I have grown accustomed to a new Star Wars movie around the holidays. Since there isn’t one this year, what better time to post my really late spoiler-filled review of Solo: A Star Wars Story, which I finally got around to watching about a month ago:

This was the first time I had the chance to see a Star Wars movie in the theatre and didn’t. I even saw The Phantom Menace twice on the big screen. Not sure why I put off watching it, but I’m glad I did.

I really enjoyed it and I think seeing it on a smaller screen first helped, even though the performances, effects, stunts and the production as a whole were all blockbuster caliber. Where Rogue One was a standalone story that drew from and tied directly into the saga films, Solo was more tied to the Star Wars TV shows, The Clone Wars in particular.

Yes, we get Han, Lando, and Chewie meeting for the first time, the Falcon doing the Kessel Run in twelve parsecs and a reference to the “big job” on Tatooine, plus there’s a pretty good explanation for Han’s standoffish approach to Leia in the Original Trilogy. In broad strokes, this film is tied to the most iconic movies in the franchise.

However, this movie lives in the universe of the TV shows. If you didn’t get and enjoy the references to the Pike Syndicate or Aurra Sing, you never saw The Clone Wars or at least not all of it. If you were confused by the hologram near the end and thought “Didn’t that guy die in The Phantom Menace?” instead of “Of course she works for Maul!”, your fandom is limited to the big screen.

That said, this movie certainly checks all the boxes for a flick that can be enjoyed on its own by someone who has never seen any Star Wars (such people exist, I’m told) as much as people who know the franchise inside out. It’s easy to see how the people who think they know Star Wars and should be getting all the references but aren’t may feel let down.

For hardcore fans like myself, the kind of people who like to rank the Star Wars films, don’t rank Solo. In general, I don’t think the anthology films should be in the same ranking system as the saga films, as they’re basically really good, extremely high-budget, live action Star Wars TV episodes. In the case of Solo, it’s the pilot for a series I am interested in seeing more from.

The problem is that the only other anthology film released to date is Rogue One, which is up there with the best of the saga. Better than Empire? Maybe. Better than the prequels? Sure. It’s basically Episode 3.5.

Solo is not Rogue One, nor should it try to be. It’s what I thought the anthology films would be like all along.

Solid storytelling. I felt sad when Han didn’t walk away with Qi’ra, though happy I had watched Emilia Clarke on screen for over two hours without once thinking of Daenerys. Plus we all know who Han ends up with.

I also loved the bits about droid self-determination and the reveal that the so-called marauders were actually the rebellion in its infancy. I honestly didn’t see the last one coming but I’m glad that it did.

I like the way Star Wars is going and can only hope that Disney realizes poor box office for Solo is primarily due to it being released in the summer, directly competing with Marvel (ie. Disney) and take that into account as they re-evaluate their rollout strategy. I also hope that fans learn to appreciate these anthology films for what they are and not expect every one to be Rogue One.

If you haven’t seen this one yet and you’re a Star Wars fan, I suggest that you do. If possible, around this time of year and in a way that Disney will register, so they remember that Star Wars features now work better in the winter.

Have you ever thought to yourself: what would happen if I mixed one of the worst disasters in human history with an anthropomorphic rapping dog and shoddy animation? Well fret not because Titanic: The Legend Goes On… answers your question in every sense of the word!

The cockamamie project was conceived by Italian director Camillo Teti. Not much is known about him but his other well-known films (if you can call them that) include Bye Bye Vietnam and College Girl Goes on Vacation.  Don’t those titles just scream brilliance?

This movie is so unbelievable that many people even question its existence. But don’t worry, lucky for you it indeed exists.

To start let’s look at the tagline for this movie: “A full-length animated feature, based on the legend of the Titanic.” Ah yes, the LEGEND of the Titanic. All those deaths, that giant sinking ship, all a made-up story. A good start. I don’t want to start off this review giving you a biased opinion and all but it’s kind of difficult not to.

So the movie begins with our female protagonist, Angelica, rowing in a lifeboat, behind her the sinking RMS Titanic. Yes, from the start we all already know how the movie will end. That is some stellar storytelling. We are then led into Angelica’s flashback, where the real film begins (rendering the opening sequence kind of useless).

