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.

The Last Jedi has turned out to be one of the most polarizing Star Wars movies to date. That’s just one of the many reasons why it’s not only great Star Wars but also excellent cinema.

The paragraph above is my spoiler-free review. If you haven’t seen the latest installment in the new trilogy, go do so, then come back and read the rest of the article because there are many SPOILERS ahead. You have been warned.

It seems that most people either love this movie or hate it. The haters can be split into two groups:

The first are those responsible for the abnormally low Rotten Tomatoes audience score of 52%, sharply contrasting the critics’ score of 92% fresh. They’re basically a small but vocal group of trolls who have a problem with any diversity showing up in a blockbuster. I really don’t care about what they think and I doubt Disney/Lucasfilm do either.

Rey: Fans cared about who her parents were, maybe too much

The second group, though, are Star Wars fans. In particular Original Trilogy (OT) fans who endured the prequels and had a very real new hope (pun because I had to) that a Lucas-free Lucasfilm could bring back the Star Wars they loved for years.

For the most part, they were okay with The Force Awakens, both in spite and because of it’s retro feel. From what I can tell, many of them quite liked last year’s standalone film Rogue One, too.

This time, though, they’re not having it. 65 000 (and counting) people even signed a petition to get it stricken from the Star Wars Canon.

So what has them so upset? It isn’t the visuals which are absolutely stunning. It isn’t the action sequences which are some of the best Star Wars has come up with. It isn’t the special effects which are, for the most part, practical (yeah, there’s a bit of prequel-like CGI, but it’s kept to a minimum).

While the primary target of scorn is writer/director Rian Johnson, I don’t think it’s for his directing or dialogue. He gets better performances out of his actors than George Lucas did in the prequels and the cast is solid. They are serious and emotional when they need to be and cheesy when that’s what’s called for.

You won’t find any talk of sand and it getting everywhere in The Last Jedi and even the jokes work, which it turns out is thanks in large part to some script doctoring by the late, great Carrie Fisher who plays Leia Organa for the last time in the film.

So What’s Got Them So Pissed?

The problem these Star Wars die-hards turned haters have is with the story itself.

For starters, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) isn’t heroic, at least not until the very end. He’s flawed, weary and filled with regret.

No, he doesn’t join the dark side of the force like his father did. If he had, I think it would have been an easier pill to swallow for many of the film’s detractors. Instead we get a flawed and self-loathing Luke critical of both his and the Jedi’s importance in galactic events. He also says quite clearly that it’s arrogant to think Jedi are needed for the light side of the Force to continue to exist.

Not some people’s Luke

The Force is in everyone and every thing, you don’t need to be a Skywalker or a Kenobi to master it. Good thing for Rey (Daisy Ridley) because it turns out that she is neither, if Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) can be believed on this particular point.

Her parents were junk merchants who probably sold her for drinking money and are buried on Jakku in an unmarked grave. She is “nobody” but also the only hope for the Resistance and the entire galaxy.

Some fans, though, feel “that’s not how the Force works!” Or at least that’s not how it worked in the OT or one of the many ways they predicted it would work in this film.

Another section that ruffled more than a few feathers was Finn (John Boyega) and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran)’s trip to the casino planet of Canto Bight. Generally, the argument against this sequence’s inclusion was that it was a needless distraction from the dueling main stories of Rey/Luke/Kylo and the Resistance trying to escape the First Order in a movie that clocks in just over the two and a half hour mark.

The Last Jedi is Star Wars at its Best

I’m a Star Wars fan, an OT old school Star Wars fan. I’m not the type that will blindly accept anything produced under the banner. While I understand where the harsh criticism of The Last Jedi is coming from, it fundamentally forgets what made the original three Star Wars films so great in the first place.

They surprised us, had us enthralled in the universe, guessing what might happen next and keeping an open mind about new ideas and interpretations. The Last Jedi does just that.

I didn’t think Snoke (Andy Serkis) would meet his fate in the second film, but after he did I realized it makes so much sense that Kylo Ren would supplant his master and become the main baddie. This unexpected event hasn’t generated nearly the amount of buzz you’d think it would.

