Movies – Solo: A Star Wars Story (or “Enjoyable, But The Genre Might Be Getting Stale”)

May 26, 2018

If you are familiar with the franchise the you’re not going to be too surprised by the plot of Solo: A Star Wars Story.

Being that this is about the early days of the eponymous star of the movie, it obviously features key moments from his backstory, including…

  • How he met Chewbacca
  • How he won the Millenium Falcon in a game of cards from Lando Calrissian
  • How he made the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs

And just like Revenge of the Sith and Rogue One, finding out how things we already knew about actually happened is part of the fun.

I certainly enjoyed it, although at the same time I thought it wasn’t without its faults.

On the plus side, it filled in the blanks, it had a mostly very good cast – with special mention to Alden Ehrenreich who I thought played Han Solo without me thinking it was just some guy doing an impression – and it had a that familiar Star Wars vibe to it.

On the negative side, I thought the direction was a little bit hit and miss (it was so darkly shot for the first half hour that it was difficult to make out anyone’s face), Donald Glover’s take on Lando was the exact opposite of Ehrenreich’s of Solo (it just felt like Troy from Community – as Troy from Community – doing a Lando impression) and the movie had that familiar Star Wars vibe to it.

And yes, you’ve probably read that last line and thought “Wait…what?”.

So hear me out…

I understand why Star Wars movies are the way they are; people like them…I like them. I can also see why other franchises try to leach off them, like Guardians of the Galaxy.

But with the increased regularity of these movies, how long before we get fatigued by them?

How many times can we see the same type of ragtag group of rebels with the same type of wise-cracking sidekicks, talking robots and corny romance without thinking “Let’s have something new”?

Like I say, I enjoyed it but I was becoming conscious of the fact that we’ve now seen this same thing so many times that I’m not too keen on seeing a replica of it again in the near future.

With any luck they’ll know that for the next Star Wars spin-off, there needs to be a change in vibe.

Otherwise it’ll get stale, and fast.

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Movies: Star Wars – The Last Jedi Review

December 17, 2017

Warning: Spoilers ahead.

I hold the rather unpopular viewpoint that Revenge of the Sith is the best Star Wars film.

I know, I know, some of you have probably already closed this review down in disgust, but the reason I like it the most is that it’s the one where most happens. Everything we’ve seen set up in Episodes One and Two has to be resolved to tie in with the start of A New Hope, and so what we get is death, character development, excitement and a plot that has a certain amount of pace to it. Yes, there’s some poor acting and yes, the decision to kill of Padmé with a broken heart was daft, but those negatives are far outweighed by the positives.

So if you take those reasons as an indicator of what I like in a movie – Star Wars or otherwise – then it won’t come as a huge shock that I was quite disappointed by Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

It wasn’t that it was a bad movie, nor that it dragged – indeed for a not inconsiderable 152 minutes it went by quite quickly – but rather that I came away from it feeling like the story hadn’t moved on.

And it’s funny, because if you read other people’s opinions on it, some appear to be saying the exact opposite.

To me though it felt like a movie that safely knew its place in a series that will go on and on, and so didn’t want to make any drastic changes. It finished like it started, with the rebels on the run having managed to escape from their pursuers yet again. It’s almost like an episode of something like Blake’s Seven. By the end of an episode of that, the Federation are still chasing them, but Blake’s group have managed to survive another week. In The Last Jedi, the gang go off to find a lockpick, fail and it doesn’t matter. Meanwhile, some people get killed but no-one that would have a significant impact on the story.

And yes, you can say to me “But Stuart, they killed off Luke Skywalker and Snoke; surely those are significant developments?”, but I would disagree. There’s no way Luke Skywalker won’t appear in Episode IX, so whether he’s a ghost or alive it makes no difference. Snoke meanwhile was an empty character who – by design or not – was abandoned without the viewer understanding his back story, motivation or purpose, so he’s hardly a loss.

Beyond the lack of development, there were other aspects that I felt let it down.

The comedy for example…

Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t. In Thor Ragnarok it worked but in The Last Jedi it really didn’t.

If you’re going to do comedy then either play the whole thing in a light-hearted way, or employ an actor who is able to bring out the comedy in a serious situation.

