acting chemistry issues I discussed with Revenge of the Sith apply more heavily here. I get Anakin being a hormonal teenager, and I get the courtly love story elements, but it’s just Hayden Christensen and his lack of chemistry with Natalie Portman that grates on me.

The bigger issue I have with Attack of the Clones is the Jedi Order.

Anakin’s issues with attachment are noticed as early as the first reel when he and Obi-Wan are going to Padmé’s apartment. Anakin is obsessive – and actually downright creepy – about Padmé’s safety. Being near her, in his own words, is intoxicating. So, when the Order decided to send a Jedi with Padmé back to Naboo, they should have sent a completely different Knight. Send Anakin with Kenobi to investigate the assassin, or even place him on library duty while Kenobi’s away. As trite as it sounds, remove him from the temptations away from his oath to the Jedi Code.

If the Council thought it appropriate to send Anakin as a protector to further his independent study as a budding Knight, then it should have been painfully clear to Kenobi at the Battle of Geonosis that this attachment was a problem. Yes, the Clone Wars were beginning and every able-bodied Jedi was needed on the front lines – interpreted at this point as a defense of the Republic – but every effort should have been expended to keep Anakin separated from Padmé.

Even Yoda knew it was a problem. This wasn’t the Dark Side clouding things; this was arrogance and ignorance, and it pervades the entire film. The Jedi truly brought about their own downfall because of it, and it frustrates me because I’m watching intelligent people make stupid choices without recognizing just how stupid they are.

So, yes, I’m hard on the movie. But there are things to like about Attack of the Clones.


The Rumble in the Rain

With a lot of the character drama being downright irritating, the action sequences pick up the tab, and one of the coolest sequences is the “Rumble in the Rain” on Kamino.


We got a small taste of Jedi versus Mandalorian in Return of the Jedi, but this really showcases how badass both Jango Fett and Obi-Wan Kenobi were. It also comes up again when Kenobi tails Fett’s Slave I to Geonosis and they face off again in the planet’s rings.


Foreshadowing Vader

There are a few elements in Attack of the Clones that foreshadow Anakin’s descent into darkness. The first is his discussion with Padmé in the fields of Naboo about how politicians should be made to agree with the common good. While he is joking with Padmé, it feels like he actually believes it, at least in part.


Another element is after Anakin’s dream on Naboo when he’s meditating on the lakefront. His stance echoes back to The Empire Strikes Back and Vader’s meditations on the Super Star Destroyer’s bridge.

Anakin Lake


Finally, the obvious foreshadowing for Anakin’s fall to the Dark Side is his vengeance against the Tuskens after his mother dies. He walks straight down the path detailed by Yoda in The Phantom Menace – “Fear is the path of the Dark Side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” – and creates a disturbance so large in the Force that it even shakes the spirit of Qui-Gon Jinn. This leads Yoda to question and explore life after death, which is a key element of the Original Trilogy.


The Wedding

While the chemistry between Natalie Portman and Hayden Christensen gives me trouble, the wedding scene at the end of the movie is one of the most beautiful of the franchise.

AOTC wedding

Natalie Portman’s costumes in Attack of the Clones were, for the most part, very elegant and elaborate. The wedding gown was a nice change of pace, and calls back to the peasant disguises that the character wore during the return flight to Naboo. The wedding dress maintains the elegance of the character, but delicately melds it with a simplicity that reflects the monastic Jedi robes of her husband. It also calls back to the concepts of courtly love by bringing in medieval and typically Arthurian elements.

The ceremony takes place in the same place where the pair were in hiding on Naboo, which is where they shared their first kiss, and the bright sunset behind them over the water is symbolic of the crucible yet to come.


The Battle of Geonosis and the Lightsaber Duel

The Battle of Geonosis finally delivers on the promise of stories set in the Golden Age of the Jedi Order by showing a lot of Jedi doing Jedi things. In this case, it’s a massive lightsaber battle, and it’s the moment where I sat up in my chair and really engaged until the end of the film.