Next, we are  met with Angelica (in the real opening scene?) with her stepmother and two evil stepsisters…Sound familiar? This movie is just a heaping pile of recycled Disney stories. In fact, every character in this movie seems to be a rip-off of another Disney character: Cinderella, the mice from An American Tail, Cruella DeVille.

It’s as if this director thought: How about I take a bunch of Disney cartoon characters and put them on the Titanic. Genius. There is also a musical troupe of racially insensitive Mexican mice. A necessary addition to any film about a tragic human disaster.

Anyways, the movie has something to do with Angelica’s locket being stolen and her trying to find it, I guess. As the film moves forward we are met with her creepy American Psycho-esque love interest, William, who, after their first encounter, finds it okay to aggressively rub Angelica’s hand. And from that moment on, they are in love…like ten minutes into the film.

There are so many different subplots going on at once it’s hard to keep track of who the characters are and what the movie is actually about. Sometimes there are stories that start to develop in one scene and then nothing follows from it or we never see the characters again.

The pinnacle awful movie moment in the film however is most probably the scene with the aforementioned rapping dog (shown below for your viewing pleasure). Why is there a rapping dog on the Titanic? Who the hell knows. Maybe there weren’t enough talking animals. Unfortunately though, this pooch only makes one appearance in the film so clap along with those poorly animated spaghetti fingers for as long as you can.

I mean, this movie is so bad that there is actually  a thread on IMDB for the film called: “Say something positive about this movie.” Some of the positive things include: “This movie has united people in how horrible it is” and “Camilo Teti hasn’t made anything since 2007, that’s positive.”

BUT WAIT! Don’t be sad if you haven’t gotten your fill of animated Titanic movies. There are two other ones directed by another Italian director. Yes that’s right, not just one but TWO. Both include, a giant octopus who tries to put the Titanic back together again. Why Italy? Why?

An actual scene from one of the other animated Titanic films.

You won’t actually get the full experience of this film until you see it, but I assure you it’ll make you wish the Titanic would hit the iceberg sooner.

Feature image courtesy of  Camilo Teti

First things first, if you haven’t seen Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens yet, stop reading this NOW and come back when you have. I don’t care if you’re the sort of person who doesn’t mind spoilers, I do not want to spoil this film for anyone, period and there are SPOILERS AHEAD! (I mean, c’mon, you waited this long, let JJ Abrams tell you the continuation of the story, not me, he has a much larger budget). Anyways…

I won’t mince words. I loved The Force Awakens. I was excited to see it and excited while watching it. The look and feel, the pacing, everything fell nicely into place. Nostalgia was littered all over Jakku, the first planet we visit, in the form of Rebel Alliance and Imperial wreckage.

Such an homage to the original trilogy could be one of the reasons Star Wars creator George Lucas decided to call the new film Retro Star Wars in an interview with Charlie Rose, the same interview where he referred to Disney as “white slavers,” a comment he has since tried to backtrack. While Lucas’ comments were probably largely due to Disney and Abrams not bringing him on as a consultant, his retro claim could be justified by similarities between Episode VII and 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope.

Sure, some of the story elements found in the first Star Wars film are mirrored in this Abrams continuation. When Han Solo (Harrison Ford) stepped onto that bridge with everyone watching, I was instantly reminded of the fateful Obi Wan/Darth Vader battle in the Death Star and knew that Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wasn’t going to turn to the light side, but rather give the audience a reason to hate him.

But this film isn’t A New Hope, it’s the continuation of a story that hasn’t progressed in any kind of cinematic form in 32 years. The prequels, The Clone Wars TV show and now Star Wars: Rebels all have something to offer to the Star Wars universe, but what they offer is filling in the blanks of the backstory. This is new.

The main difference between The Force Awakens and A New Hope, though, is the strength of its lead character.

Rey is Not Luke

Daisy Ridley’s Rey is a Star Wars lead like no other. Sure, she is clearly on a Luke Skywalker-type story arc: unlikely hero from a desert planet with mysterious parentage discovers a droid with plans that can alter the fate of the galaxy and sets out on a wild adventure.

But she isn’t Luke. If you take off the blinders of nostalgia and childhood, you realize that Luke started off as a kind of annoying character.

Now, keep in mind, this is coming from someone who grew up on the original trilogy, was released the same year as the first movie, owned a Millenium Falcon playset, a Han Solo action figure which was lost in the water near a summer camp, a Yoda Magic 8-Ball which tells you if you can be a Jedi (and currently has one ear missing), a comic book adaptation of A New Hope and the Star Wars ABCs (“A is for AT-AT”).

