Tag: star wars

Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi


Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017)
★★★★ / ★★★★

Thrilling, visually resplendent, and high on entertainment value, the eighth “Star Wars” picture is, upon closer inspection, an attempt to push the series toward fresh territory while honoring the spirit of the beloved original trilogy. It stands strong amongst the cream of the crop with enough genuinely surprising twists and interesting character direction to pique the interest of observant and emotionally invested viewers. In the hands of writer-director Rian Johnson, “The Last Jedi” opens up a promising uncharted universe, an outstanding achievement because the series is already is so rich in lore, curiosities, and possibilities.

Its striking visual style is made apparent right from the opening sequence. Naturally, it involves blowing things up and yet we are invited to notice minute details. What I loved about 1977’s “A New Hope” is the look of a lived-in future. No matter where we end up, whether it be on a scorching desert, an asteroid field, man-made floating cities hiding behind clouds or outer space, surfaces almost always have dust, moss, or some kind of outer covering. Items appear old or second-hand but the attitude behind the events surrounding these inanimate objects, in addition to the people who interact with or wield them, their spirit, their energy, is young, vibrant, waiting to reach a crescendo with the slightest touch.

Although the action is most impressive, particularly dogfights that require eye-popping and brow-raising acrobatics, it can be argued that the film’s strongest moments involve longing silences, young and worn characters looking at each other knowingly, engaging in tense exchanges that could alter the tide of war between The First Order and the Resistance, the latter desperate and dwindling in number.

Out of three parallel storylines, most intriguing is Rey (Daisy Ridley), tyro and earnest but strong with the Force, attempting to convince Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to leave his self-imposed isolation and join the fight for the galaxy. The overall tone, compared to the rest of the picture, is spiritual, questioning. Shades of blue, gray, and green dominate the screen. We hear nature rather than whirring of machines and explosions. The pacing is unhurried, unconcerned with creating a typical arc to garner tension, prone to rumination.

Familiar characters are given more personality this time around. For example, in the predecessor, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) is introduced as an ace fighter pilot, clearly a key player in the Resistance. However, we simply accept the character as he is introduced. Here, however, it is shown why Dameron is a leader, his competencies as well as his shortcomings. We are even introduced to his type of humor. Jokes and situational comedies almost always fit the occasion or characters involved. When the writing is specific and takes risks, the allure of the “Star Wars” universe is all the more amplified.

A filmmaker’s goal, or what should be his or her goal, is to put one’s unique stamp on a project, whether it be for mainstream consumption or a niche audience. Here, I got a strong impression that the “Star Wars” installment that Johnson respects most, his beacon, is “A New Hope.” It is in how he picks up themes brought up in that film and makes them his own rather seamlessly without relying on overt images or fan service. Most importantly, the writer-director is willing to take the next step and to give the franchise a chance to evolve. However, putting one’s own stamp on a popular franchise comes with a cost: it is certain to antagonize audiences who are not yet ready to look to the future.

Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens


Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015)
★★★★ / ★★★★

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens,” directed by J.J. Abrams, is a massively entertaining mainstream science fiction fantasy picture filled with many familiar elements and small but required twists for old and new generation of fans. It is highly accessible, from the well-placed, rapid-fire banters to its crescendoing epic score during key moments, and so one can sit back and enjoy the plethora of wonderful images and action sequences.

A new threat known as the First Order has risen from the ashes of the fallen Galactic Empire. It is led by a mysterious figure named Snoke (Andy Serkis), working for him are two generals Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), and the elimination of the final Jedi, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), is critical to the group’s universal reign. But Skywalker is nowhere to be found. According to some sources, a pilot (Oscar Isaac) who works for the Resistance has just gotten hold of an important clue that may lead to the Jedi’s whereabouts.

