Review: Star Wars – The Force Awakens

It’s been several months now since the release of Star Wars: The Force Awakens in cinemas, so, if you still haven’t seen the film,  DO NOT READ ON. There will be spoilers. I’ll try to keep them to a minimum, but I can’t avoid them altogether.

Let me preface this review with a simple fact – I am a Star Wars tragic. I love it. The movies, the television shows, the books, the action figures, everything. From where I am typing (on my bed – not good for the back, in case you were wondering), I can see the Force Awakens novelisation to be left. In front I can see the ‘Tarkin’ novel which I have just finished. Next to that, on top of my drawers, I can see numerous figurines, a completed Lego ‘Ghost’ spaceship, Star Wars money boxes, multiple Star Wars T-shirts. I love it.

So, as you can imagine, and, if you are a regular reader of this blog, you will have noticed from my previous blog posts, that having a new Star Wars movie in cinemas absolutely blows my mind. I was too young to see A New Hope at the cinema, but I recall vividly seeing it at the drive-in, and bringing it home to watch on VHS from the video rental store. These memories are etched into my consciousness and are the types of memories that make me the person I am today.

The Original Trilogy (A New Hope, Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) are staples of my movie watching diet. I’m talking numerous viewings each and every year. The Prequel Trilogy (The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones, and Revenge of the Sith) not so much. I am not a prequel hater, but they do have their flaws. That’s not the say that the original trilogy is perfect – it’s not. It is just when comparing the two, the prequel trilogy is missing the warmth, adventure and sense of humour present in the original trilogy.

It’s this that I think The Force Awakens captures well. The new characters, particularly Rey and Finn, are engaging and accessible. There were several laugh out loud moments, usually resulting from something Finn says or does. Rey is a great lead character, and it is great to see a female take the lead in the Star Wars universe.

The plot revolves around the search for Luke Skywalker, who has gone into hiding after a tragedy involving his jedi academy. The Resistance, led by General Leia Organa, have located the final piece of the map that they believe will lead them to Luke’s hiding place. They send Poe Damaron, the best pilot in the galaxy, to retrieve it from Jakku. While attempting this, he is captured, but his droid, BB8, escapes with the map. He meets up with Finn and Rey and the galaxy spanning adventure starts from there.

Some have critcised the movie as being too derivative of A New Hope, and I can see their point. The plot lends heavily from this film, but I believe does enough to make it stand on its own merits. It also gives enough information to intrigue us into speculation about episode eight – who is Snoke and where did he come from? How did Kylo Ren fall from the light? Was Kylo Ren responsible for the tragedy at the jedi academy? How does Rey fit into the Skywalker family, if at all? How will Chewie and Leia cope with their loss? Has the Republic fallen? So many questions…

Favourite things – BB8 has so much personality. He easily takes up the role of R2D2 from the other films. Finn – great character. Had plenty of opportunity to shine and John Boyega grab every one with both hands. The ships – X-wings, TIE fighters, Star Detroyers – they’re all there, slightly redesigned, but awesome as always. The Falcon is back!

Not so good – the death. I knew it was likely, but it still hit like a tonne of bricks when it happened. The final scene dragged on too long. They could have done the unveiling and left it there. Instead, they filmed an extended scene of two static people really not doing anything. Chewie getting nothing from Leia after the death – no hug, no glance, no nothing. Instead, Leia comforts a girl she has never met before. Interestingly, JJ Abrams has admitted that, with hindsight, this was a mistake. I agree.

Overall, I loved it. It reminded me of my days as a youngling, watching the original trilogy with my mates. The sense of awe and adventure was back.

8 out of 10 for me. A solid return to form for the Star Wars franchise.

Advertisements

New Years Resolutions 2016

It’s time for a reflection of the past year and to lay out my hopes and dreams for the coming one.

Reflections of the Year Past:
Wow. There were some pretty big highs for me this year. And, fortunately for me, the lows were very mild.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens blew my mind. It was everything I hoped it could be. It wasn’t perfect, don’t get me wrong. I had some issues with it. But, overall, it was fantastic. I can’t wait to see it again.

‘Daredevil’ and ‘Jessica Jones’ – both were fantastic shows I binged watched (is that even a proper expression?! Can’t think of the right one off hand). The storylines were great. I’m not particularly familiar with Daredevil (apart from the concept and storyline basics) and I knew next to nothing about Jessica Jones. I loved every minute of both and can’t wait for season two.

‘Making of a Murderer’ (Netflix exclusive series also) was a fascinating look at the life of Steven Avery, a man from the U.S. wrongly convicted of rape, and only exonerated after spending eighteen years behind bars. Two years after his subsequent release, Avery again finds himself accuse of a horrible crime, this time a murder. Avery again plead his innocence, claiming a conspiracy by the local sheriffs department. The series follows Avery from his release and through the new trial. Great stuff if you enjoy true crime. (On an interesting note, internet group ‘Anonymous’ have taken up Avery’s cause and claim to be about to release information proving his innocence.

