by Dan T. Badger
The latest entry in the Star Wars Saga opens this weekend. Thanks to the wonders of the internet and the strength of Nerdnation, I was able to get tickets to an early showing and give you beloved readers a review of a movie before Saturday. The young man (no longer a boy) and I went to the newly constructed Oak Brook IMAX Theater. Aside from a lack of ice in the self serve pop machine, it was pretty nice. Liquor bar, game room, and an IMAX that has a sound system that is apparently wired into the seats to provide some extra shaking sensation during the show.
To set the tone for this review, it is only fair that you see where I rank the various Star Wars movies. Here it is:
- Empire Strikes Back for reasons summed up by one Dante Hicks, Clerk.
- The Force Awakens, combined all the best elements of the original trilogy and actually told a great story. It had consequences and laid the groundwork for the next offerings pretty well. The big bad was not great and the spherical death engine was a little tired, but other than that it was great.
- A New Hope a.k.a. Star Wars was the best movie experience for my 8 year old mind. It had humor and action and a nightmare fueling villain. At that age I was willing to overlook the whiny nature of the main protagonist. And Mos Eisley alone was worth the price of admission.
- The Return of the Jedi, brought the answers that we were anxiously awaiting and revealed Obi Wan as a bit of manipulative dick. On the other hand it had Jabba’s palace and Admiral Ackbar.
- Attack of the Clones. The Prequel Trilogy does not get a lot of respect. It is kind of like the Styx song Renegade. Pretty good musical tale of desperate criminal on the run. Then some assholes had to make Bohemian Rhapsody first, and you just have to endure being shit in comparison. It did have this awesome battle though. And it led to one of Triumph’s greatest moments.
- Revenge of the Sith, had the least amount of Jar Jar Binks and the most Clone Troopers. It had a vicious light saber battle scene on a world of active volcanoes. It also had the deaths of my two favorite Jedi.
- Fanboys does not technically fit into the Star Wars universe, but I saw it with a childhood friend and one of the foremost experts on Star Wars. In any event it was more enjoyable than:
- The Phantom Menace. Nothing like a trade war to set the stage for a cosmic battle. The story was so bad that not even the presence of the great Christopher Lee could salvage it.
Those are my rankings. With that in mind let’s delay things a little more by reviewing the trailers before I get to the actual main attraction. There were 20 minutes of trailers.
In the first offering, Boss Baby someone thought it was good idea to make an entire animated movie that rips off Stewie from Family Guy and let’s Alec Baldwin reprise one of his best roles. This looks like nightmare fuel for the children who will be dragged to it by their misguided parents.
We are also going to be assaulted by a new Transformers movie. This one somehow will mashup the robots and Game of Thrones. I didn’t make that up. That appears to be the premise. See for yourself. And it sounds like they got Robert Ford from Westworld to do the trailer narration. I hope he got paid several million dollars, a nice chianti and some fava beans. Those of us in the theater were treated to some kind of mini documentary about IMAX and the exacting standards of Michael Bay. You should only watch it if you have lost the will to ever see a decent movie again.
The next was War for the Planet of the Apes. Long story short, you will be cheering for the apes to wipe out the bloodthirsty humans who are led by Woody Harrelson channeling both Colonel Kurtz and Rust Cohle. And as my eagle eyed son pointed out, there is a tip of the hat to his character in Zombieland. I will be in the theater on opening night.
Next Tom Cruise will for some reason try to fill the ample shoes of Brendan Frasier by taking on The Mummy. I don’t know why. The majority of the trailer was taken up by an incredible looking scene of airplane disintegrating in midair after being attacked by birds or bats. I may watch this on cable one night in 2019.
Dunkirk will tell the story of the Miracle of Dunkirk. It was one of Adolf’s many blunders. It features heavyweight Kenneth Branagh and Tom Hardy. The real story is fascinating and inspirational. It led to one of the greatest speeches in history. I will definitely see this.
Then the glowing screen told us to put on the 3D glasses and we saw the Marvel logo flash by. Spiderman: Homecoming looks to be a non-origin story reboot. Fantastic. In case you missed it, Peter Parker is a smart nerdy teenager who was bitten by a radioactive (genetically mutated) spider that gave him strength, agility, wall crawling ability and possibly web shooters. You are now ready to see him fight The Vulture and get mentored by Tony Stark. You will see this movie. You will overlook the crappy looking suit.
The last was another Marvel offering: Guardians of the Galaxy Volume 2. The band is getting back together. The raccoon, the strongman, the deadly assassin, the talking tree, the cool guy with lasers, and the 70’s soundtrack will combine to make a movie where they encounter Mantis, the Celestial Madonna (I know this is pretty deep into nerd territory here) and travel through space kicking ass and setting up the Infinity War. The first movie set the bar pretty high. That alone means this is worth the time.
Finally the LucasFilm logo came on and we were told that this was occurring A Long time Ago, In a Galaxy Far, Far Away. I will keep this review spoiler free so you will be able to see it as an unsullied (see what I did there?).