I also wasn’t expecting the Luke that we got, but am glad that he wasn’t just a bearded version of the same Jedi I grew up with. Just as Anakin had his redemption thanks to Luke in Return of the Jedi, this movie was the story of Luke’s redemption with help from Rey and Yoda (who also had his own visual redemption from being a CGI character in the prequels).

We didn’t see Luke’s fall from grace except in flashbacks, but where we find him in this movie makes sense and makes for a better story. Also, learning that Hamill wasn’t thrilled with his character’s development  (and later regretted saying so), I’m doubly impressed at the excellent performance he gave.

This was a more powerful and interesting evolution of the character I grew up with than him staying totally light or going dark would have been. His revelations on the Force and the Jedi help evolve the Star Wars universe to where it needs to be.

While I gleefully partook in the theorizing on Rey’s parentage (I leaned towards the Grandpa Obi Wan theory), I didn’t get mad at the movie when I was (most likely) proven wrong. In fact, that revelation brought a tear to my eye. You don’t need to be from the Star Wars equivalent of noble lineage to be extremely important.

This carries over to the Canto Bight sequence. Now I’ll admit that when we first went to the planet, I thought for a moment that we were all of a sudden back in the prequels for no apparent reason and was expecting someone to try and sell Finn death sticks.

CGI used for progressive good: Canto Bight creature

Soon enough, though, it became apparent that this was a thematically integral part of the story. Poor kids and CGI beasts abused for the amusement of wealthy war profiteers drinking the Star Wars equivalent of champagne are tied into the Force and the future of the galaxy just as much as the Skywalker family.

This becomes crystal clear in the last scene of the movie but is brought to the forefront first by Rose, herself from this world, not the one of space battles and Jedi. That this is taking us away from characters we know for a bit isn’t a mistake, it’s kind of the point.

I was also thrilled watching Finn and Rose plow through the 1% fully aware of the irony that Disney would be marketing the beasts they were riding on as well as the poor kids who tended to them as action figures. Even the intentionally cute for marketing purposes stuff worked in this movie. I can live with porgs, but BB-8 taking control of an AT-ST was great.

Good Movies Get People Talking

Good Star Wars, come to think of it, good movies, get people talking. The amount of think pieces this film has already generated is impressive, quite impressive.

People are contemplating everything from how it takes a stand in the class war to how it is a cautionary tale against the toxic masculinity found in the trope of the hero who goes in blasters wailing. I’ve even seen two articles calling it a subversive AF masterpiece and one from an Expanded Universe fan arguing it has changed Star Wars forever and why that’s a good thing.

The Last Jedi is not only great Star Wars, it is a great movie, period, just as the first three films were. Rian Johnson isn’t changing or erasing the Original Trilogy, he is respecting it by helping the cinematic universe it spawned evolve.

This is exactly the Star Wars we need right now and I love it.

* Images: Lucasfilm/Disney

Here I am again! Reviewing another of Hollywood’s most awful, probably best left untouched. With the release of a new Star Wars film and the holiday season, I thought it was the perfect time to re-open the vault! So here is my review of the infamous 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special.

George Lucas once famously quipped about this cinematic debacle that if he had the time and a sledgehammer, he would track down every copy of it and smash them. He then proceeded to buy every single copy so that it would never air again.

Unfortunately for him and luckily for us the Internet exists and has acted as a living tomb to this turbulent television special. And I sat through it so you don’t have to. This holiday special was definitely special in its own way.

After the first Star Wars film was released in 1977, it was a huge surprise success. A lot of people actually expected it to flop at the time. Hollywood wasn’t used to high-cost space operas. Rather, films that were popular then were more like the French Connection or The Godfather; movies with uncompromising tough guy protagonists. Directors were more interested in gritty realism than fantasy.

Star Wars was very expensive to make, in fact it was one of the most expensive movies to have ever been made at the time. If it flopped, 20th Century Fox would be out hundreds of millions of dollars.