On top of being a showcase of Jedi talent, The Battle of Geonosis is the start of the Clone Wars, which was only a whispered legend in the Original Trilogy. The movie shifts genres to a war epic, and while the CG effects are a bit dodgy, they are also a test bed for the technology that drives a lot of the blockbusters a decade and more later.


The feather in the cap of this sequence is the lightsaber duel with our heroes and the duplicitous Count Dooku. It was fantastic to watch Christopher Lee fencing with a lightsaber – the long shots were a double with Lee’s head digitally replaced, but all of the close up work was his alone – and watching him dispatch powerful Jedi like Kenobi and Skywalker was amazing. I did not expect what followed, but I cheered for the first time in the film when Yoda dropped his walking stick and ignited a lightsaber to battle Dooku, and it says a lot that the Sith Lord had to effectively cheat to escape.



“Across the Stars”

The one part of the entire love story that I do really enjoy is the theme “Across the Stars”. The theme is both elegant and tragic, and feels inspired by the classical waltz music one would typically hear in a Victorian or Edwardian period piece such as Pride and Prejudice. The piece has a courtly innocence that is layered with the darkness yet to come from the forbidden love affair, and is one of the highlights when I watch this film.



Tomorrow, I’ll finish off the Prequel Era with my favorite moments from 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace.

My Rating: 7.0/10
IMDb rating: 6.7/10

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day Two – Revenge of the Sith


Seven Days of Star Wars
Day Two



Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith
(PG-13, 140 minutes, 2005)

This is the second installment in a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

Day one examined the 2008 animated feature, Star Wars: The Clone Wars. For the second entry in the series, I’m looking back on the last of the Prequel Trilogy, Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith, which is set 19 years before the events of the first Star Wars film.

I caught this in theaters on opening weekend, which was a bit difficult given the time and place. It was while I was still in the Navy, stationed at the submarine base in Connecticut, and preparing to leave in a couple of months for a deployment. It was easily my favorite of the Prequel Trilogy, and one of the most emotional. Also, of all of the novelizations, the adaptation by Matthew Stover is amazing and the best written of the Prequel Trilogy.

One issue I have with the film, the chemistry between Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker) and Natalie Portman (Padmé Amidala), is minimized in comparison to Attack of the Clones, which is odd since the story tightly revolves around these two star-crossed lovers. Both of these actors are fine on their own, but their scenes together don’t sell me on the affection between their characters. The relationship is more of a courtly love instead of a modern love, and that follows since Star Wars is built on the trappings of knights and princesses. The mistresses are independent souls, and the lover tries to prove his worth through acts of bravery and nobility. It’s an awkward relationship built on innocence, impulse, and an idolatry of the very concept of love, but there’s also an element of chemistry missing from the acting side that makes me question their compatibility.

Christensen’s acting has also been a thorn in my side as far as interpretation. Back in April 2011, I wrote “Tragedy of the Heart” for, in which I discuss the literary trope of the broken heart. Of the 1200 words in that essay, I get the most e-mail about how I interpreted Anakin’s reaction when Padmé reveals her pregnancy.

At the time of her death, Padmé had been experiencing a great degree of sorrow. First, toward the beginning of Revenge of the Sith, she had been trying to decide if she should tell Anakin about her pregnancy and seemed dismayed by his rather apathetic response to her news.

The feedback indicates that Christensen came across as being surprised or shocked followed by being thrilled at the news. From a certain point of view, I can see that, but the first thing I see in this scene every time I watch the movie is apathy. Maybe it’s because apathy and shock look similar on the surface, or maybe it’s because Christensen couldn’t sell me on it. I’m not entirely sure.