Writing-wise, I’ve had a great year. I got paid for writing for the first time ($US100! for eight pages). I have artists lined up for two other short pieces which I have previously mentioned here (there is no time line for the release of these as yet). I have also a series called ‘The Phantom Ranger’ coming soon from Hooligan Alley Comics.

I’m finding writing easier now that I have been practising for a while. I still struggle to come up with that ‘killer concept’, but the concepts I am coming up with are stronger and more refined than ever before.

I’d like to improve my pitching ability though. Crafting a good pitch still eludes me – they always feel dry and stale to read. I have a few different stories I’d like to pitch, but whenever I write a pitch, I can’t seem to … create the right hook? I need to read through some to the writing books on my shelves and try and distil the essence of what they are saying.

I have found it difficult to work on projects where the ideas don’t originate with me. I attempted to write a mini-series with a great artist, based on his art and concepts. Unfortunately, the passion just wasn’t there. Without the passion, the words just wouldn’t flow. I eventually had to give up the project because I figured if my heart wasn’t in it, wouldn’t be fair to either party to continue on without dedicating one hundred percent.

Plans for 2016? Continue with the improvement I have been making. Practice pitching. Write. Write. Then write some more. Spend more time with the children – they are growing so fast! I don’t want to miss a thing. Get a promotion at work (pretty sure this is in the bag, but stranger things have happened).

Enjoy 2016. Live life to the fullest. You only get to do it once.

 

 

The countdown to The Force Awakens is on

In around two and a half hours, I’ll be seated in the Event Cinemas at Robina, anxiously waiting for that iconic text to start scrolling up the screen. At that moment, I’m not sure if I will laugh or cry. Since 2005 and the release of Revenge of the Sith, I am about to witness something I didn’t think possible – a brand new Star Wars movie! Even better, it will be a chance to catch up with old  friends: Luke, Leia, Han, Chewie, C3PO, R2D2 …

Today, I have felt like a child on Christmas Eve. The day simply could not go fast enough. I tried reading, writing, even writing an assignment, but, no, I was simply too distracted. I tried to avoid social media and the dreaded spoiler as much as possible, and I think I suceeded. I know little more than speculation about the plot, characters, well, anything really. I have seen some brief reviews on Twitter – and the love of the new film seems pretty much universal.

So I am hyped. More than hyped, really. This is my childhood, back in blazing glory. All those dreams of Luke Skywalker finding me and telling me I was the last hope of the Jedi, imahinary duels with Darth Vader – it has been a day I’ll long remember. It has seen the anticipation of the new film grow, and it will soon see the film itself.

I could not be more excited!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Trailer Time!

There could be spoiler in this Rambling piece. If so, they are uninformed and nothing more than idle speculation on my part. Warned you have been!

In case you have been living under a rock and somehow missed the new trailer to Star Wars: The Force Awaken, here is a link to have a look:

YouTube Star Wars: The Force Awakens trailer 3

Some thoughts:

No Luke. No, I should clarify. No obvious Luke. There is one short scene with an unknown, hooded figure reaching out a mechanical hand to R2D2. Could this be Luke? Maybe. Maybe not. I think it probably is. R2 has been Luke’s droid and near constant companion since A New Hope. It wouldn’t been too much of a stretch to imagine R2 is still hanging with Luke in some capacity.

The mechanical arm, though, throws this theory a little for me. When last we saw Luke on Endor, had a hand that essentially looked human. Why now, 40 odd years into the future, would Luke’s hand change from synthetic to mechanical? Unless, for some reason, Luke no longer has access to the necessary technology to repair/maintain his artificial hand…

Which leads me to a little speculation on Luke’s whereabouts. There have been theories that Luke has been living as a hermit, and a possible plot/subplot for Episode 7 is the search for Luke. I think this is entirely possible, and probably likely. I think Luke has hidden himself away from the galaxy, fearing the power of the Dark Side could corrupt him somehow. Luke may believe the only way to prevent this is to hide away.

I have a few reasons for this little theory. And they start in Return of the Jedi. Let’s look at that final confrontation between Luke and Darth Vader on the Death Star. Vader had Luke’s measure through the majority of that fight. Admittedly, Luke wasn’t fighting his hardest – he was trying to redeem Vader after all, not kill him. The fight stalls when Luke hides under the platform. Vader is searching for him, and all the while taunting him, trying to get him to come out and fight. The conversation goes something like this:

Vader: You cannot hide forever, Luke.