To give it a chance, they only granted theaters the right to show The Other Side of Midnight, a highly anticipated novel adaptation, if they picked up Lucas’ space opera as well. Although The Other Side of Midnight was a marginal success and did modestly well by any standards, as we all know, it didn’t do anywhere near as well as Star Wars.

The film was so unexpectedly popular that merchandise and toys couldn’t be sold on the spot and film-goers had to get a sort of IOU. All of this unexpected popularity then gave birth to the Holiday Special.

George Lucas wanted to keep Star Wars on people’s minds during the holiday season as the making of the second film progressed so he granted CBS permission to proceed. To say he regretted this decision is an understatement.

Obviously, due to the success of Star Wars, the expectations for this television special were astronomically high. It did not deliver, mostly because a lot of it is just straight up weird.  From the first scene that is solely in Wookie grunts (without subtitles) to virtual reality Wookie porn, this movie has a lot of moments that were probably best left forgotten.

The variety extravaganza begins with Chewbacca and Han flying through space. Chewbacca wants to get back to his family on his home planet of Kashyyyk to spend “Life Day” with them (why couldn’t it have just been Christmas or any other holiday?) and Han unenthusiastically reassures him that they will get there as soon as possible.

It is not Han who is miserable but Harrison Ford himself who is evidently bored as hell throughout the entire thing. He really does not want to be in this TV special. He’s even admitted he never saw the entire thing.  Apparently he was forced into it by his contract and there was no way out of it.

After the opening sequence, we are introduced to Chewbacca’s family who sound like they are part of the seven dwarfs; his wife Malla, his father Itchy and his son Lumpy. They are shown speaking wookie…with no subtitles…So the scene is basically just ten plus minutes of unintelligible grunting. Good start.

Then Malla calls Luke asking where Chewie is. To cheer her up, Luke tries to make her smile in what is the first of many awkward smiles throughout the film. See in the clip above when Han and Chewbacca finally arrive (1:26) for an example.

Other than the main story, the film is just filled with weird variety acts from older stars of the day like Harvey Korman, who was well known for his work on the Carol Burnett Show. He tries to liven up the show but is no match for how miserable the main cast feels about the whole thing. In the clip below, he shows Malla how to cook:

The weirdest scene is the aforementioned “wookie porn scene.” Itchy is hooked up to a weird chair device that shows Broadway star Diahanna Carrol giving a seductive performance of This Minute Now. This thing is, as Harvey Korman says: “Wow, if you know what I mean.” No, what do you mean Harvey? How did this even get into a children’s film?

Another aspect which made this film so cringey on the night it aired were the ads. You can see all of them below (along with news breaks):

These were pulled from the same (presumably) VHS copy the movie was. Some downloads have them together.

A lot of them were corporations trying to do some feel-good stuff, like GM’s slogan “People building transportation to serve people”. A slogan so incredibly benign, it’s almost more boring than some parts of this film.

An extra weird one is at 2:47. A bunch of people who represent the International Ladies’ Garment Worker’s Union break out into awkward song. Even for a self-described lefty who loves unions, this was weird for me too.

The film does have some okay moments like the cartoon with Bobba Fett. Fun fact: This is actually the first time we see Bobba Fett! So if anything this monstrosity gave us a badass Star Wars character. So I guess it wasn’t all that bad?

Although a total affront to Star Wars, the Holiday Special is notable for several reasons. For one, if you can believe it, it is the first Star Wars film to come after the original release. Second, and more importantly, it was the first film to showcase the Star Wars expanded universe (although many fans and Lucas himself deny it is part of Star Wars cannon).

Since the first film was shown, there have been hundreds of additions to the franchise including novels, comics, animated television shows, video games and more (though Disney de-canonized a bunch of these a few years ago). And if anything, The Star Wars Holiday Special gave us that concept.

Even some of the ideas from the expanded universe were used in subsequent Star Wars films. So I guess we have the holiday special to thank for that? (Also again, Bobba Fett)

In all, this is an amazingly terrible film and if you are a lover of bad movies, well this is right up there. Unlike The Room which is so bad it’s funny, The Star Wars Holiday Special leaves us cringing and that’s what makes it so great.