Star Wars films are pretty serious in their design, but Harrison Ford was able to bring out some humour with a combination of his own ability as an actor and the way Han Solo was written. I don’t think there’s anyone in The Last Jedi who has that charm that Ford brought and I’m afraid the writing just wasn’t good enough to make the comedy seem anything other than forced. Put it this way; nobody laughed in the screening I was at.

Meanwhile, the acting wasn’t great. Yes fine, heap all the criticism in the world on Hayden Christiensen; he wasn’t the best actor and you presumably don’t have any kind of emotional attachment to him, but I’m sorry; whether you are fond of her or not, and whether you feel duty bound not to say anything harsh against her because she sadly passed away in real life, Carrie Fisher was awful. I’m not going to mock her for fear of fan boy retribution, but it is safe to say that had this been the first Star Wars movie she’d appeared in, she’d have been panned by all.

Mark Hammil wasn’t really much better either, if we’re honest.

And not to heap more criticism on the movie than I already have but there was a little bit too much in the way of convenience. What are the chances of Finn and Rose being locked in a cell with a guy with the very skills they were looking for? Or for only them and Captain Phasma to survive when the rebel ship ploughed into the destroyer? Or even for the escape vessel with all the main characters on it to be one of the tiny few not to have been shot down on the way to the rebel planet?

It’s stuff like that – as well as Kylo Ren’s weird about-turn after killing Snoke or the rather shameless addition of Porgs for the sole purpose of selling merchandise – that are worth questioning when you are reviewing a movie like this.

And lastly, I also felt like The Last Jedi failed to explore the usually vast and rich universe it’s set in – beyond the trip to the casino planet – and stayed with the rather dull space environment.

But it’s not like I hated it, it’s just that it disappointed me.

Hopefully the next movie will be slightly better, and that Nein Nunb will get some lines of dialogue.

And you can bet Luke Skywalker will be in it.

And much like this movie, so will Yoda (and by the way, his inclusion was pretty cool, as was the way he was brought back as a puppet rather than as CGI).

But the late Admiral Akbar won’t be, and that’s the most upsetting travesty of them all.


Movies: Rogue One Review (or ‘A Proper Prequel To A New Hope’)

December 16, 2016

From the off I feel I should warn you; this Rogue One review contains spoilers. It has to. So if you haven’t seen it yet, close down this page and come back again when you have.

Ok?

Has everyone who needs to go gone?

Good, I’ll begin.

I knew very little of Rogue One going into it. While I knew it was about members of the Rebel Alliance stealing the plans for the Death Star, for some reason I had it in my head that it would take place a few years star-wars-rogue-one-posterbefore the events of A New Hope.

But I was wrong.

And that’s the masterstroke of Rogue One.

It takes place right before it, finally culminating in a scene that actually leads in to the opening scene of the first Star Wars movie.

And in doing so, it has repercussions.

The first is that every heroic character created for this movie dies. They had to, otherwise you could ask why they weren’t in any of the original movies, and I thought it made for a refreshing change to what we’ve come to expect from Hollywood.

We now live in a world where the sequel is king. Nothing of any real consequences happens to the heroes in movies now because they are obviously being protected for a raft of inevitable follow-ups. But here, every character was expendable. They were one-and-done creations that had no use beyond this movie.

So they are all killed off and as a result, Rogue One became more believable and dramatic.

I should point out as well that I was pretty saddened by that despite loving that they ended up dead, because there were some great characters in there, from the Sheldon Cooper-esque K-2SO droid to the fantastic Oriental double act. These were some of the best and most well-rounded characters we’ve seen in the Star Wars universe, but like I say, they had to die.

Anyway, the other main repercussion that stemmed from setting Rogue One right before A New Hope is that certain characters needed to be a part of it.

Obviously Darth Vader was easy enough to bring back, even though he sounded very old thanks to James Earl Jones’s declining voice, but you’d assume that Grand Moff Tarkin might be a little tougher to replace seeing as Peter Cushing is long since dead.

And yet you’d be wrong. I was genuinely shocked to see that for all intents and purposes, Peter Cushing is in this movie. Technical wizardry – a use of CGI that is actually head turning in these days of over-reliance on computer imagery – means that they were able to have another actor play the part and then super-impose Cushing’s head onto him.

