Non-Spoiler Review of Star Wars – The Rise of Skywalker

Skywalker

I went into this film with relatively low expectations given the flaws in The Last JediThe Rise of Skywalker was ambitious on a rare scale for movies.  It was aimed at wrapping up story arcs that were over 40 years in the making, including some arcs we didn’t even know were out there.  The character arcs were, in some cases, less-than-inspiring.  On top of that, Carrie Fisher had died between films.

So my expectations going in were pretty shallow.  Imagine my surprise that I was pleasantly pleased with this film.

My friend Scott summed up one thing that had to be addressed.  Rey had to be somebody.  She couldn’t be a nobody.  He was 100% right.  That was missing from her arc and was critical.  Well, we got that with The Rise of Skywalker.  It wasn’t entirely unexpected, but it was a neat twist.

In fact, this movie answered a lot of questions we had from The Last Jedi, which now makes me reevaluate that movie.  Touché JJ Abrams.  The film also avoided all of the Hollywood socio-political statement scenes that assisted in my loathing of The Last Jedi.

I came away with a whole new bag of questions I wanted answered, but for the most part, the strands of storyline that have been dangling with this trilogy were, for the most part, tied into a neat Christmas knot.  I saw some old friends and we saw some depth in some of the characters that we hadn’t seen in previous films.

While I more than got my money’s worth, I can say with honesty that this movie is not in the top three of the Star Wars films.  It is good, it has some heartwarming moments, but it is not epic or great.  Bear in mind this was a year where we saw the culmination of the Marvel films as well, and Endgame would be tough to top.

I had fun and enjoyed myself.  From a writer’s perspective, I tried to come up with a nerd-based litany of changes I would have done, but my list was less about the story and more about scenes that could and should have been included.

I give it 4.5 out of 5 stars.  There are bound to be a lot of haters out there, but they won’t sway my take on the film.

Review: Star Wars Legion – The Miniatures

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Apologies in advance – I’m not a great photographer

When I saw a new Star Wars miniatures skirmish game I have to admit, I was a little giddy.  Adding to that, my grandson/gaming buddy, loves Star Wars.  I remember playing the old miniatures game and while fun, it was a pain to manage all of those cards with the minis if you did a larger battle.  I hoped this one would be better and, on the surface, it appears so.

For this review – I am going to focus on the miniatures.  My first proviso, I am not a great miniatures painter.  I am average, at best.

When I purchased the set, I noted that these were 35mm figures…as opposed to the 25mm figures from the old game.  Was this merely a ploy to make sure I couldn’t use the old minis in the new system?  Probably.  At the same time I wondered how the larger size would impact details.  As it turns out, it makes the details pop.  Even better, the larger size seems much more forgiving when you paint them.  Little mistakes (the ones only you notice) disappear on a larger miniature.

Assembly was great, well almost great.  For the Stormtroopers and Rebels, you can almost get by without gluing some of the arms to the miniature, some are that good of a fit. The figures are great to work with, with good facial distinctions and details.  I have to admit it, Fantasy Flight Games did a great job with these.

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These guys are looking for trouble

The only miniature I struggled with putting together was the speeder bikes.  The guide in the rules set simply didn’t help at all with putting on the parts.  I went to two videos to finally figure it out.  On one bike, I got the control vanes on backwards.  I’m refusing to correct it at this stage.  Even more frustrating, unlike other parts in the boxed set that fit together well, the vanes don’t.  One wobbly finger and you end up with a hot mess…trust me.  I hate those speeder bikes for that reason.  I’m sure better modelers fared much better than me.

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These minis are not quite model kits in complexity, but are pretty fast and easy to assemble (other than those blasted bikes.)

In terms of painting, be prepared.  There are a lot of videos on how to paint these minis.  In terms of color guides, I found no less than a dozen.  It makes sense with the Rebels, after all, these are ad hoc units so there is some variance.  Well brace yourself, there are a lot of options here which make it great for you as a painter/player.

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The large bases have groves for identifying firing angles.  You need these in game play.  It can make basing those figures tricky.  You can see how I did it.  I wasn’t overly pleased with the result, but it worked.

Stormtroopers are easier.  You have white and black, and a touch of dark gray.  I color coded the bases with the leaders so I can distinguish them on the field of battle.