Happy holidays!

Full movie (if you really feel like it…):

Panelists Samantha Gold and Jerry Gabriel discuss Just for Laughs 2017 with host Jason C. McLean. Plus News Roundup, Community Calendar and Predictions!

News Roundup Topics: Racial insensitivity at the St-Jean Baptiste Parade, Jeremy Corbyn at Glastonbury and Ron Howard taking over the Han Solo movie

Panelists:

Samantha Gold: FTB’s Legal Columnist covering Just for Laughs

Jerry Gabriel: FTB Contributor covering Just for Laughs

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Production Assistant: Xavier Richer Vis

JFL Report: Hannah Besseau

Weather: Cem Ertekin

Recorded Sunday June 25 2017 in Montreal, Quebec

LISTEN:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Panelists Lyle Stewart and Cem Ertekin discuss new Projet Montréal Leader Valérie Plante and the upcoming film Rogue One: A Star Wars Story with host Jason C. McLean.

News Roundup Topics: Standing Rock (temporary?) victory, Trudeau’s pipelines, the death of Fidel Castro and Val d’Or

Panelists:

Lyle Stewart: Veteran Montreal journalist

Cem Ertekin: FTB Managing Editor and contributor

Host: Jason C. McLean

Producers: Hannah Besseau (audio), Enzo Sabbagha (video)

Report by Hannah Besseau

Referenced article by Lyle Stewart from The Nation

Recorded Sunday, December 4, 2016 in Montreal

LISTEN:

WATCH:

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

Panelists Josh Davidson, Cem Ertekin and Enzo Sabbagha discuss the NDP Convention which voted for a campaign to replace Tom Mulcair as leader, Jersey’s Saloon, a controversial new coyote-ugly style bar Peter Sergakis is opening in NDG and the trailer for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story and the issues of gender and race representation it brings up. Plus the Community Calendar and Predictions!

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau
Production Assistant: Enzo Sabbagha

Panelists

Josh Davidson: FTB Food Columnist & Blogger at mealscape.wordpress.com

Cem Ertekin: Editor at The McGill Daily & FTB Contributor and Editor

Enzo Sabbagha: Podcast Production Assistant and music student

Kittomher: Cat

* Sergakis Report by Josh Davidson

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

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.

rey at at

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.

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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.

 

In our fourth FTB Podcast, we discuss we discuss the closing of Le Bull Pub at the hands of Peter Sergakis, the new Star Wars trailer and Porchfest NDG.

Host: Jason C. McLean
Producer: Hannah Besseau

    Panelists

Jay Manafest: Hip hop artist, organizer of Mic Check

Thomas O’Connor: FTB film reviewer

Cem Ertekin: FTB and McGill Daily news editor

Sarah Ring: Writer and Porchfest NDG co-organizer

 

Microphone image: Ernest Duffoo / Flickr Creative Commons

2014 was a year of big ups and big downs, each one meriting discussion, but that’s not what’s going to happen here. Instead, I’m going to focus on the little things.

By little, I mean petty annoyances that don’t even qualify as first world problems. They’re the sort of things that bug me at the time (or perhaps multiple times), but not to the point where I would even consider firing off a tweet.

So before we get to the one small victory, here are four things that mildly annoyed me in 2014:

CIBC Bank Machines Not Displaying the Balance as an Option

When I withdraw money from a machine owned by the bank I do business with, the CIBC, it gives me three choices. I can either continue banking, which I generally don’t want to do, exit with no receipt, which means it doesn’t tell me my balance or exit with receipt, which means I’m helping to kill a tree for almost nothing.

Sure, I could very easily continue banking to get the balance, use my memory of what’s in my account or click on the app on my smartphone, but why should I have to? Other banks offer “display balance” as an alternative to printing a receipt, why can’t mine? The programming can’t be that hard to do, and I bet thousands of people have a small piece of paper printed up that they throw away just because displaying the balance isn’t an option.