I’m not blaming Mark Hamill and was excited to see him again, albeit briefly, in this film. It’s how George Lucas wrote and initially directed Luke that makes him kind of a brat. A kid who has a relatively comfortable, though boring, life, wants something more. He’d love to save the galaxy, just as long as his uncle doesn’t ground him.

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It’s like a suburban teenage escape fantasy meets classic Greek hero myth. Yes, I know Luke’s a moisture farmer, but his goal of joining the rebellion seems to stem, at first, from a desire to get to the big city more than anything else. Yes, he grows up, changes and is ready for the challenge at the right time, but that is with a lot of help from Obi Wan, circumstance and later Yoda.

Rey, on the other hand, comes from nothing (or comes from Luke, Obi-Wan, Han and Leia or the Force itself, depending on which theory you subscribe to) and has nothing. She’s a scavenger, making her own way in the galaxy, surviving with few comforts.

Her home is a downed Imperial AT-AT. While the brief overhead shot establishing that fact also happens to be one of the coolest nods to Original Trilogy nostalgia in the film, it also really lets us know how self-reliant Rey is.

A Quicker Learner

Some critics have objected to the ease and quickness with which Rey adapted to her Force abilities and the fact that she didn’t have any training, a few even resorted to calling her a Mary Sue. Perhaps inspired by sexism or desire to keep the original trilogy sacrosanct, these critics ignored the obvious: Rey’s hastened grasp of her Force abilities makes logical sense and makes sense within the Star Wars Universe.

Someone who grew up in a family structure as Luke did may need guidance to unlock his Jedi powers. Someone who was plucked from slavery early and raised in a rather elite environment like Anakin was may take more time, which was available to him, to hone his skills. Someone who has always had to improvise and think and survive on their own as Rey has may be able to pick things up, including how to use the Force, a little bit quicker than the rest.

She also comes across as one of the most real characters the Star Wars universe has produced. When she arrives on Takodana and comments that it is the most green she has ever seen, you really believe her. It could be Ridley’s acting, Abrams’ direction, the Abrams/Laurence Kasandan writing or a combination of the three, but you really feel for her.

It is also clear that she wants to do what is right because of something inside her. Yes, she initially rejected the Skywalker lightsaber, but if you touched some piece of metal in a hidden chest and started having freaky visions, wouldn’t you want to get far away from it, too?

Friends and Foes

Rey’s credibility and likeability as a lead is only bolstered by the other characters in the movie, friend or foe.

Finn (John Boyega) is also a unique Star Wars hero. While his ability with a blaster and the fact that he left one way of life for another may be similar to Han Solo’s path, not to mention that they’re setting him up to be Rey’s love interest, he isn’t Solo.

Solo reluctantly shifted from smuggling to heroics after some prodding. Finn went from being a mindless servant of the dark side to helping save the day on his own because he felt what the New Order was doing was wrong.

finn kylo ren

Han and Leia (Carrie Fisher) were Han and Leia, just 30 years and a huge problem with their son later. The course their relationship took made sense and you could still feel the love the characters had for each other long after the fairytale destruction of the second Death Star had faded.

On the dark side of things, Kylo Ren was cartoonishly menacing with the mask on and something akin to Hayden Chrisensen’s Anakin with it off. Have a look at the Emo Kylo Ren parody Twitter account if you haven’t already done so.

While the Supreme Leader Snoke will probably train him better in the next film, his lack of ability only helped the credibility of what happened this time out. A first-time, untrained lightsaber wielder like Rey couldn’t stalemate Vader, but she could, logically, fight this version of Kylo Ren to a draw.

Just the Right Balance

While it may be a little odd to praise the realistic in a film with spaceships, invisible powers, alien superweapons and Wookies, that’s exactly what JJ Abrams found. Among all the strange creatures, special effects and sci-fi fantasy, we get very believable and relatable characters in rather logical relationships to each other.

This isn’t A New Hope, but it sure as hell is Star Wars. A Star Wars that George Lucas inspired but didn`t create. He shouldn’t complain. The prequel trilogy may have been the movies Lucas wishes he could have made back in the late 70s and early 80s but lacked the technology to do so, but they also lacked the spirit of the Original Trilogy.