It was a bit freaky, but it added so much authenticity to the movie.

You can keep your constant ‘New York gets destroyed’ use of CGI, Hollywood, this is the proper way to use it!

Speaking of CGI, while I’m sure that it was employed all the way through Rogue One, what I liked about this movie was that it seemed like it didn’t rely too heavily on it. Maybe I’m wrong, but a lot of the sets, scenery and worlds it visited looked like they were brought to life with old-fashioned costume and set design. To me that makes a difference; it makes the Star Wars universe seem more complete than the cold and clinical CGI wankfests you see in the likes of Fantastic Beasts & Where to Find Them and the Marvel movies.

Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, Rogue One had an interesting and engrossing plot and a sharp and at times funny script. That’s the most important thing isn’t it?

Even though it lasts for 2hrs14m, it didn’t feel like it dragged at any point.

If I had any complaint, it would be that the inevitable battle scene towards the end went on for a bit, but as I say above, the fact that it had repercussions softened that blow a little bit for me.

So, to sum up, maybe I’m biased because I love Star Wars, and maybe it’s that I’m still on an initial high from seeing it at the cinema, but for me, Rogue One is the best movie of the year.

I won’t bother saying that you should see it, because if you’ve read this far then you must have already.

So do you agree or have I been too generous?


Star Wars – The Force Awakens Review (Spoiler Free): Can It Live Up To The Hype?

December 17, 2015

The problem with any new Star Wars film is that it will likely struggle against the weight of expectation that a passionate and intense fan-base will have for it.

If you ask 100 people what they thought about Episodes 1-3, around 90 will say they didn’t like them.

Episode 1? Sure, I get that.

Episode 2? It has aged terribly thanks to an absolute over-reliance on CGI, and it also had some really bad acting.

But Episode 3? That, for me, was great. Everything that needed to happen in it happened. I’ve watched all six movies over the last week and I enjoyed that one the most.force

Expectation is a big thing though. Anyone who grew up in the 70s or 80s grew up with the original Star Wars trilogy. Are they great films? Well they are very good, set in a rich and well realised universe, but they are hardly brimming with sparkling dialogue or exceptional acting.

But because we watched them time and again growing up, we have a huge softness and affinity for them; perhaps through rose-tinted specs.

Can Star Wars: The Force Awakens compete against those idealised views of what a Star Wars film should be?

Is it as good as fans want it to be?

Or is it just a decent film in its own right?

For this review, I will avoid spoilers completely. After all, it’s only 13:22 on release day in the UK. The chances are many of you won’t have seen it yet, and if you’re anything like me, you probably want to avoid even the slightest indication of what it’s about.

So I’ll abandon my usual format and get straight to the point…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Review – Was It Any Good?

The short answer is yes it was.

By every standard that you would individually measure a film like this on, it came up trumps. It looked great, the acting was fine, the plot moved along briskly, it kept my attention, it combined drama with some comic (but not played for laughs) moments and it had plenty for old fans like me to get a nostalgic kick out of.

The long answer is the key to whether or not it will be remembered by the many as being in the same league as the original trilogy.

As much as there was to praise it for, I think to a large degree this was a retelling of A New Hope. Many aspects of the plot seemed to be lifted out of that to the point where you could question the lack of originality involved.

The same could be said for the characters.

In The Force Awakens you’ve the likes of Rey, Kylo Ren, BB-8 and Snoke who are essentially Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, R2D2 and The Emperor with a new lick of paint. And while Rey (the very good Daisy Ridley) and BB-8 are more than a match for their original counterparts, the villains aren’t a patch on what came before them. The fact that they have tried to replicate Vader and Palpatine is slightly baffling; they were never going to be as good.

But I suppose to have the same type of villain is the safe choice.

And that’s what The Force Awakens is; it’s safe. It plays to what has worked well in the past without trying to push the boundaries or be unique.

Is that what the Star Wars franchise needed to get back on track? Probably.

Will fans like it when they see it? Yes.

Will those same fans look back on it in 5 or 10 years time and talk about it in the same breath as Episodes IV – VI? For the reasons I’ve already mentioned, probably not.

But I still enjoyed it, and will likely go to see it at the cinema again.

And that – as far as I’m concerned – is a mark of quality.