YouTube Removing the Rick Roll Star Wars Trailer

It looked something like this
It looked something like this

A day before the Star Wars Episode VII trailer was supposed to be released online, I saw in my Facebook feed that someone had already filmed it in the theatre and uploaded it, so naturally I clicked. It looked legit: shaky camera, movie screen, Disney and LucasFilm logos, then Mr. Rick Astley graced us with his presence singing Never Gonna Give You Up.

It was honestly one of the best Rick Rolls I had ever seen. Unfortunately, a few minutes after I had shared it, it was gone.

Why, YouTube, why? I get removing fake trailers pretending to be real, but this one clearly gave up the pretense with the first few bars of the song.

I know Disney’s lawyers aren’t known for their tolerance, but the company does understand satire and its newly acquired fanbase (they’re releasing an unaltered original trilogy on BluRay). This is clearly satire that plays to that fanbase. Removing it just makes no sense.

No Northbound Bus Stop on Girouard and Upper Lachine

First off, I am well aware that people in NDG have way more significant public tansit woes than I did for most of this year. Those could very easily make up a post on this site and have on many more established media outlets.

My issue pales in comparison to overcrowded 105 busses that don’t even stop to pick people up halfway through the route, but this post isn’t about the important stuff. I’m not going to go to Marvin Rotrand with this issue, but I will spill it here.

Why is there no northbound bus stop on Girouard, corner Upper Lachine? There is a southbound one. If I’m taking the 17 or 371 down, I can get off where I need to, but in reverse, say coming from a friend’s house in St-Henri, no dice (unless I play dumb and nice and ask the driver if he can please stop).

The busses pass that corner but don’t stop, instead they turn right towards Decarie, stop at Decarie and deMaisonneuve, then head up to Shebrooke, turn left and take…you guessed it…Girouard! Why do they do this? They’re NOT Vendome busses no matter how hard they try to be.

Maybe it’s difficult to continue up Girouard, you may say. Well, the 420 NDG Express does it. It passes right by the corner of Upper Lachine without stopping until it gets to Sherbrooke beyond Girouard Park.

This is no longer my issue as I now live downtown, but it was a repeated small annoyance for most of 2014.

Cats and Dogs Who Speak Human Languages…Poorly

I’m talking, of course, about certain memes. Animal memes where cats and dogs have miraculously acquired the ability to communicate in English (or another human language) yet have, for one reason or another, stopped before learning proper grammar.

This is akin to a human discovering they are able to fly without mechanical aid and then only using this skill to occasionally fly to the dep down the street. If a cat or dog was able to master human speech, it would be a miracle animal and wouldn’t stop at basic words, it would become more eloquent than you or I in no time flat.

Now, if these memes are meant to represent what the animal is trying to communicate translated into English rather than a world-shaking ability, fine, but the same still applies. Doge can be excused, he’s just mocking hipsters, so can any cat that uses the phrase “I sits” instead of “I am sitting” or “I will sit” as jargon. Grumpy cat’s grammar is fine and so is this cat’s:

not_my_real_mom_cat

But the rest? C’mon.

The Victory: That I Can Write This Post

I guess it’s a small victory that I am sitting here writing this post, venting about minutiae on the internet isn’t something I pioneered. But in a way, it’s a huge personal victory.

I’m sitting here, alive, in the warmth with a roof over my head, enjoying some leftover liquid cheer from Christmas and typing away about small stuff that annoyed me this year. People may even read this, in fact, some will. Maybe they’ll even identify with some of the points I made and like it on Facebook or re-tweet (if you haven’t done either of those things, please do both).

In that way, I’m lucky, and if you have the time to read and enjoy this, so are you.

Happy New Year!

On Friday, the long awaited trailer for Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens hit the internet like a bomb, and ever since it’s felt like you can’t go anywhere online without seeing breakdowns, analysis and either orgasmic glee or white-hot rage, because to some people, a lightsaber with a crossguard is literally as bad as Jar-Jar Binks.