As far as Padmé is concerned, this film sets her back from the progress she made over the previous two installments. The once strong and proud Padmé Amidala who liberated her planet and fought in the Clone Wars takes a back seat to a stereotypical hormonal pregnant woman. No, really. She spends practically the entire film fawning over Anakin and moping about his emotional issues before dying in the final act. She was most powerful in the deleted scenes where she stands up against the tyranny of Palpatine’s machinations, but that doesn’t even make it to the film. What this story does to Padmé is inexcusable.

The last big thing that irks me about Revenge of the Sith is the birth of the twins. Since Star Wars deals significantly in mythological and literary elements – and, hey, I did write an essay about it – I can buy the death by a broken heart or loss of will, but not from the vocoder circuits of a medical droid.

Finally, the future of Star Wars in cinema needs more Alderaan. Simply gorgeous.


What about the things that I love about Revenge of the Sith?


The Battle of Coruscant

While the films skipped right over the Clone Wars in the three years between chapters, the climax of the epic confrontation was fantastic. The Star Wars main theme fades away into pounding taiko drums as two Jedi starfighters race across the hull of a Venator-class Star Destroyer, and swells into a very martial version of the Force Theme.

It reflects where the Jedi are at this point. They’re no longer the defenders of peace and justice, but are actively waging a war as generals on behalf of the Republic, and even though the name (and the theme) still mean something, it’s tainted by their aggression and loss of balance.


While the George Lucas vision of Star Wars wasn’t so much about spaceships as it was a soap opera about family conflict, the opening siege of the Republic capital made a lot of sense to me as a major step toward the downfall of the Jedi.


Political Connotations

Even though Lucas denies it, Revenge of the Sith was timely in the sense of world politics. After the events of September 11, 2001, the world embarked on the Global War on Terror, and the United States passed broad and sweeping surveillance and security legislation with the USA PATRIOT Act. In the United States, public support was extensive, and speaking out against events or leadership was nearly heretical.

padme senate

Lines like “So this is how liberty dies—with thunderous applause” and “If you’re not with me, then you’re my enemy” brought the reality of the age directly to the silver screen and to the galaxy far, far away. In the tradition of science fiction acting as an existential metaphor, Revenge of the Sith reflected the human condition of the post-9/11 era and provided a warning of our possible future.

Individual science fiction stories may seem as trivial as ever to the blinder critics and philosophers of today — but the core of science fiction, its essence has become crucial to our salvation, if we are to be saved at all.”

—Isaac Asimov

George Lucas claims that he wrote the basic outlines for Revenge of the Sith in the 1970s during the Vietnam War era, and that President Nixon was an inspiration for those story elements, but historians have also readily compared the GWOT to the Vietnam War, so the parallels exist.


Order 66 and the Battle of the Heroes

It seems strange to count the Order 66 sequence among my favorite moments of the film, but it is a truly powerful turning point in the saga. The lightsaber battle between Sidious and four Jedi Masters is quick but terrifying as it brings the realization that the Jedi were never fully prepared for the retribution of the Sith. Anakin’s betrayal of Mace Windu is shocking and saddening, and while Hayden Christensen’s distraught acting before the christening of Darth Vader is still painful, the effects layered on Ian McDiarmid’s dialogue make it feel like he’s pulling from deep within the Dark Side of the Force.

From Commander Cody opening fire on Obi-Wan Kenobi’s Utapauan varactyl lizard – Boga’s scream as he falls from the cliffs to his death is heart-wrenching – to Anakin’s assault on the Jedi Temple, the first purge of the Jedi Order brings tears to my eyes every time.


It culminates in the Battle of the Heroes where Anakin and Obi-Wan, equally matched in their skills and expert knowledge of one another, fight in a no-holds barred duel of Light and Dark.

Order 66 is the pivotal moment in this movie, and in the saga as a whole, that shows how far the Jedi have fallen and sets up the events of the original movies that are so beloved in pop culture.


