Tuesday, December 24, 2019

Why I never thought the Star Wars Prequels were all that bad, and other Star Wars-y thoughts

I'm going to say something that many people might find somewhat unbelievable.  I don't hate the Star Wars prequels.  I actually kind of like them.  Are the the best Star Wars movies?  Nope.  Do I care?  Not really.  And I never really did.   There are two aspects that go into this.  The first is quickly and easily explained:  I just love Star Wars.  It doesn't really matter if it's boringly shot, with terrible direction, actors that look lost and bewildered, and dialog so bad it could peel paint, overuse of CGI that has NOT aged well.  It's still Star Wars, and I still love Star Wars.

My second reason is this:  By the time that the prequels began coming out, I had read a good decade's worth of Star Wars Expanded Universe novels.  There are some real gems amongst the SWEU, Like Timothy Zahn's Thrawn trilogy, and Kevin J. Anderson's Jedi Academy trilogy.  (although the latter is kind of terrible, it was just terrible in a very entertaining way)  And then there were books like The New Rebellion.  The Truce at Bakura.  The Courtship of Princess Leia.  Anything with Babara Hambly's name on it.  The Black Fleet Crisis.  The Corellian Trilogy, where 35 pages of the first book were taken up with a masturbatorily long landing scene involving a character we'd never seen before and didn't give two shits over whether or not she landed safely, and it only got worse from there.  Anything with James Luceno's name on it.  Anything Karen Traviss has ever even glanced at, much less written. Anything with Christie Golden's name on it.  Anything with Troy Denning's name on it.  Anything with Aaron Allston's name on it, especially the second half of the X-wing series.  And R.A. Salvatore.  Really?  They got freaking R.A. Salvatore to write a Star Wars book(which was utter garbage).  The Young Jedi Knights series.  The vast and overwhelming majority of the New Jedi Order that had been released at the time.  Oh, and that beautiful gem of absolute wtf-ery, the Crystal Star. 

My point is that by the time the Star Wars prequels began coming out, I'd read an entire decade of Star Wars stories that were much, MUCH worse.  Worse written.  Far less consistent.  Lobotomized characters from the Original Trilogy.  Things that just plain do not make sense however you try to wrap your brain around it.  I'm looking at YOU Crystal Star!  So when the Prequels came out, I thought, well, I mean, it's not great, but I've read worse.  When you compare the prequel trilogy to any number of Star Wars novels that I mentioned above, they are actually far superior stories, despite their flaws.  Even Attack of the Clones, which is my least favorite Star Wars movie, has things that I like in it.  It's easy to say you hate something, but hatred isn't really what I feel for that movie.  Sure, Luke and Leia were, apparently, born because someone forced two people who clearly do not like one another to bump uglies at gunpoint, and like, every single bad thing that happens in the Star Wars universe after that point would probably have been averted had Obi-Wan taken two seconds to apply even a cursory amount of logic to the situation, but there are still things I enjoy about the movie.  Anakin riding a speeder bike to find his mother as the suns set behind him.  It's beautiful imagery, fake as shit, beautiful imagery.  The arena fight, and subsequent battle.  John freaking Williams!  (who btw has a cameo in The Rise of Skywalker).  The speeder chase at the beginning of the movie.  Jarjar barely being in the movie.  There are things to like, even if they're not very well put together.  It's still a Star Wars movie, and I still love Star Wars.  And though it may be the least of the 11 current movies, it's still lightyears better than the Crystal freaking Star.

So yeah, that's why I've never really hated, and actually kind of liked the Star Wars prequels.