And like most of the internet right now, I have an opinion. Well, not so much an opinion as an observation, which I’m bringing to you in the form of a cheeky little FTB mini-column.

Without being too succinct about it….It looks good. We don’t get much in the way of plot or character, so there isn’t much to comment on there. But the effects look shiny, and damn if that shot of the Falcon didn’t get me a little misty-eyed. But what struck me right away is that it looks different. Not in terms of art design, I mean in basic film form ways.

Force Awakens insertWhen you really look at things like the way shots are composed, the way the camera moves, lighting, editing, etc, it feels massively apparent that someone other than George Lucas (or someone aping his style) is at the helm.

Take the brief shots of the Stormtroopers on the dropship or whatever. The lighting is moody, it does that flickery thing, lots of quick cuts to insert shots. It does NOT look like a George Lucas-shot scene. It looks more…modern? Maybe. But different, in any case.

George Lucas, love him or hate him, has his way of doing things, and JJ Abrams has his own. The one real exception I’d point out is the shot of Oscar Isaac piloting an X-Wing, looking straight into the camera. That felt more like a George Lucas kind of shot than anything else in the teaser.

And to see Star Wars with such a different set of formal qualities is….odd. it feels like when a comic has the same artist for a long time, then the artist suddenly changes. You’re seeing the same things, but with a different style.

Is this a bad thing? NO. In fact, it might be a great thing. Star Wars needs new energy. New perspectives. If what we see in the trailer looked exactly like it would have had Georgie-boy himself been at the wheel,  sure it would have gotten the fans especially giddy. But what I’ve maintained from the start of this whole thing is that the Star Wars franchise needs to move forward, and try and avoid playing purely on nostalgia. And the thing I glean most from the trailer is that while Abrams’Star Wars will definitely be playing a lot of familiar notes, it will have a style of its own to some degree.

But still, seeing something so unmistakably Star Wars with a different set of formal qualities is going to take some getting used to on my part. Change always does. In this case, let’s hope it turns out to be a change for the better.

So here’s something.

This is a film called 21-87, by noted Montréal avant-garde film-maker Arthur Lipsett. While he was working as an editor and illustrator at the NFB (back when the NFB was quite literally laying the foundation of Canadian cinematic arts), he created an apparently mesmerizing collage of diverse audio recordings he had collected over the years and weaved it into film. He combined stock footage he found on the cutting room floor of the NFB along with his own footage of various urban scenes from the city streets of New York and Montreal. The result is a rather impressive short film I too feel compelled to watch several more times (though that’s largely because I’m tired and think I’m missing something – film criticism is not my forte, I’m still astounded Vaudeville fell to the Talkies. But I digress…)

Like too many great Canadian artists, Lipsett was way too far ahead of his time and committed suicide two weeks shy of his 50th birthday largely unknown and under appreciated. But he did have a profound and lasting impact on a young George Lucas (as well as Stanley Kubric; Lipsett was offered a chance to create the trailer for Dr. Strangelove but declined. What Kubric ultimately produced was heavily inspired by Lipsett).

Lucas credits the inspiration for his idea of The Force to a specific moment in the film when the word is mentioned, in the decontextualized snippet of an apparently spiritual conversation (at 3:51).

But it is the imagery that caught my attention at that moment. The old man feeding the pigeons is doing so in Phillips Square, and is sandwiched between shots of a flock of pigeons soaring above Dorchester Square, in such a fashion that it looks almost like the same birds jumped from one cut to another, sweeping from left to right. A character of an old man with a hat, at first feeding pigeons and well dressed, then disheveled yet holding a bird in his hands, continues this micro-story arc through what seems to be several different pieces of film.

That’s what George Lucas was looking at when he began to conceive The Force, a belief and pseudo-spiritual plot device that has inspired some 400 000 Brits to describe themselves as Jedi, making Jedi the fourth largest reported religion in the United Kingdom. There are more reported Jedi in the UK than Sikhs, Buddhists and Jews; you can’t make this shit up.

You can read as much into this as you like, I just think it’s neat that George Lucas, the man who created one of the most enduring, popular and lucrative films of all time was thinking up The Force while watching a crazy old man play with pigeons in one of my favourite city parks.