Birth and Death

Vader birth

While the circumstances around Padmé’s death are somewhat problematic, the poetry between her end and Vader’s rebirth is elegant. While she is giving birth to Luke and Leia, the Emperor is enslaving the charred remains of Vader into his iconic armor. At the moment that Padmé dies, Vader rises. Her death signals his rebirth, but it also heralds the arrival of the new hope for the galaxy.

It also brings life to a fan theory that Sidious knew how to manipulate the knowledge of Darth Plagueis the Wise all along.


“A New Hope and End Credits”

Last but least is a bonus from the soundtrack. The movie’s end credits start and end with the Star Wars theme, which combines the “Rebel Fanfare” and “Luke’s Theme”. Between those bookends are “Princess Leia’s Theme” and “Battle of the Heroes”, which encapsulates the end state of the story in one of the strongest mediums of the franchise, the orchestral genius of John Williams.

The soundtrack version goes a little extra with an extended version of “The Throne Room” suite from A New Hope, which is basically the “Force Theme”. The extra music strikes me as the concert suite that never was for the Force, and reminds me that the mystical energy field exists outside of the battle between good and evil. It’s always there and always waiting for balance.


Tomorrow, I’ll continue walking back through time to 2002 and my favorite moments from Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones.


My Rating: 8.0/10
IMDb rating: 7.7/10

Seven Days of Star Wars: Day One – The Clone Wars


Seven Days of Star Wars
Day One



Star Wars: The Clone Wars
(PG, 98 minutes, 2008)

Today kicks off a series of looks at each of the wide-released theatrical Star Wars films leading up to the premiere of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This includes each of the films that comprise the saga’s story after the 2012 purchase of Lucasfilm by the Walt Disney Company and the April 2014 canon reset.

For the first entry in the series, I’m looking back on the most recent theatrical release, Star Wars: The Clone Wars, which is set between Episodes II and III.

I caught this in theaters during first run, but not opening weekend, and I still regret selecting it above My Sister’s Keeper. The following television show was phenomenal, but the feature is something I’ve only seen twice. If you’re new to The Clone Wars, I recommend jumping into the series first. Come back to the movie after you have the first (and maybe second) season under your belt.

That’s not to say that the movie is terrible. On its own, Star Wars: The Clone Wars is a mediocre feature. The plot was fairly simple: The Republic and the Separatists are both vying for control over Hutt-controlled trade routes. In an attempt to gain an upper hand, Count Dooku kidnaps Jabba the Hutt’s son, which means that the Jedi are on the hook to recover the little Huttling.

The main problem with The Clone Wars feature presentation is that it wasn’t designed as a movie. The Rotta the Hutt story was originally three completed episodes (“Castle of Deception”, “Castle of Doom”, and “Castle of Salvation”), and the Battle of Christophsis story with the introduction of Ahsoka Tano was a completely separate episode. At a private screening, George Lucas suggested to director Dave Filoni (Avatar: The Last Airbender) that they should make them a feature. Sadly, it results in an uneven presentation with a lackluster story.

But, despite all of the negative points, there are some incredibly awesome things in Star Wars: The Clone Wars.


Ahsoka Tano

The Clone Wars was a dramatic shift for the saga which, to this point, had never discussed Anakin having an apprentice. While some segments of fandom rebelled – ironically, Ahsoka is well-received in fandom over seven years later – I enjoyed the reasoning within the story: After the events of Attack of the Clones, the Jedi Council wanted to help Anakin overcome his attachment issues as Tano became more independent, and that she would also teach him to espouse a greater sense of responsibility. Obi-Wan appeared to be instrumental in bringing this to the Council as well.


This begins the development of one’s the Prequel Era’s most dynamic and interesting characters. While I still like the Prequel Era, many of the main characters are constrained by the original trilogy of films. From the Original Trilogy point of view, we know where Anakin, Obi-Wan, and Yoda end up, and we also know that the days of the Jedi are numbered. Ahsoka, on the other hand, was a wild card, and her character arc added greater interest to her comrades and a greater depth to the Prequel Trilogy overall.