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I used an airbrush for base coats, which saved time.  It allowed me to do some light camouflage on the RT walker that I liked too.  You will have to judge for yourself.

I purchased Strong Tone wash from Army Painter and this was my first experience with it.  You can judge for yourself.  I have come to love it.  With the Stormtroopers, I put it on and gently wiped the white surfaces so they popped a little more.  I am not a Strong Tone kind of guy when I paint.  It can make a dull mini pop, and isn’t that what you want?

You can see my results as an average painter.

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One of these days I will play the game and do a full-blown review of these minis in action.  Stay tuned!

A Spoiler-Free Review of Solo – A Star Wars Story

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“Look Khaleesi, a dragon!”  

I was hoping this was going to be a good, solid, standalone film – one that would explore a period of the Star Wars universe that we don’t have a lot of information on.  If it was done well, the story would be solid on its own.  I was a little disappointed in this perspective.

Think of it this way, was Black Panther a good movie, even if he was not part of the greater Marvel cinematic universe?  Yes.  All on its own, the film was good.  Even if no other Marvel movies existed, Black Panther (and Ant-Man, and others) would have stood on their own.  The fact they are part of a bigger franchise makes them more awesome, but they are not dependent on that.

This is not the case with Solo.  It is a film that seems to strive to fill a few gaps in young Han Solo’s life with scant details buried in dialogue.  We get the whole Kessel Run parsec thing explained – we see the first meeting between Chewie and Han.  We get the Millennium Falcon and Lando.  Those things were great to have as parts of a much bigger story that could stand on its own.  This does not.  It is hooked on the Star Wars mythos to the point where it is a series of Easter Eggs that are masterfully strung together into a good story…not a great story, but a good one.  If there were no other Star Wars films, would this film have been as good?  No way.

The acting was solid.  There’s a lot of subplots happening in this film, which is great.  Emelia Clarke has ensured that she can live well off of the geek convention circuit – between Star Wars and Game of Thrones.  Her acting was clearly the best of the film followed by Woodie Harellson.

Some good characters were introduced – like Lando’s droid.  I wish we could have gotten more of her, but what we got saved the middle of this movie for me.

The Easter Eggs are there for those of us that have been with the franchise since the beginning, and they are there aplenty.  There’s a surprise cameo in the film too and it was awesome and unexpected.  My grandson loved it too.  The movie ended with plenty of room for a sequel…don’t they all?

There’s a couple of plot holes in this movie, some kludgy writing at times, but nothing horrific.

I give this film a three out of five stars.  It didn’t stand alone and I think would have been a lot better if it had.  I appreciate the candy for the true fans.  Bottom line, if you like Star Wars movies you probably will like this one.  We could have loved it though.  Disney continues to print more money by making these movies.

Non-Spoiler Review: Star Wars – The Last Jedi

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Often times the second movie in a series is better than the first.  Star Trek II – The Wrath of Khan or the Empire Strikes Back are good examples.  These films were so great they set expectations for The Last Jedi in the back of my mind.  There were questions I wanted answered, like why is Kylo Ren such a douchebag?  Who were Ren’s parents (not that it really matters)?  What went down between Kylo and Luke?

I got most of the answers but I’m not sure I liked them.  Having said that, don’t kid yourself, this film is no Empire Strikes Back.

It’s a good film.  I went with my mother, my daughter, and my grandson (four generations) and we all enjoyed the movie, we got our money’s worth.

On the positive side, we learn a lot more about Kylo Ren which made his character a little more interesting.  We learned why Luke went to some island off of Ireland for years.  This film had some moments that were priceless and will be noted as classics in the mythos of Star Wars.  I refuse to ruin those moments for you, but you will know them when you see them.  Most of the main characters grew in this film, they evolved, and most were for the better.  There are moments that tug at your heartstrings as well especially at the end.  On top of that, it was not easy seeing Carrie Fisher in her last role before her death.

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“No, I do not want a copy of the Watchtower…”

Also there were some twists that I didn’t see coming, especially with the Supreme Leader. I like it when a film seduces me then turns that emotion against me.

There were some moments that were downright funny as well.  We needed that.  Han Solo often provided us with those moments in previous films and The Last Jedi did a good job of filling that gap.