JJ Abrams found that spirit and built on it. I guess you could say he found balance in the Force, using just the right amount of CGI and the right amount of real world sets and props. Most important, though, he abandoned the wooden acting style and dialogue of the prequels and opted instead for real characters. In the process, he created a whole new type of Star Wars hero.

If very few casual filmgoers pay attention to who directed the films they go to see, even fewer pay attention to the writers. This is a shame, because knowing who wrote a given film can tell you just as much about what you’re in for as knowing who directed it, in a lot of cases.

For example, if people knew, as I do, to treat the phrase “written by Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci” like a giant red flag with accompanying marching band, door to door awareness campaign and PBS after school special saying “don’t go see this one” then a lot of spectacularly bad movies wouldn’t have made the soul-destroyingly high amounts of money that they did.

And speaking of writers to look out for, Damon Lindelof. Lindelof is perhaps best known for being the driving mind and main writer for Lost, and has since gone on to write or at least have a sticky finger or two in the writing of Prometheus, World War Z, and now Tomorrowland. While Kurtzman and Orci’s signature moves include gaping plot holes and the kind of awkward, stammery humor that makes me want to take a nap in a cement mixer, Lindelof is a different beast. Oh yes, the plot holes are still absolutely there, but Lindelof’s favorite game is to make the audience wait a million years while withholding as much plot-important information as possible, teasing us with a mystery to the point of frustration and then finally revealing it to be something either nonsensical, patently ridiculous or some combination of the two.

tomorrowland posterWhich is exactly what’s been done in Tomorrowland, the new film directed by the talented Brad Bird and based on the Disney theme park attraction of the same name. The film focuses on a young girl who is given a glimpse of a secret world created as a kind of city-sized think tank, where the greatest scientific minds can gather to develop their inventions and ideas without the constraints of politics, money and presumably ethics boards and any kind of accountability. Somewhere out there a despondent games writer is frustratedly deleting a word file marked “Bioshock 4 Story Outline.” Getting back to Tomorrowland, our hero Casey must enlist the help of Frank, a bitter inventor who was kicked out of Tomorrowland for reasons unknown.

That’s the bare bones setup, at least, the frame on which the story is hung like so much laundry. But the thing is, that’s not the actual plot. There’s more going on, some crisis that Frank keeps hinting at, some larger end goal that needs to be accomplished, and given what I just told you about how Lindelof typically operates, you can probably figure out that a) the movie spends the first 90 minutes or so spinning its wheels, refusing to tell us anything and chiding us when we, through Casey, try and get some answers and b) that when we finally find out what’s going on it doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense and critically undermines a large chunk of everything we’ve seen up till that point.

There’s a scene where, upon asking for some simple answers, Casey is told by Frank “Stop asking questions, can’t you just have a sense of wonder?” and he might as well be looking dead into the camera at this point. Christ, there’s even a scene where the little robot girl that selected Casey and Frank to get in on this whole adventure pretends to shut down when Casey starts asking very simple, reasonable questions. Not for any discernible reason we ever learn, either.

The first 90 to a hundred minutes of Tomorrowland are a theme park ride, a series of distractions and light shows meant to distract us from the fact that, since we have no clue of the stakes, the larger goals at hand, what it’s all really working towards, we don’t have any reason to care about any of what we’re seeing. And then when we finally do learn what it all has been about, it turns out to be nonsensical, confusing, poorly explained and more than a tiny bit preachy.

Tomorrowland insert

People who saw Tomorrowland before I did described it as having a great first two thirds, and then falling apart in the end, but I don’t really think that’s the case. What I think is happening is that once you find out the actual plot, you start to look back on those early days of ignorance with a fond nostalgia. It’s like looking back at the days before you had to pay taxes or wait in lines at government offices. How wonderful and simple it all seemed then, you think, forgetting the fact that nothing interesting ever happened to you.

And what makes Tomorrowland watchable, with all its blatant Lindelof-isms is seeing Brad Bird occasionally break the surface before a slimy tentacle emerges after him, fixing around his neck and dragging him back down while it mumbles something about the mystery box. The premise is sound and rich with storytelling opportunities, and a lot of the visuals, action sequences and sight gags are fantastic. The end result is like when you have a friend who’s really great and awesome and can do great things, but they’re stuck in a toxic, oppressive relationship with someone who just wants to drag them down into their own mediocrity.