Luke: I will not fight you.

Vader: Give yourself to the Dark Side. It is the only way you can save your friends. Yes, your thoughts betray you. Your feelings for them are strong. Especially for … sister! So, you have a twin sister. Your feelings have now betrayed her too. Obi Wan was wise to hide her from me. Now, his failure is complete. If you will not turn to the Dark Side, then perhaps she will.

Luke: NEVER!

Luke attacks Vader, seemingly in a rage. The fury of his assaults drives Vader backwards, and knocks him from his feet. Luke continues to pound at Vader, smashing his saber again, and again, until he finally cuts Vader’s hand from his arm. Luke then sees what he has done, and that Vader is defeated.

It is this scene that makes me think Luke knows the Dark Side is within him. To beat Vader, he used his anger, rage, and love for Leia to win – essentially, he uses the Dark Side to beat Vader. This would have stuck with Luke, made him think about the power and danger of the Dark Side, and how easily it can corrupt even the most powerful of Jedi. Luke, being the only Jedi left, couldn’t risk allowing himself to fall to the Dark Side. There would be none to stop him. Leia has had not training. Luke knew that two Sith could rule, he had seen it for himself. He knows his family has a strong history with the force, and, in particular, the Dark Side. To allow himself to remain at large in the galaxy, with a potential fall to the Dark Side always a possibility, was/is unacceptable to Luke. Therefore, he hides himself away.

Where? Dagobah wouldn’t be a surprise. Yoda hid there for many years without issue. Likely? Who knows.

Rey – who is she? She claims to be no-one in the trailer. But, based on that same trailer, and the official movie poster, Rey clearly IS somebody. The main character, with Finn, more than likely. But WHO is she? The daughter of Han and Leia? Based on the trailers, there is absolutely no evidence to back this. But director J.J. Abrams has withheld her surname (and the same with Finn). Unsurprisingly, this has only fanned fan speculation over her origins. I’m guessing she will be the daughter of Han and Leia. But I am only guessing.

Kylo Ren – a dark sider, but, apparently, not a Sith. A Vader junkie. Again, there is similar speculation about his origin. In this Extended Universe (which is now gone, in favour of the new, official universe), Han and Leia had three children. The eldest were twins, Jacen and Jaini. Both were Jedi, but, in true Skywalker family tradition, Jacen fell to the dark side and turned to the Sith. There is some fan speculation that this storyline has been grabbed from the Extended Universe and worked into this film. I doubt this will be true. I think he will be an independent character with no family ties to the Skywalkers.

The overall look of the film from the trailer is incredible. It LOOKS right – and by right, I mean it looks like it fits into the world of the original trilogy. It looks dirty, the ships have marks on them like they have seen battle. I have heard the original trilogy described as looking like a world that is ‘lived in’, as opposed to the prequel trilogy, which looked too clean and sterile. There is emotion (Han and Leia embracing, Rey crying and firing her gun while screaming). There is plenty that looks inspired by the original trilogy, but updated (X-Wings, TIE fighters, etc).

There were plenty of scenes shown, but there were no spoilers. I still have no idea what the plot will be, other than guesses based on assumptions. We see Finn holding a blue light saber that looks like the one Luke lost in Bespin in Empire when Vader chopped off his hand. Kylo Ren is there too. Ren approaches Finn, and ignites his broadsword style sabre. Finn appears to panic at this stage, and the scene changes. Clearly, Finn is not a Jedi yet (if at all).

I cannot wait to see this film. Tickets have been purchased, and now it is simply a count down to a movie I never thought would happen.

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens

Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens teaser trailer has been released:

Star Wars Episdoe VII The Force Awakens teaser trailer

Wow. I loved it. It looked and felt awesome. Particularly that shot of the X-Wings flying low over the lake. That was incredible.
A quick break down of the teaser. And that is all it is, a teaser. No plot or character details revealed, just images and situations. And a sense of urgency.

The teaser starts in the desert, presumably of Tattoonie. A male, John Bogoya, stands into shot. He is dressed as a storm trooper, but doesn’t have a helmet on. He is sweating and looks concerned about something. A round droid rolls across the screen in a different location. Next, Daisy Ridley jumps on a speeder transport of some description and motors off into the distance. The newly designed Storm Troopers are next, and it looks like they are about to drop from a troop transport into battle. Then we see Oscar Issac piloting an X-Wing, which cuts to three X-Wings flying low over a lake, kicking up water spray as they go. In the background, we can see mountains. Next is a forest, possibly with snow. A dark, cloaked figure walks through, then ignites a red lightsaber which has a red hilt. Then the Falcon is flying through blue sky, and two Tie Fighters fly into shot. Star Wars: The Force Awakens comes up and it’s over.