On the dark side, there were parts of this film that were over-plotted and unnecessary.  Even during the film I found myself saying, “This whole subplot makes no sense.” You’ll spot it too, I assure you.  It is 15 minutes of your life that has zero impact on the film.

I felt that some of Luke’s actions were very un-Jedi and out of character.  He’s not exactly the kind of uncle you leave your nephew with and that bothered me deeply.   Why the writer’s felt the need to twist this part of his character, a man that turned Darth Vadar, will be the subject of internet debate for years to come.

I disliked Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo character; from her dialogue down to her bad dye job.    What’s with the dress, did we pull you from some sort of cocktail party?  You’re an admiral, wear something uniform-ish.  And the parallels between her name and Hodor from Game of Thrones is a bit too much for me.  Try this Ms. Dern – act like a military officer.  Her interactions with Poe were clearly written to make her a strong feminist character against a biased male pilot. I hate when Hollywood interjects politics into a film just because they feel entitled to.  There were other political overtones interjected as well, but I won’t dwell on those.

This is not the best of the new generation Star Wars films and ranks behind Rogue One and The Force Awakens.  Bear in mind, that is not a bad thing, since all of these movies are very strong.  It doesn’t suck like Phantom Menace – which is something in its favor. It is a good film that could have been great.

Ultimately Disney continues to print money producing these movies and I would have paid double to see this film and loved it no more or less.  Unlike Rogue One, I don’t find myself wanting to rush back to see it again.

Star Wars Film Quotes With Sexual Connotations

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This popped up on a random Facebook post two weeks ago and was well worthy of capturing in a blog entry.  These are quotes from the Star Wars film franchise that had sexual connotations or about a person’s sex life, when read out of context.  I have tried to get the quotes right, but to be honest, there’s major variations on the web and I couldn’t stomach watching Phantom Menace again to validate anything.

Let’s face it, some of these are hilarious. I have deliberately shuffled the order of these and have included content from the entire franchise thus far.  Enjoy.

Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you?

The force is strong with this one.

It’s a trap!

How are we doing? Same as always. That bad huh?

He’s more machine now…

You will never find a more wretched hive of scum and villainy.

You came in that thing? You’re braver than I thought.

Pull out, you’re not doing any good back there!

That’s no moon.

Laugh it up Fuzzball.

There’s an awful lot of moisture in here.

Oh yes, that’s very good. I like that … oh, something’s not right because now I can’t see.

You have failed me for the last time.

Be careful not to choke on your aspirations.

Never tell me the odds.

It’s no good, I can’t maneuver.

At that speed, will you be able to pull out in time?

Will someone get this walking carpet out of my way?

No, no, no! This one goes there, that one goes there!

Do. Or do not. There is no try.

Into the garbage chute Flyboy!

Did You Know That Wasn’t Me?

I find your lack of faith disturbing.

I have felt him, my master.

Get in there you big furry oaf. I don’t care what you smell.

Stay on target. Stay on target!

I was expecting someone with your reputation to be a little, older.

Myself, the boy, two droids, and no questions asked.

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Relax Bob, you couldn’t have hit them even if you tried. 

You were right about one thing master, the negotiations were short.

I gotta bad feeling about this.

It’s not a problem if you don’t look up.

You underestimate my power!

I can’t shake ‘em!

You do have your moments. Not many, but you have them.

Aren’t you a little short for a Stormtrooper?

I’m endangering the mission, I shouldn’t have come.

Hey, we don’t serve their kind here!

An elegant weapon not as clumsy or rampant as a blaster!

Good!  Good! Let the hate flow through you.

It’s Working!  It’s Working!

Shut him up or shut him down!

So uncivilized.

Uh, we had a slight weapons malfunction, but uh… everything’s perfectly all right now.

You’re all clear kid, now let’s blow this thing and go home!

No point getting upset about it.  It was a fair move.

Don’t get cocky!

What an incredible smell you’ve discovered…

Sister! So, you have a twin sister!

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You need a little scoundrel in your life 

Intensify forward firepower!

What I told you was true…From a certain point of view…

In my experience there’s no such thing as luck.

I have the high ground.

Impressive … most impressive.

What is thy bidding, my master?

I’m looking forward to completing your training. In time you will call me master.

All too easy!

Your powers are weak, old man.

Move along…

Only Imperial Stormtroopers are so precise.