The new characters are interesting and worth getting to know further. The partnership between a former Stormtrooper (John Boyega) and a scavenger (Daisy Ridley) is inspired even though the placement of seeds involving a possible romantic connection comes across as a bit forced at times. I enjoyed that the former, Finn, is thrusted into the war between the First Order and the Resistance almost out of guilt while for the latter, Rey, it is almost as if it is her destiny. It is wise that the screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams, and Michael Arndt keeps the eventual duo apart for as long as possible. When they are separate, we can feel the pulse of the new myth being born.

It offers a strong sense of place and community. There is a breath of excitement with each environment, from the seemingly endless desert of Jakku to the lush green planet Takodana. Perhaps more importantly, the various creatures we encounter almost always have a personality to them, whether it is through exchange of dialogue, grunt-like noises, or beep-beep-boop. I found myself wanting shots to linger a little longer especially when an interesting-looking creature is shown on the side or the background. I wanted to look at their faces or skins a little closer; I wanted to examine the clothes they wear and the weapons they carry. With some, I even noticed their postures. There is no doubt that we are in the hands of a most capable visual storyteller.

One can argue that a little bit more creativity might have elevated the picture. For instance, the Starkiller Base, capable of destroying entire solar systems with the help of the sun, is too similar to the Death Star encountered in the previous films, only bigger. The young Jedi storyline, too, is a retread. While this is not an unreasonable criticism, it can also be argued such examples—and others like them—are merely plot device. What matters more is the energy and small changes behind the expected elements.

I argue that this is an attempt to revitalize a franchise. And it works. Diverting too much from familiarity might have done more harm than good. But expansion and new ideas are exactly what I will be looking for in the inevitable sequel. This time, playing it safe should be overlooked. But safe does not equal boring. On the contrary, this is an exciting chapter with action sequences that at least rival the originals.

Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi


Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983)
★★★ / ★★★★

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sent C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) to collect Han Solo (Harrison Ford), encased in carbonite, from the gangster Jabba the Hutt (voiced by Larry Ward), but the droids were unsuccessful in their mission. Later, they discovered that Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) had also been captured. It was up to young Skywalker, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), and Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) to rescue their friends. Meanwhile, the rebel groups found out that the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) and Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) were building a new Death Star. Word went around that it was still non-functional so it was best to attack as soon as possible in order to end the rule of the evil Empire. Based on George Lucas’ original story and directed by Richard Marquand, “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” had some serious problems in terms of pacing. The first third of the picture was exciting. Although it ended in violence, Han Solo’s debt to Jabba the Hutt had finally been settled. Luke facing a truly ugly Rancor, strong but not very smart, was a joy to watch as well as the battle on the flying ships that hovered over a desert monster. Everyone who fell off the ship was eaten in a gruesome fashion. The ships rocked back and forth and crashed into each other which sent our lovable protagonists up in the air and near the mouth of the hungry creature. But when our heroes reached the forest moon of Endor, the story became painfully stagnant and, at its worst, cloyingly cheesy. I had difficulty believing that the cute Ewoks could be menacing. The most critical misstep was allowing the Ewoks to be front and center while Han Solo and company were brushed to the side. What I found highly enjoyable about “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” and “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back” was the fact that the rebel groups were constantly outnumbered. Using sheer creativity and determination, they somehow disentangled themselves, while making some key sacrifices, from sticky situations. In this installment, the Ewoks did most of the work in defeating the Stormtroopers while Luke faced Vader and the Emperor in the new Death Star. In the latter, there was a lot of talk about going to the Dark Side but I felt no tension among the three powerful characters. Without tension, the one-dimensionality of the dialogue became apparent. The director failed to take advantage of the relationship between Luke and Vader, the push and pull of the way they felt toward each other versus their loyalty for their cause, and what being a Jedi meant to them. Still imaginative and exciting but noticeably less effective, “Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi” needed less of the Ewoks’ cuddly warmth and more epic adventures designed to tie together the series’ overarching themes.

Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back


Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back (1980)
★★★★ / ★★★★

The Death Star was destroyed but the war between the Empire and the rebels was far from over. The rebels aggregated in Hoth, a planet covered in ice, and Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) had just found them. There was a full-on attack on our heroes and they lost. Upon their retreat, they were divided into two groups. Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) traveled to Dagobah to find a master Jedi called Yoda (voiced by Frank Oz) upon the request the ghostly Obi-wan Kenobi (Alec Guinness). Meanwhile, their ship unable to go into hyperdrive, with some amusing consequences, Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) attempted navigate their way through an asteroid field in order to evade Vader and his pesky minions. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” directed by Irvin Kershner and from the original mind of George Lucas, was a quintessential sequel: it proved that just because the special and visual effects were grander and the action-sequences were more heart-pounding, the story and character need not be sacrificed. Although the picture didn’t mention how many months or years had passed since we last saw our beloved characters, we didn’t need to. Luke was more mature and more confident in the way he approached problems, the robots were more useful and wise-cracking, Chewbacca was more lovable, and the arguments between Han Solo and Princess Leia felt more like necessary friendly bantering/flirtation instead a hindrance to the story’s mood and momentum. The sequel challenged itself by constantly offering us something new. Let’s take the environment. In its predecessor, the characters spent a third of its time navigating their way through a barren desert. In here, we were immersed in a chilly tundra. Instead of going straight to the action of Vader’s troops demolishing the rebel base, it wasn’t afraid to take some risks like Luke being kidnapped by the Abominable Snowman-looking creature. It had a sense of fun. We never truly believed that Luke was in real danger. However, it was a necessary scene because it reminded us of Luke’s increasing connection to The Force, a key element in eventually defeating the evil Empire, and that he was no longer just a farmer trying too hard to be a Jedi. There was also an interesting contrast between scenes of the swampy Dagobah where Luke trained and the futuristic floating city where Han Solo and company took refuge. Despite the differences in images, the alternating scenes didn’t feel forced because the characters were consistently working toward a common goal. “Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back,” unafraid to explore its darker themes regarding loyalty and betrayal, unexpectedly romantic and chock full of surprises, was an adventure in the highest order.

Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope


Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope (1977)
★★★★ / ★★★★

A young farmer named Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) found out that one of the two robots, R2-D2 (Kenny Baker) and C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), his uncle purchased contained a message from Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), one of the rebels who wanted to bring down the evil Empire, seeking help from a former Jedi knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi (Alec Guiness). She was captured by Darth Vader (David Prowse and voiced by James Earl Jones) and was ordered to reveal the location of other rebels. Failure to do so on her part meant termination. Luke, Obi-Wan, and the two robots hired a mercenary named Han Solo (Harrison Ford), along with his friend Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), to infiltrate the Death Star, capable of destroying an entire planet, and save the princess. Written by directed by George Lucas, “Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope” was an ambitious and exciting picture, worthy of the reputation of being one of the most influential films ever made. I was impressed with the risks it took right from the beginning. For the first ten to fifteen minutes, we were asked to pay attention to the two robots. One of them could speak but other could only utter beeps and whistles. Somehow, the material was able to get away with it because, despite the two being non-living objects, they had chemistry. I’m doubtful if such a risk could be taken today and be as successful. I enjoyed that we were immediately taken in the middle of the warring members of the Empire and rebel groups. Background information were mostly revealed through conversations. Not only did it feel organic, it was efficient with its time. Although there was weakness in the dialogue at times like when Han Solo and Princess Leia would get into cheesy and sometimes cringe-inducing arguments, the tirades happened in the middle of action-packed sequences so it almost felt negligible. I especially liked the scene when the protagonists plunged into a garbage chute. We were led to believe that the threat was the creature that lived in there. It turned out that it was the least of their worries because the walls eventually started closing in. Lucas’ signature direction was always present. Every room revealed new surprises that ranged from soldiers of the Empire just waiting for a target to interesting- and tired-looking aliens just having a drink in the middle of the day in a hot desert town. The energy was palpable as if The Force, the spiritual energy in which the Jedi believed to bind everything in universe, compelled us to fixate our eyes on the screen. The first entry of the “Star Wars” saga was a prime example of the level of success a film could have when there was synergy among special and visual effects, an absorbing story, and adrenaline-fueled adventure of epic proportions.