Some thoughts:
The sense of urgency comes through strong. The voice over, speaking about the force awakening, both dark side and light, is very dark and foreboding.

The red lightsaber with the hilt is concerning – I imagine any particularly wristy (is that even a word?) actions would run a very strong risk of lopping our own hand off at the wrist.

Pros: The effects look great. They do look different to Episodes I to III though – grittier, dirtier, more used. It really suited the little bits they have shown us. The new Storm Trooper design looks like a natural progression from Clone Trooper to original trilogy trooper, to the new trooper. The voiceover. Whoever it was that spoke it – rumours of Andy Serakis or Benedict Cumberbatch abound, but we really don’t know.

Cons: That hilt really looks a little silly. The droid was okay. Everything else was pretty awesome.

I really liked what I saw. It was energetic, and authentic to the Star Wars universe of the original trilogy. I’ve never rated a trailer before, let alone a teaser. But I’d be happy to give it 9/10.

Game Review: Star Wars Commander

Star Wars: Commander is a Clash of Clans style game where the player builds and upgrades a base while collecting resources (in this case, alloy and credit) and defending/attacking other players. There are a number of single player missions to assist you along the way, but these are completed rather quickly, leaving you to fend for yourself early on.

After a few preliminary missions to establish your base, you are asked to either side with the Imperials or Rebels. I choose the Imperial, because, hey, Darth Vader is cool. The choice decides the type of units you can use, vehicles available, and art style of your base. The Imperial bases look pretty cool, all metal and darkness, while the Rebel bases I have attacked look more like desert colonies. Imperial troops in Storm Troopers, Dark Trooper (tanks for knocking out turrets), Scouts (for looting alloy and credit storage), Dewback mounted Storm Troopers (for knocking down walls) and repair droids. Vehicles include AT-ST, Speeder Bike, 2-M Hover Tank, AT-MP (new walker design), and AT-AT. There are also hero units – at a level four base level, I have only gained access to a Veteran AT-ST. These kick on serious ass, even if they are a little pricey to build.

AI in this game is a major let down. Troops seem to pick a predetermined path to their next target. If a single,unconnected piece of wall is on that path, the troops will stand and shoot the wall, even if getting blown away by a nearby turret or could easily walk around the wall segment. I have never struck this problem in Clash of Clans, and can make attacks very frustrating.

Overall, I did enjoy this game, AI issues aside. I have advanced my Command Centre to Level 4, and I am about to start upgrading it to level 5. I believe Level 5 may be the top level for upgrades at the moment, but I cannot confirm this. Finding information on this game on the internet is a little difficult, and the official website leaves a lot to be desired.

There are the usual offers to purchase crystals in this game, as there are with similar games. Crystals can be used to speed along upgrades, buy more worker droids for building, or exchanged for alloy and/or credits. I haven’t bought any crystals and really don’t intend to at the moment – I haven’t found the need.

This game rates a 7/10 – I enjoy Clash of Clans, so a Star Wars version of this was always going to be a winner with me. If the AI bugs and slow loading issues can be ironed out, this can be a great game!

Disney’s Ongoing Star Wars Plans

Busy day for Star Wars news!

Firstly, J.J. Abrams posts a video in relation to a charity (Unicef, I think). But the thing that appears to have caught the eyes of most people is the puppet … yes, you heard right, a puppet …. character that wanders into the video. J.J. appears to be using this video not only to make an appeal on behalf of the charity he is supporting, but also to show the world that CGI will not be relied upon as heavily as it was in the prequels.

I think it is a good move on J.J.s part – he can distance himself from the prequel trilogy which, it seems, a lot of people dislike. I most be honest, I love all the Star Wars movies. Naturally I enjoy some more than others. But there seems to be a real undercurrent of dislike for the prequels. So, distancing himself from them may help bring some of the more disgruntled fans back to the franchise. It also gives a stronger connection to the original trilogy, which relied heavily on puppets and animatronics. 

The other news of the day is that Disney have announced the creative team that will bring us the first Star Wars stand alone movie, due to hit cinemas on 16 December 2016. Director Gareth Edwards (of the most recent Godzilla fame, plus the under seen Monsters) and screenwriter Gary Whitta have been pegged to bring us our first taste of non-episodic (is that even a word?) Star Wars on the big screen. No information was provided of who or what the film will be about was released.

Most seem to think that it will be a Boba Fett movie. I think it will be too. I just hope Fett is a big enough name to draw the crowds and keep Disney making further stand alone installments. What I’d love to see on the big screen at some point would be an Old Republic/Sith Empire era movie – the image of hundreds of Jedi charging into battle against a massive army of Sith warrior would be awesome to behold!!

Stay tuned for further information as it comes to hand.