Negative! It didn’t go in. It just impacted on the surface.

And I thought they smelled bad on outside.

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Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.

I can’t hold them.

Great shot, kid. That was one in a million!

Doesn’t look like much, but has it where it counts.

This had better work.

I’d rather kiss a Wookie.

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Look at the size of that thing!

Oh, no! We’ll never get it out now!

Hang on back there!

They’ll be back and in greater numbers.

No. I don’t like you either.

Who are you calling ‘Scruffy?’

This is no cave…

Put that thing away, you’re gonna get us all killed!

Something just touched my leg…

Punch it Chewie.

It’s not my fault!

Turn her around!

I expect to be well paid. I’m in it for the money.

They may come around for another pass.

Nice girl! Either I’m gonna kill her or I’m beginning to like her!

This ain’t like dusting crops, boy!

Sorry about the mess…

Is that possible?” “I never ask that question until after we’ve done it.”

You my fire when ready.

Bring me Solo.

The target area is only two meters wide…

I didn’t hit it THAT hard…must’ve had some sort of self-destruct.

I guess you don’t know everything about women yet.

Use your harpoons!

But how am I to know the good side from the bad?

It’s risky but we can’t hold out much longer.

Why does everyone want to go back to Jakku?!

I’m out of it for a little while and suddenly everyone’s got delusions of grandeur…

I thought you were blind!

I’m afraid our furry companion has gone and done something rather rash.

But these are my friends!

Uh, everything under control. Situation normal.

Boring conversation anyway.

I just got this bucket back together.I’m not going to let something tear it apart.

I love you. I know.

“Stop taking my hand!

“I have something here for you, your Father wanted you to have this when you were old enough but your Uncle wouldn’t allow it.”

You’re far too trusting…

There has been an awakening. Have you felt it?

Take your father’s place by my side

The Resistance will not be intimidated.

So. You got your reward and you’re just leaving, then?

Alright, so what did I miss?  Feel free to add in the comments section.

Farewell your worshipfulness…

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“We love you Carrie…”  “I know.”

We all a bit saddened at the death of Carrie Fisher.  Since she had her cardiac incident a few days ago, I had some self-reflection about why her and her character has endured.

Until Star Wars (no number is needed) Fisher was relatively unknown.  Yes, pundits will spout her credits, but to be honest, none of us had seen her face until Star Wars.  The fact she played the role so well with so little experience catapulted her into our collective memory and hearts.

She played a princess that didn’t fit the mold.  Up until that time we had the sugarcoated vision of princesses that Disney had been churning out for decades. Sure, we had Princess Diana (Wonder Woman) but in the end it was her figure that drew us in.  Fisher’s Leia character was a tough, take-charge woman who was as comfortable in diplomatic settings as she was wielding a blaster.  She was a role model without shoving it in your face like so many “stars” try to do today.  A huge part of the appeal of Star Wars is her character and the fact that she did not fit the stereotype of a princess in distress.

Even the other characters like Han Solo, which should have overshadowed hers, were stymied at her audacity and biting lines.  Yes, that was the product of great writing and directing, but in the end it was Carrie Fisher.

Her character fell in love with a guy from the wrong side of the tracks and she made it work.  One of the best moments we had in Rogue One was seeing her there, once more, buns in hair, on the screen again.

And that slave girl costume from Return of the Jedi…well, that was another image we proudly carry thanks to her.

Was she a stunning actress with depth?  Probably not.  She didn’t have to be.  One of my favorite moments recently with her was on Big Bang Theory when James Earl Jones and Sheldon rang her doorbell and ran.  There was something so cool in that one short segment that made even the most stiff and cynical critic grin broadly.

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“It’s not funny James!”  “Then why am I laughing?”  

When we saw her in The Force Awakens, we saw that time had stripped some of the veneer off of Fisher but not off of the character she played.  While the years had changed her looks, the spirit was still there and that was all her – all the actress.

She was still our one and only Princess.  She had a father with issues, deep issues.  Yes, she kissed her brother – but we moved past that.  She is gone, and for those of us who proudly refer to ourselves as geeks, we have lost our only true royalty.  Her legacy is one of memory for us.  She will always be in our minds wearing white, hair in buns, blaster at the ready.