Now some thoughts on the Rise of Skywalker, which will be spoiler free.  I liked it.  In fact, I actually kind of loved it.  But at the same time, it does have issues.  This movie feels like exactly what it is.  Lucasfilm in full on damage control mode after The Last Jedi.  While I enjoyed The Last Jedi when it first came out, I've had two years to think on it, and the more I think about it, the more I find in it that I don't like.  It was a beautifully made film, but it had some insanely bad pacing issues, some very large leaps of logic, and it didn't really respect characters that had been my heroes for as long as I can remember.  I don't hate it, but there's a bit less to like about it than I thought upon first seeing it.  HOWEVER, there is a very vocal part of the fanbase who absolutely flipped their shit about the movie, and this part of the fanbase organized a boycott of the next Star Wars movie, Solo, which caused the movie to bomb pretty hard.  Lucasfilm and Disney highly underestimated just how much backlash they were going to get from the film, and, I mean, I just don't see how they could have thought giving the movie to a director notorious for saying "no I don't wanna do that, I think I'll do my own thing" giving him complete creative control, and next to no oversight was going to turn out well, but I just a humble man who doesn't know the workings of billion dollar companies.  When JJ Abrams made The Force Awakens, he did next to 0 planning for the next two movies.  There was a vague sort of outline, but nothing solid.  This, by the way, is NOT how you write a three act story.  If you don't know the ending when you make the beginning it is going to play SERIOUS havoc with the overall tone of the story as a whole across all three films... which it did, to an spectacular degree.  When Rian Johnson stepped up for The Last Jedi, he looked at the bare bones of plot they'd put together for the second film, said I don't like it, and did his own thing.  Which basically threw the ending off balance. 

And then Carrie Fisher, bless her, passed away.  According to her daughter (who plays a small role in The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker) The Rise of Skywalker was supposed to be her turn to have the spotlight, and she was very excited for it.  The title "The Last Jedi" actually refers to HER.  She went on to say that when her mother passed away, the script had already been finalized and they were ramping up to begin filming the final film.  Her death meant that even as they were about to start filming, the entire script had to be rewritten.  So, not only did the director of the previous film toss out the plan, and kill off the villain that they were obviously planning on using to the end, the actress meant to play a pivotal role in the film was no longer with us.  And then the fan reaction to The Last Jedi hit.  And then Solo bombed, in part, because of it.  And they really, really had to scramble to put together a film from all the tattered shreds of the movie they were planning to make to both appease fans who were angry about The Last Jedi, and work around Carrie Fisher's absence, and the absence of the villain they'd meant to be the big bad at the end. 

And you can see a lot of the scrambling to put together a movie under these circumstances in the film.  I REALLY do not envy Abrams the task he had in making this movie.

Anyway, the things I felt were not so great about this movie:  The pacing is a bit off.  It's not as egregious as it was in The Last Jedi, but there are some issues.  Also the movie feels very rushed.  I would not be surprised to hear that a good 30 mins had been cut from it.  The final battle against the fleet of Star Destroyers feels very epic UNTIL the moment that it's supposed to BE epic.  I promised no spoilers, so I'm not going to say what that moment is, but anyone who has seen the movie will know.  Before it happens you have this desperate, we have to fight on no matter the odds, feeling to it, and then it just sort of falls asleep.   Wedge not piloting an X-Wing is a waste of Wedge.  Basically every single scene involving the Emperor is very silly, and really kind of stupid (but at the same time Ian McDiarmid is clearly having so much fun playing the character that even though the scenes were kind of stupid, they were an absolute joy to watch.  To quote Red Letter Media, "He's evil and he fucking loves it.")  There's a lot of running around to places that don't really seem necessary to the plot at the beginning of the movie.  The movie tries to have it both ways with Finn and Poe's relationship.  Look, either they're a gay couple, or they aren't.  Quit playing it like they are, then giving them both female love interests in the movie.  The movie goes all in on new force powers, and, well, I have to agree with Brandon Sanderson on that.  It's always better to see characters using things we already know in new and interesting ways than to have them suddenly develop a new ability.  That's called Deus ex Machina, and it's usually frowned upon.  Who Rey actually turns out to be is kind of a little silly.  The Emperor's ultimate goal isn't really fleshed out all that much.  I would be willing to bet there are deleted scenes that explain it better than it was in the theatrical cut of the movie.  He wants Rey to do spoilers.    ..........     Profit?  The ending also feels a little anti-climactic due to the villain that was clearly meant to be there at the end having to be replaced by the Emperor.