The Fifth Element


The Fifth Element (1997)
★★★ / ★★★★

I didn’t know much about this movie when I decided to watch it so my expectations were not that high. I thought it was going to be another one of those science fiction movies that deals with the apocalypse and so happens to take itself way too seriously. I couldn’t be anymore more wrong because “The Fifth Element,” written and directed by Luc Besson, was as funny and interesting as the vibrant colors that could be found in it throughout. Every 5,000 years, a strange power appears and tries to engulf life. It could be stopped by combining the powers of fire, water, wind, earth and the supposed “fifth element” for another five thousand years and the cycle continues. Bruce Willis stars as Korben Dallas, a taxi driver in futuristic New York who used to work for the military. He got sucked into the madness of intergalactic battle when Milla Jovovich–the fifth element, also known as the perfect being–literally dropped into his taxi. Their mission was to gather all the elements and save the planet from being obliterated into oblivion. Gary Oldman as the evil Zorg, Ian Holm as the priest, and Chris Tucker as the hilariously flamboyant DJ also star. I enjoyed this movie more than I expected to because its pace was quick; it didn’t dwell on the specifics on who’s who and what their intentions and motivations are. This film definitely reminded me of a hybrid between the “Star Wars” saga and the B movies of the 1950’s because it had that nice balance of imagination and humor. The only minor complaint I had was that sometimes it managed to distract itself from the story to make room for some of the more obvious funny moments. Tucker was the one who stole most of the scenes he was in because he was able to focus his manic personality into a character that had to be very enthusiastic about everything every time he was on his program. As for the visual and special effects, yes, they are sort of dated but I really didn’t care because I’m more concerned about the concept, how well a film builds on the story, and how it utilizes its characters. “The Fifth Element” is one of those movies that one can really enjoy if one doesn’t mind watching something over-the-top on a slow night.

17 Again


17 Again (2009)
★★ / ★★★★

Even though I’m no fan of Zac Efron (he hasn’t yet proven to me that he can be a versatile actor), I have to admit that I somewhat enjoyed this movie. Granted, that enjoyment didn’t come from either lead actors, Efron or Matthew Perry; in fact, the supporting actors were the ones that stepped up to the plate and delivered the big laughs. Having been down on his luck, Perry gets a second chance to look like his seventeen-year-old high school self (played by Efron) after talking to a magical janitor/spirit guide. In that younger body, he’s able to find a relationship with his two kids (Michelle Trachtenberg, Sterling Knight) and fix his marriage problems with his wife (Leslie Mann). The only person that knows about the whole magical transformation was Perry’s best friend played by the hilarious Thomas Lennon. Lennon stole every scene he was in and I seriously couldn’t stop laughing because of the way he embraced his characters’ nerdy persona. (“Star Wars,” “The Lord of the Rings,” you name it, the geeky reference is there.) He was matched by Melora Hardin (“The Office”), the high school principal with a little secret that she expertly masks. What dragged this film down was its inability to stay away from syrupy scenes and lines, including the so-called dramatic slow motions during the basketball games. Its message was also very vague. I felt like the message it tried to convey was in order to stop feeling like outcast, one should join the basketball team because that’s where the opportunities are found. That would’ve been easily solved if Trachtenberg and Knight had friends who are astute, well-adjusted, and happy with where they are in life. Instead, the two of them are simply outcasts: Trachtenberg is dependent on her boyfriend (played by the lovely, though not-so-lovely in this film, Hunter Parrish) and Knight as a socially awkward loverboy. What this movie is trying to show is not real life and it’s a shame because I know for a fact that teenagers (especially teenage girls) will be drawn to this. “17 Again” has some funny material but I found it confusing in its core and very unrealistic in its portrayal of high school. Or maybe I just need to see Efron play a character who doesn’t know how to play basketball. Perhaps then the cheesiness will decrease exponentially.