For me, like so many, the reflections are personal.  I proudly bear the fond memories of working at the Battle Creek Auto Drive-In for 10 weeks while Star Wars showed every night 1.5 times – to the point when we could do all of the actors parts while we did our jobs.  It never once got old or corny.  I took my children to see the digitally remastered films when they released in theaters, and my grandson to see the new films when they came out.  Carrie Fisher is, for most of us, generational.  Her image is iconic around the globe, which is why we care.

For her to have taken a part in Star Wars was risky…a risk we are all better for her doing.  In her own words, “You came here in that?  You’re braver than I thought!”

Farewell your worshipfulness.  The Force is with you…you are now, truly, one with the Force…

 

Spoiler Free Review of Star Wars Rogue One

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Jedi?  We don’t need no stinking Jedi! 

Summary:  This is the story of an ingenious administrator who dedicates his life to the creation of a tool that will bring peace to the galaxy.  He is opposed by a group of terrorists and quasi-religious zealots bent on plunging the known universe into civil war.  The terrorists kill hundreds of patriots in a mission of sabotage, chaos, and carnage.  Ultimately the administrator loses his life but lives long enough to see his dream brought to life as his tool is proven effective.

Alright…onto the real review.  This is not your “typical” Star Wars film – as evident from the very beginning. This is a carefully crafted prequel to A New Hope.  For the record – Disney did it right.  Boy did they do it right.  The fact that this doesn’t fit the normal Star Wars mold is fantastic.

What drives this is the characters.  Each one grows and evolves in the intricate plot.  The droid in this film, K-2SO, is sarcastic and snarky…actually giving it a unique personality from what we’ve seen with other droids.  The blind monk-like warrior, Chirrut Imwe, is awesome.  His chant of “I am with the Force and the Force is with me,” is going to appear on T-shirts in a matter of days.  These heroes are not your standard Star Wars fare and that works with me.

This story is huge in scope, taking us to a number of new worlds in the Star Wars universe.  The details are incredible.  You see a massive statue of Jedi laying in the sands on one world – each planet coming off distinct and different.  The Screen Artists Guild deserves drinks on Mickey Mouse for these scenes.

The best is the linkage to Episode IV:  A New Hope.  I told my wife years ago that in my lifetime I would see a new John Wayne western because of CGI.  I am now convinced of this even more.  One of the coolest secondary characters was played by Peter Cushing, and he has been dead since 1994!  In only one scene was I able to see that it was, indeed, CGI.  Otherwise I was convinced he was there.  Disney, you magnificent bastards, I salute you.

We all know Darth Vadar is evil.  We never really can get enough of this.  Rogue One provides us a bad-ass, ass-kicking Vadar that is vicious, cunning, and dark.

The incorporation of Red Leader was so cool, so subtle, and so perfect…I was pleased.  I only wish Porkins had been there!

So, the short version – this is a great movie – five out of five stars.  Go see it – twice!

It has never been a better time to be a geek

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Perhaps you’d like a squeaky ball to play with?

It hit me last night as I watched Game of Thrones and Silicon Valley, that this is the best time in mankind’s history for geeks.  Those of us dubbed nerds or dorks in high school have had to wait almost five decades for us to be the cool kids.  Even Hollywood is crashing the White House Press awards now.  For once, we rule.

First off, there’s a ton of entertainment out there for us – and it’s good stuff.  Supergirl, the Flash, GoT, Silicon Valley, Daredevil, The Walking Dead, Doctor Who, Big Bang Theory, Agents of Shield…and that’s just on TV.  Starting in December of last year we will get two Star Wars movies, a Star Trek film, Batman v. Superman (ugh!), Marvel Civil War, Doctor Strange, Suicide Squad, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg.  Hollywood and the world has learned that the things we were mocked for as children are big bucks.  Putting out a superhero or Star Wars movie is like printing money at this point.

Moreover our tastes are being accepted by the masses.  I have to admit, it was kind of cool when it was just us geeks watching and reading this stuff.  Now that the cool kids are into it, it does take a little bit away from it.  At the same time, we get to say, “we were here first!” and not risk getting a swirly.