So, what did I like about the movie?  I completely loved the scene involving Kylo Ren and a surprising character who shall remain spoilerless.  And I like Kylo Ren's storyline in the movie overall.  The lightsaber fight in/on the Death Star wreckage is really awesome.  Lando was back!  Wedge was back!  The Emperor is something of a joy to watch, because the actor playing him is having the time of his life hamming it up.  C-3PO got ALL of the best jokes.  Finn and Poe's relationship is really entertaining to watch.  They argue like a married couple throughout the movie, and it's really kind of great.  Rey feels more like an actual character in this movie.  It seems as though Abrams listened to a lot of criticism on the character, and went, I feel, a long way towards addressing that criticism.  Rey is seen to be training, and not doing very well at it.  She makes mistakes.  She loses a lightsaber fight.  She is seen to have problems and internal turmoil and shit she has to work through.  You know, like an actual human being, instead of someone who is always perfect at everything.  She loses her temper.  She snaps at people.  She has an actual personality.  She struggles with the Dark Side about as much as we ever saw Luke struggle with it.  All of these were positive, and much needed, changes to her character.  The visuals and music are pretty amazing.  At no point in the movie was I bored.  The movie takes a good step toward fixing some of the damage done to Luke's character done by the previous film.  The movie is nostalgia baiting ALL over the place, and while I've seen some fans call it cynical, I loved it.  The three main characters, Rey, Finn and Poe spend a large portion of the movie together, something that was really missing in The Last Jedi.  Finn feels more like an actual character again, rather than his annoying downgrade to token black guy in the previous movie to make way for Rose, who, thankfully, had very little screen time in this movie.  Nothing against Kelly Marie Tran, but I really did not like her character in The Last Jedi. That's entirely on the writing, not on her.  I am abhorred how fans treated her, but I still do not like the character, and was glad to see less of her.

So, anyway, I really enjoyed the movie.  It's not the best Star Wars movie ever, but it's definitely not the worst.  It was a good ending.  If I could name the biggest problem with the movie, it would be this.  It's act three of a three act story with two act ones and no act two, and because of that, and due to Carrie Fisher's passing, it really had to scramble to pick up the pieces and pull them together into a movie.  But, again, despite it's problems, I felt it was a fun and entertaining movie, and I do not understand why so many people are so angry about it.  Maybe in 2 years time after I've had some time to think about it, I'll understand the other side better, like I did for The Last Jedi.

Anyway, now that we've got some new Star Wars movies, and I've had time to think on some of them more, here's my updated Star Wars Movie Rankings.  Best to worst.  Since I already gave my explanations for my rankings last time I posted my rankings I'll just give the list this time.

1.) The Empire Strikes Back
2.)  Rogue One
3.) Star Wars (A New Hope)
4.) Return of the Jedi
5.) The Force Awakens
6.) The Rise of Skywalker
7.) Revenge of the Sith
8.) Solo
9.) The Last Jedi
10.) The Clone Wars
11.) The Phantom Menace
12.) Attack of the Clones.

And here's my rankings on Star Wars TV series.  Best to worst.

1.) Clone Wars.  Though it has it's fair share of terrible episodes, it makes up for them by the rest of them being really, really good.  This series basically took the Star Wars prequels and said we can fix this.  And they did.  They made the characters (except for Jarjar) more human and likeable.  And made the Clone Wars the huge, destructive conflict that old Obi-Wan speaks of with such reverence in the original movie. The first season is kind of lame, but George Lucas gave them the thumbs up to do more, and dig deeper in following seasons, and they really went for it.

2.) The Mandalorian.  Like a spaghetti western in space.  I enjoy the short episode runtimes, they tell the story and get out.  I like the metric crapton of Baby Yoda memes.  It's just a really fun show to watch, even if the special effects and the acting on side characters are not always that great.

3.) Rebels.  This show is not great.  It's like they took the Clone Wars, stripped it of everything that made it good, and vomited it back out in a boring, annoying mess.  It has it's moments.  Anytime Darth Vader is on screen is awesome to watch, and I liked seeing Grand Admiral Thrawn in a visual medium, (other than the opening cutscene from Tie Fighter) even if he wasn't written very well.  But the main protagonist is unbearable, and it's just not a very fun series to watch most of the time.

4.) Resistance. I watched one episode of this series and said this is not for me.  It's too kiddie for me.  I just found it to be boring and stupid.  And the animation is kind of garbage too.

So there's my obligatory Star Wars rambling following the release of a new Star Wars movie.

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