Tom Kane’s Introductions

Thematically, The Clone Wars takes a page from newsreels of the World War II, Korean War, and Vietnam War eras. Similar to the short films that Disney and Pixar are running before their features today – the practice itself being a throwback to the golden age of cinema – features during those wars were preceded by news from the front headlined by a bombastic announcer.

The Clone Wars replaced the standard opening Star Wars crawl, which provided a slice of background for the adventure to come, with introductions by Tom Kane (also the voice of Yoda in the series) in a caricature of the newsreel announcer. I was in love with this idea from the first time I heard “A galaxy divided!


Kevin Kiner’s Score

Kevin Kiner did fantastic work with the score in both the movie and the follow-on series. He kept the music in the Star Wars flavor while also keeping it light (for a cartoon show) and unique. He also steered away from simply repeating the themes from the movies over and over again.

Going hand-in-hand with the introductions, he reworked the Star Wars main theme into a brass heavy patriotic march, which kept the feel of the newsreel style and provided the energy to launch into tales of Jedi at war.


Battle of Christophsis

Some of the greatest innovation in Star Wars comes from the battle sequences. Before August of 2008, I had never considered Walkers being able to scale a sheer cliff, but then the AT-TEs did it at Christophsis. My mind was blown at first, but then all I could say was, “Of course they can.”



Tomorrow, I’ll continue walking back through time to 2005 and my favorite moments from Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith.


My Rating: 6.0/10
IMDb rating: 5.8/10

Movie Review: Nintendo Quest (2015)


Nintendo Quest
(NR, 92 minutes, 2015)

“The game doesn’t start until you say YES.” –Rambo (1987)


The challenge: One man must purchase all 678 games made for the Nintendo Entertainment System in thirty days, but cannot use the internet to buy anything.

That man is Jay Bartlett, a Nintendo fan from the very beginning, and his challenge took him on an epic road trip through Canada and the United States. During his quest, documented by friend and filmmaker Rob McCallum, he learned some valuable lessons about himself and his passions, and discovered how every cartridge has a story.

Nintendo Quest chronicles Jay’s journey over ninety minutes, including a deep look at the enduring legacy of the NES and Nintendo’s fandom overall. Where most documentaries become encumbered by the weight of their subject matter, this film establishes a good variety of segments to break up what could be a monotonous sequence of visiting used game stores and watching the miles tick by. The music and visuals are very reminiscent of the NES atmosphere of the ’80s and ’90s, including a ticker in the corner of the screen that tracks Jay’s progress and budget like experience points and a health point bar.

There is some good drama in watching Jay deliberate over buying the games, especially since it tears him from his comfort zone and requires him to negotiate deals and confront his introverted personality. Jay still has to work his day job during the quest, and the reality show aspect for this part of the presentation makes you want to cheer for him. It also made my childhood, which spent thousands of hours mashing buttons on channel 3, grin ear to ear with the memories.

As Jay’s story progresses, McCallum takes the opportunity to interview fellow gamers and celebrities and experts in the field about what makes the original Nintendo system so special. Along with the common themes of memories and family, there is particular emphasis on Nintendo’s ethic during the height of the 8-bit system’s unparalleled popularity: The company and their developers set aside their inhibitions and embraced the zany and the imaginative. In today’s era, video games provide rich settings and deep stories, but the Nintendo plunked down a hero in a strange bare bones environment and let the player tell their own story with the press of every button, and perhaps that’s why the NES continues to thrive decades after it stopped being produced.

Nintendo Quest strikes a variety of tones from high and low to happy and sad, and as Jay meets his heroes and pushes to the very end of the road to succeed, you can tell that he has gained so much more than a collection from the journey. Just like the object from the surprising resolution of the quest, he now has a story to go with his passion. It’s not so much about checking the boxes and putting the plastic on the shelf, but really about loving what you love regardless of what everyone else thinks, and going where that passion takes you.