But hey, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Lindelof isn’t to blame for all of Tomorrowland‘s failings. Brad Bird, as much as we’d like to deny it, is only human. It’s entirely possible that the problems with Tomorrowland are as much his own fault as Lindelof’s.

We’ll probably never know. But the end result, either way, is a visually dazzling, often extremely clever movie that makes you wait for most of its run-time to reveal that the engine driving it is actually a rube-goldberg machine consisting of old wind-up toy parts held together with scotch tape and optimism.

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NASA’s tweet.

Everybody knows about Star Wars, nowadays. There’s no denying that. Earlier today, I was looking at my Twitter feed and I saw NASA making a Star Wars joke. To be fair, I found it really cute. This universe, created by George Lucas, has shaped the brains and minds of (dare I say?) millions of people. There are some countries out there where people have petitioned to make “Jedi” into an official religion. There are communities out there, such as the 501st Legion, bringing together people from most walks of life.

More importantly – at least to me – however is that this universe has expanded beyond the movies. Out there, in the form of books, comics, video games, animated series, is an entire history that has been created by dedicated fans turned creators. Take for instance the video game Star Wars: Knights of the Old Republic. Created by the folks at Bioware – Canadians! – the game takes place approximately 4,000 years before the Battle of Yavin, or A New Hope. At the time, that was completely unexplored territory. There have been books talking about Luke’s adventures after defeating the Emperor, but that was all familiar grounds. Going back four millennia allowed Bioware to re-imagine Star Wars, to some extent. We were exposed to a Sith Empire, fighting against a crumbling Old Republic. This was the time of a Jedi Civil War, were the adherents of the Dark Side of the Force and the Jedi fought freely in the streets of Coruscant, or stuff like that. The Jedi Civil War, however, came right after the Mandalorians’ (Boba Fett’s ancestors) attempt to conquer the galaxy.

KOTOR introduces Darth Revan, who, if you ask me, is one of the best characters that have ever graced the Star Wars universe. The true identity of Revan is unknown for a great part of the game. All we know that he or she was a fallen Jedi, who left the Order. This is where it gets interesting, though. Revan did not “fall” to the Dark Side immediately. He or she chose to leave the Order, because the Order would not rise up to save the galaxy against the invading Mandalorians. This is one of the reasons why I love the expanded universe (EU). The stories from the EU add depth to the rather simplistic morality of the Dark and the Light sides of the Force. The Jedi do not have it all figured out. Neither do the Sith, however. There is so much grey in the middle, which gets left out in the movies – if you ask me.

A new movie is coming out next Christmas, endearingly entitled The Force Awakens. I am excited for this movie, I will not lie. It’s a new Star Wars movie, for Force’s sake. I will watch it, I will love it – however, I will always remember the price we had to pay for enjoying that movie. Half a year before the first trailer was released, Disney – our new overlords – declared that they would be disregarding the expanded universe, as it stands right now. The old expanded universe will be re-labeled as “Legends,” and the expanded universe as such will be rebooted.

Fake Revan. Or Kylo Ren. Whatever.
Fake Revan. Or Kylo Ren. Whatever.

I personally find that disrespectful to all those creators who have spent unimaginable time and effort in creating a universe that has made Star Wars more than what it was. I find it absolutely annoying that the creative forces of human beings can be treated as commodities. See, Lucas may have created Star Wars, but it has long grown beyond his control. Star Wars has taken a life of its own. To be fair, Lucas deserves to hold the creative rights to a universe whose life spark he has ignited. However, Disney doesn’t. Disney paid for it. Disney has commodified this universe and made it into its latest Golden Goose.

Admittedly, Star Wars was commodified long before Disney made this decision. And I am probably just being curmudgeonly just for the sake of being curmudgeonly. Still though, I like stories. To me, the Star Wars universe is one big story that exists beyond the movies, books, video games, comics whatever. To me, these stories are what I experience, and not what I’m told or shown.

That’s probably Disney’s decision is very personal to me. Just imagine someone telling you that your favourite memory is not real, because they have bought the rights to it. You’d feel pretty darn annoyed right? So that’s how I’m feeling right now.

With that very pleasant positive note, HAPPY MAY FOURTH EVERYONE.

May the Fourth be with you!

Author’s Note: Kylo Ren is a wannabe Darth Revan. 

Author’s Note 2: Revan is the one on the right on the featured image.