I can honestly remember having to hide my comic books at school to dodge ridicule and the random (and painful) Purple Nurple.   For years it was hard to find tee-shirts with geek culture on them.  You were hard pressed to find a Superman shirt.  Now freaking Under Armour makes athletic super hero gear.  Most of my wardrobe consists of super hero and TV shirts (much to my wife’s patient chagrin.)  I was in the gym the other day and saw two other guys wearing Captain America shirts – one even complimented mine.  If it was 1979 I would have gotten an Indian Burn for daring to show up with that kind of shirt on.

This Thursday I’m taking my hot wife to see Captain America Civil War and I know in line there will be dozens of kids decked out in the latest gear.  There will be some in costume too.  My wife, she will try and pretend none of this is happening.  Deep down she knows she actually ended up marrying one of the cool kids.  It just took decades for that to be known.  (Actually she would kill at the chance to purge my wardrobe and make me purchase “adult appropriate” clothing…but I digress.)

Geek culture has never been so popular and accepted – for which I am thankful.  Because it is so mainstream, the quality of the entertainment is fantastic too.  As I dive into writing a new BattleTech novel, I realize that we dorks are now the ones pulling the strings on entertainment and culture.  We are setting the tone and pace of what is in and what isn’t.

It’s a good time to be alive and geek!

 

My Non-Spoiler Review of Star Wars The Force Awakens

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Sweet…it didn’t suck!

I refuse to ruin this movie for the eight people that won’t see it this weekend.  Having said that I took a small group to the film, including my daughter (who I had taken the original and prequel movies) and my grandson.  Yes, Star Wars has become generational.

I am a geek, by nature and birth.  I was interviewed by the Battle Creek Enquirer and News when I was one of the first dozen people standing in line to see The Empire Strikes Back.  I kept the clipping because back in those days, standing in line for movies was not only novel, it was a requirement.  While I am a geek, I still didn’t rush out for the late night showing of The Force Awakens on Thursday – but waited until Friday.

The short version of my review:  It’s a good solid film…worthy of the name Star Wars.

To be blunt, nothing was going to replicate the release of the original Star Wars.  The reason for that is simple, it revolutionized special effects for science fiction films.  There had not been anything like it.  The experience, at the time, was one of awe.  It’s impossible to duplicate that immersion with a new film like we had in 1977.  It was revolutionary and we all knew that The Force Awakens wasn’t going to be that.

That leaves us with characters and story.

My expectation was that the new Star Wars film had to:

  • Be better than Phantom Menace (which really wasn’t going to take that much.)
  • Give us a story that was engaging.
  • Give us a glimpse of the classic characters again, as they should be. Han had to be a  bit of scoundrel.  Luke needed to no longer be the farm boy in search of who he was.  I wanted to see these characters in the right context.
  • Not give us characters like Jar Jar Binks, aimed at marketing crap to kids (I feared the dark side of the Disney Empire’s influence.)
  • Provide this in the Star Wars universe we all knew.  I didn’t want to see a recast like Star Trek where things looked different.  Star Wars has a feel to it and I think we needed to see that in the new film.
  • Lay out new characters that we could have some identification with.

The new film did this.  My expectations were met – which alone would have warranted a three-star rating.  I found some wonderful Easter eggs in there for the geeks in the crowd, which were not only expected but appreciated.  The writing was solid – great dialogue.

My only disappointments, albeit minor, was that the plot felt too familiar. I won’t ruin it for you, but we’ve been there before.  The other thing I wish we had gotten was more of the background of the character Po.  We got to know the other characters fairly well.  I’m pleased to say none of them attended the Hayden Christensen School of Dramatic Improvisation.

There are some scenes that make you cringe as a fan.  There are some that can make your eyes water.  The special effects were fantastic but didn’t dominate the film.  More importantly, we now have a path forward for more Star Wars films.

I give it five out of five stars because, for two-plus hours, I was a kid again. I was with old and familiar friends and thrilled once more at their adventures.  Moreover, my grandson sat in awe, his mouth hanging open as we met new characters are shared in the cultural adventure together.  There were times he was scared, there were times he tugged on my sleeve to make sure I saw what was on the screen.  We enjoyed this together, as it was meant to be.  I give it five stars alone for the hint of magical glow that he had and how my daughter said she cried at the right scene.  Star Wars remains the great equalizer, turning us all into wide-eyed children in search of adventure and that thought that we too might be the heroes of our imagination.

Now, I must await the next films…

#TheForceAwakens