It’s a book we could all afford to take a few notes from ourselves.

Nintendo Quest is available via Vimeo on demand.


My Rating: 8/10
IMDb rating: 5.6/10


Originally published to RevolutionSF on October 19, 2015

Movie Review: Batman Returns (1992)

Batman Returns
(PG-13, 126 minutes, 1992)

Batman Returns is the oft-maligned second child in the Tim Burton-directed Caped Crusader family. Expectations were so high after the first film that, while being an otherwise enjoyable experience, it had no other choice but to disappoint audiences looking for another Batman.

The thing is, this film isn’t supposed to be Batman, and it shows from the beginning with a dark title sequence that tells the origin story of the film’s baddie, The Penguin, to move that element of the plot along during an otherwise useless section of the film. This entry has similar visual styling to the first movie, but the color palette is brighter overall. The sets are better lit and Gotham feels larger and more open with more color added to the shadows and dour grays that dominated the original. This element reaches grotesque levels with Selina Kyle’s apartment, which is dominated in shades of pink to remind the audience (beyond the blatant sexism of Max Shreck) that she is a caricature of the stereotypical female secretary. It’s annoying (and potentially insulting) in its directness, but acts as a deliberate contrast to the strong femme fatale that is Catwoman. It also serves as a setpiece to visually facilitate her destructive transformation. The more lively palette does contrast with the darker, more violent fight scenes in an attempt to convince the viewer of the thematic duality with Catwoman and Batman.

This installment has more of the Burton/Elfman whimsical eccentricity that their collaborations have come to be known for, including sweeping camera pans over highly detailed miniatures with soaring but eerie choral scores. Additionally, the set decoration also retains the art-deco gothic noir mix of the original, melding it with elements of the ’60s camp. All of those exaggerated elements combine with some additional sexual innuendo over the first film to make a still entertaining but slightly lower quality experience. In all honesty, this film has trouble deciding if it wants to be the successor to the 1989 Batman, the 1960s series, or both. That indecisiveness hurts the experience.Regarding the themes and the plot, this film has trouble deciding how to discuss duality. Catwoman’s motivation is to kill Shreck in both revenge and an attempt to reconcile her new identity. Penguin’s motivation makes less sense, as it seems he wants to gain power over Gotham by killing all of the first born sons and becoming a dictator to, in some way, get revenge against his parents and the society that led to his exile. When Batman stops this threat, Penguin resorts to destroying Gotham to destroy Batman. Batman wants to stop both of them, but also wants to redeem Selina through (here it comes…) the power of love. Though good intentioned, that road to hell is in direct conflict with Catwoman’s thread of feminine power and independence. It also smacks of the backward idea that women who go against societal norms can be “fixed” by providing them with strong male companionship.

It repeats a lot of the romantic themes from the Bruce Wayne/Vicki Vale relationship, but removes part of the duality essential to the Batman character by squeezing the conflict between Catwoman and Batman into the shared overcoming of their split identities. They even hang a lampshade on the plot point of giving up the masks, but then reverse course almost as quickly to retain the character elements. In the end, Batman could not defeat Catwoman because Gotham needed Batman more than Bruce needed Selina. If your head is spinning right now, you’re not alone.

At least the movie addresses the absence of Vicki Vale.

In final random thoughts, the insane Michelle Pfeiffer looks a lot like a more modern Burton alum: Helena Bonham Carter. Second, it is never explained how the Penguin’s minions got schematics for the Batmobile. That plot hole is an annoyance. Last, the obvious eye makeup goof when Batman takes off his mask also annoys me. Audiences are smart enough to realize that the rubber mask doesn’t quite cover the space around Michael Keaton’s eyes.

Overall, Batman Returns is enjoyable, but suffers greatly from indecisiveness, both in themes and tones. It wasn’t horrible, but it could have been more.

My Rating: 7/10
IMDb rating: 7.0/10