First and foremost this film has a real story. And it moves things along well. In contrast to the prequels with their never ending rehashery, this story is on a rocket. As an added bonus, it has characters that have more than one facet. These same characters actually develop. It also has more violence than any prior episode. That is something to consider if you plan on bringing the future toy customers. It gets complicated and a significant portion is geared towards adults and more mature young people. There are no weak spots in this cast. Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Diego Luna (who is not the Red Viper as I thought when I first saw him), Wen Jiang, Donnie Yen, a digitally restored Peter Cushing (very tough to tell the difference), and Felicity Jones. She is pretty tough in this role. She makes two consecutive strong female leads in the Star Wars saga, and manages to one up Daisy Ridley’s Rey.
It starts by establishing one of the bad guy’s credentials of evil. It also introduces a new type of storm trooper for those nerds with shelf space left.
Instead of moisture farm boy longing to get off his desert planet, we get a woman who graduated from the Galactic School of Hard Knocks. She starts out as an apprentice or ward to the character who looks to be a Steampunk inspired foil for Darth Vader with a hint of Frank Booth thrown in. We get her personality and motivation pretty quickly as this movies wastes very little time. We get a quick peek at the type of creatures in Galactic Empire General Population. We also learn here and later on that the creators of this one are fans of Lovecraft or illithids (ask your nerdiest friend to explain).
We follow our growing cast from one world to another building tension and raising the stakes at each stopover. Without spoiling anything some are familiar and some are new places. A slight detour is necessary here. One of the worst parts of the prequels was a tendency to show technology and powers that far surpassed that of the original trilogy. Robot mites that destroyed ship in space, flying Jedi, rocket boosters on R2-D2, and battledroids to name a few are examples of the movie ignoring its own setting and “rules.” This made the movies less enjoyable because there was never any explanation for this. The 20 years between Sith and Hope would not account for a dark age of technology and a slow recovery. It was annoying. With one exception this one doesn’t have that. That one example (a new type of Imperial fighter) is cool enough to overlook what would normally be distracting by its anachronistic nature.
Instead, we get what look to be faithful recreations of sets and even a few sequences. There are plenty of Easter eggs here for the hardcore fan. They pop up at appropriate times and don’t distract. They are visual, verbal and musical. It also appears as if additional and distinctive scores are introduced.
The film uses alternating viewpoints between our bad guys – each one of which increases the evil level from the last – and our “kind of” good guys. That is a major point of this movie. The focus in this one is on the Wars in Star Wars. The creators have some pretty strong feelings on it that appear to be realistic and non-preachy. They subreference wars from history and cinema with locations, weaponry, gear, and actions. Personally, I was reminded of scenes from Platoon, Full Metal Jacket, The Dirty Dozen, American Sniper, Saving Private Ryan, Ran, and Lone Survivor. Go into the battle sequences ready to free associate, it will be worth it. And there are plenty of battle sequences. Further they are replete with bloody and psychological consequences. A theme running through this part of the movie is that war is pretty horrible. Collateral damage makes several appearances as well. “Good” guys may be a matter of perspective and the experience strips a lot of humanity away (even if the warrior in question was not even human to begin with). This aspect is a significant factor in making the film stand out.
The battles are used to develop the characters as well as entertain. Some highlights include a display of blind guy martial arts that blows The Book Of Eli away. The battles progress in intensity and complexity in a worthwhile manner. We also get a nice amount of X-Wing v. TIE Fighter scenes mixed in with ground troops fighting with varying levels of equipment. There is also what could be the best space battle on the big screen. Ever.
We see the villains laying the seeds of their own destruction with the backstabbing and infighting. At one point it even looks as if they have colonized Mordor and drafted the Mouth of Sauron. We also get the answer to one of the burning questions that has plagued fans of the series: How did they build this gigantic station and not take into account the thermal exhaust port flaw? You will know the answer by the end.
And what an end! Again, I am trying to make this spoiler free, but you will get an incredible homage to an iconic scene that will – at least momentarily – transform your loyalties. When that scene was over, the theater erupted with the applause of grateful fans. Notwithstanding the violence, this movie will please hard core and casual fans. It brings back the fun of the original trilogy. The humor often comes out of nowhere. There are a few tips of the hat to familiar concepts. There are also a few diversions from standard Star Wars themes. Scoundrels are not getting redemption by flying in to save the day. Instead damaged characters are looking for actual redemption and purpose. It is almost as if the series grew up with its original child viewers and has more sophisticated and realistic view of war and conflict. There is no sugarcoating to battle here. In short, this movie will make several tons of movie and hopefully some awards. It may also replace the familiar phrase, “May the Force be with you” with “I am one with the Force, the Force is with me.”
There is one minor problem with this movie. It may be a function of note taking while watching, but I missed how one character avoided death and appeared later. That and superfluous gun cocking which pervades movies everywhere. It needs to stop.
Now, the question on your mind is where does this rank in the Star Wars Movie Universe, right?
It is the new boss, number one with a laser bolt, it’s the movie that made the Kessel run in less than 12 parsecs, and it will remind you of why you paid to see movies in theaters more than once as a kid. Go see it. Take an adult and screen it to see if your kids can handle it (or use that as an excuse for multiple viewings). As long as the theater has ice for your drink, you won’t be disappointed