Review (kinda): Star Wars VII – The Force Awakens

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NOTE: This is hardly what I wold consider a “proper” review. These are words that came pouring out in a semi-state of euphoria at about 2am following my screening. This is merely a place to get the conversation going before all of the podcasts are released in the days to come.

Also, if you want to know absolutely nothing, then do not read ahead. For the rest of you, this is a relatively SPOILER-FREE stream of un-consciousness.

2D version

It’s tough to put thoughts to paper right at the moment. The entire experience was kind of a mind trip. There were nostalgic tears of joy (and maybe partly of relief) on at least three occasions and I have no idea what the opening crawl said. Something about Luke Skywalker I think.

I’m sure every review out there will call this essentially a remake of “A New Hope” or (at best) a greatest hits of the original trilogy. And they wouldn’t totally be wrong. But I don’t care. Some may call it lazy, other may call it playing it safe, others may call it pandering. I say all the better for it. Grow balls when and where needed, keep everything else just how we like our Star Wars universe: fun, exciting and familiar. Keep it simple, keep it fun and keep it real. Abrams excelled at this on almost every front.

That isn’t to say there’s nothing new. The three (four?) new leads/heroes are fantastic. Poe and Finn are great new characters that have their own swagger, but with flaws they must conquer. Kylo Ren is a fascinating villain and Adam Driver brings it home. Though the clear front-runner here is absolutely Daisy Ridley as Rey, in a career making role and performance.

Han is back in a big way thanks to the return of Harrison Ford finding his inner movie star again (it’s only been 20 years, Ford. Where ya been?). Even Carrie Fisher, who is clearly the weakest link, works out alright for what she’s been given to do. The short of it is, all characters hit their mark and make us care and believe and grow with anticipation on where they journey will lead next. Hashtag Chewbacca!

Outside of the opening battle (which does feel a lot like your typical JJ Abrams joint), the set design, locales and side characters all feel remarkably old-school; in the best possible way. In other words, this is the Star Wars Universe I remember really growing attached to throughout my younger days and adolescence (and beyond!).

There are moments here and there that don’t work perfectly and there are minor quibbles; but that’s just what they are: minor. They don’t come anywhere close to casting any sort of dark shadow over the enjoyment I got from the rest of this film. This is pure, simple entertainment with strong characters, wonderful performances, charismatic and beautiful action sequences, perfect pacing (seriously, I have no idea when the best time to go pee is during this movie – I don’t think there really is one) gorgeous effects, sound design and that John Williams score coming home at just the right (yes, pandering but I love being pandered to) all with a nice setup for a much deeper and meaningful story to carry the fans into a whole new adventure with all new heroes, but with a familiar face. I liked the end of one review which simply said, “your move Rian Johnson.”

I am very very pleased.

 

A Tribute to Star Wars: Dark Forces

Sure, nerds around the world may be united in their excitement for Star Wars Battlefront–but for me, it has been a time of longing for simpler times: 1995. In 1995, Han still shot first. Heir to the Empire was still canon. And Star Wars: Dark Forces was about to blow the mind of my 10 year old self.

While LucasArts had created a brand new engine for Dark Forces, it was essentially Bungie’s Marathon… except you killed Stormtroopers. Plus, it introduced the world to Kyle Kataran (who may or may not be a canon character now?). In other words, Dark Forces was awesome, with cool characters, slick level design, and enough nostalgia to fuel numerous sequels…including one of the best Star Wars games ever, Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast. It was no Knights of the Old Republic, but it was damn good.

Enjoy this playthrough of the very first level:

What’s your favorite Star Wars game?

The Star Wars Interviews Episode II

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Since today is unofficially Star Wars week around here – and let’s be honest, pretty much the entire world wide web – we’re kicking it off with a podcast from one of our sister sites, Where the Long Tail Ends. Jimmy “The Shark” Gillham is conducting a series of interviews on Star Wars fandom. Sort of a “This is Your Life” show revolving around all things Star Wars (the movies, the books, the toys, the make-believe, the video games, the merchandise and everything else in between).

Last week, in Episode I, James interviewed Cinecast co-host Matt Gamble about his life experiences with Star Wars. This week, for Episode II, you can find yours truly talking about my life with Star Wars, which reveals a secret about Empire Strikes Back I’m not sure I’ve ever told anyone about before. If your life isn’t already over-saturated with Star Wars and your brain isn’t in overload, stick this in your ear and have a listen. Both episodes are available at the links below and you can stream my interview with the player below.

Have a listen and feel free to share your experiences and ideas about Star Wars in the comments section below. Thanks for listening and thanks to Matt Gamble for hosting the interview session with his sound equipment. Happy Star Wars week everyone. Cheers!

EPISODE I (Matt Gamble)
EPISODE II (Andrew James)

 

 

The Star Wars Prequels are Much Better in Japanese

A while back, Topher Grace (of “That 70s Show” fame) cut all of the fat off of the Star Wars prequels and it was praised by many. Peter Sciretta of /film pronounced it the best possible cut of a terrible series of films. Today I discovered Darth Lunar’s version. They wanted to test Sciretta’s claim and see if it could be done better. The result is this. A reworking of the entire trilogy using the Japanese overdub but with English subtitles that actually sound like they were written by someone… well, other than George Lucas.