Also it should be stated that Dorchester Square looks really good but, as I suppose I am somewhat unaccustomed to seeing my city in black and white, I found the textures and character of the buildings facing the square (all of which are still there and just as prominent today) seem more severe and imposing. In one instance, the Dominion Square Building looking like a cloudy backdrop quickly coming into focus as a detailed wall of windows. The glass and slate CIBC Tower almost appears as a solid mass, and in the background the Cathedral looms large and ominous, as if viewed through a fog.

Yet in the foreground there are quaint and relaxing scenes we could quite literally go see in real time any old day of the week during the more temperate months. Dorchester Square still has possibly crazy old men talking to and feeding the pigeons. In Phillips Square, by contrast, a newspaper-hawking dwarf handles such affairs. Plus que ça change, eh?

What do you think of 21-87?

* This post originally appeared on TaylorNoakes.com

“May the force be with you.”

With those words, the Montreal Science Centre employee completed her description of how the sound equipment you were supposed to wear during the Star Wars Identities exhibit worked and ushered me into the exhibit.

I had always known that one day that phrase would send me on my way, but I thought it would be coming tongue in cheek from the slightly intoxicated mouth of a friend as I had to leave the party to go to work or somewhere else undesirable. This was different.

Come to think of it, the exhibit, running in the Old Port until September 16th was quite different than I had imagined. Yes, there was all the memorabilia I had expected, but there was also an interactive multimedia component that added another level to the experience.

We were to create a character and develop that character’s attributes, species (yes, you can be a wookie), personality traits and backstory, we did this by scanning bracelets they gave to us at interactive stations then making choices on the touchscreens as we walked through the displays of original costumes, props, production stills, storyboards and video presentations that made up Identities. At the end, we got our character’s life story emailed to us.

The interaction was an interesting way to experience an exhibit. Having a Star Wars character all of my own was amusing, though not really what I had come for. The videos were well done and I liked how when you walked near one playing, the audio would kick in on your headset. While developmental psychology explained through Star Wars plot is certainly interesting, it wasn’t exactly what I had come for either and I’ll admit I didn’t watch each video in its entirety and skipped some outright near the end.

What I had come for was all the stuff. Stuff like the original Vader costume from Return of the Jedi (check). Stuff like the original Yoda puppet from Empire Strikes Back. Well, they had the one from Phantom Menace, but at least they put it in front of a Dagobah backdrop (so check, I guess).

There were also a fair assortment of models of ships used in the original trilogy: Star Destroyers, X-Wings, even an AT-AT. Looking at the display, I finally realized that the Millenium Falcon toy I had as a kid was the exact same size as the one they used in the movies. Kinda cool, but also kinda…

What really intrigued me, though, were all the original sketches, storyboards and production stills and the stories attached to them. Yes, some of these tidbits of information I already knew from DVD extras and the internet. Did you know that only Mark Hamill, Lucas and director Irwin Kirschner knew the real line when everyone else on the Empire set heard Vader say “Obi Wan killed your father”? I did.

Some, though, I learned for the first time that day at Identities. Did you know that George Lucas had been toying with the idea of a female heroine instead of Luke and even had storyboards drawn with her in some of the Tattooine scenes in A New Hope? I didn’t, but I do now.

I may be giving the impression that this was all original trilogy stuff. Far from it, there were plenty of costumes, sketches and other memorabilia from the prequel trilogy (even Jar Jar) and the Clone Wars and the story of Anakin played equally with that of Luke in the multimedia aspects.

I’m just an original series kinda guy. Even though I think Revenge of the Sith is right up there in the pantheon of great Star Wars, I grew up with the puppets and models, so that’s what I focused on.

Other attendees probably focused on something different and I’m sure they found plenty of what they were looking for, too. As has always been the case with Star Wars, Identities had something for everyone.

Just happy to say that this exhibit most definitely had something for me, too.

* photos by Gabrielle Gallant, see our Facebook page for the full album