Sometimes we make fun of our resident culture snob, Kurt Halfyard, for unwittingly giving passes to certain films just because they’re in a language other than English. He claims it isn’t so, but after watching bits of this, I’m starting to wonder if there maybe is something to that theory. This is surprisingly pretty good.

Film maker’s NOTE: Unlike many other fan-edits of the prequels, “The Blackened Mantle” is not simply three separate films glued back-to-back with the fat cut out. It has proper dramatic pacing, new character arcs, reworked image quality, and a heavily modified plot constructed from a brand new, non-chronological script. It is not necessarily compatible with any Star Wars canon other than the original film trilogy (such as the fantastic “Clone Wars” animated series). Apologies go out to fluent Japanese speakers, who will likely not be able to watch the film without muting the audio.

The film makers have also graciously included a downloadable version of the movie. Or you can just watch it right here…

 

Cinecast Episode 414 – Juggling Walls

Please bear with some of the sound issues at the beginning; for that we apologize. Once we get to the main reviews, everything gets smoothed out. With Canadian politics out of the way, we talk a bit about the Star Wars experience as it exists in popular culture at the moment (trailers, marketing, waiting in line for tickets, etc.).

The real show starts when Andrew walks out of Crimson Peak and the boys both feel a bit disappointed by SeƱor Del Toro. Kurt offers context on the Gothic Romance as a genre and the misunderstood nature of its marketing and overall reception. But audience ignorance and expectation still DOES NOT excuse the modern-overkill on display in the film. The Spielberg/Coen Brother cocktail, Bridge of Spies bats slightly higher (mainly due to British stage-actor Mark Rylance, and cinematographer Janusz Kaminski) hitting a ground-rule double in the Cold War Era.

And it being the Halloween season, we’re checking out a new-ish horror film each week his month. Next week will be Ted Geoghegan’s We Are Still Here, so get ready for that. As for this week, we look at the documentary/horror The Nightmare. Pro tip: skip this movie!

As always, please join the conversation by leaving your own thoughts in the comment section below and again, thanks for listening!

 

 
 

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Would you like to know more…?

Episode VII Trailer 3 – “Just Let It In”

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Got my tickets this evening for the first 2D screening of Star Wars Episode VII after waiting in line all day (first in line, I might add). I have to admit I was kind of “whatever; that might be alright…” when it was announced that Disney was taking over the franchise and episodes VII – IX would be released. But as the date gets closer and the merchandise is all over the place and the marketing looks pretty great… I’m getting excited. Hence the 7-hour standing in line thing.

Then I came home, half wired and half exhausted, to this…

Discuss.

Star Wars VII: A New Trailer

I was absolutely head over heels for the first trailer Disney released for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was simple, minimal and looked exactly like the original trilogy look – it even had the same feel. JJ Abrams was making something classic without his signature lens flares and hand held space action. It was like coming home.

Despite this trailer claiming to “be home,” the tone feels much more what I think the haters came to expect from this sequel of sequels: Glossier, busier and pandering. Am I still excited? Of course! Only with the caveat that this looks very much like an Abrams joint.

There is some great imagery of a fallen Empire in here.

 

 

The Force Awoke Almost 40 Years Ago

So it’s Saturday and I can post whatever I want. Those are the rules. When the Star Wars VII trailer was first unleashed to the world a couple of weeks ago, people all over the place were sighing and pooh-poohing the thing. It’s too fake and glossy looking they said. The lightsaber doesn’t make sense they said. There’s too much CGI they said. I, on the other hand love the trailer – especially the more I watched it. In my comments I mentioned that the trailer actually looks a lot like scenes from the original movies. It’s very minimal and open when it needs to be, detail oriented and claustrophobic when it needs to be.

I found this trailer today which kind of proves my point. It even shows moments that I specifically mentioned in my comments.

 
What this mock trailer also proves of course, is that it’s ludicrous to judge a movie based on six or seven 3-second shots from a movie; context is imperative. But I think in terms of visuals, from what I can see, Abrams has nailed it.
 

The Empire Strikes Back: Uncut (Director’s Cut)

It’s finally here. The full, uncut version of the fan made version of The Empire Strikes Back. Star Wars Uncut was released a few years ago and after the success, the powers that be deemed a sequel was necessary. It’s been a long wait, but The Empire Strikes Back is ready to be watched in all of its fan-made glory.

It’s the entire length of the movie cut into short clips (from about 5 seconds to 15 seconds) and created by fans from around the world. Drawings, action figures, home CGI, live action office hijinx, marionettes, animals, stop motion, claymation and even just ethereal wierdness; you name it, all were brought in to recreate this masterpiece. And if you watch carefully, other areas of inspiration were brought in by many fans as well; from Wes Anderson to beer commercials to Devo to spaghetti and meatball Star Destroyers… and that’s just in the first fifteen minutes!

You can check out the entire uncut film below. Once you start, it’s difficult to stop watching. Enjoy1