Star Wars – The Re-Review – Return of the Jedi

Finally, after making my way through the ‘extended flashback’ that was the prequels, it’s back to the mainline trilogy. As a quick check-in, that means I have three films left to review in the fourteen days until Episode 9 releases. I’ll do my best to get a review for Episode 7 soon and Solo/8 following shortly after. Meanwhile, here’s a quick update on where the rest of the movies ranked: Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5)The Phantom Menace(2/5), Attack of the Clones(.5/5), and Revenge of the Sith (3/5).

For as long as I can remember, Return of the Jedi has been my favorite film in the Star Wars franchise, and while there are a few scenes that warrant that, I’ve found more issues on my rewatch than I expected. Coming hot off the heels of the prequel trilogy in this watch order, it’s easy to see Return as a masterpiece, but comparing it to Hope and Empire, it’s got some real problems. First and foremost, the idea of re-hashing the conflict from Hope. It’s no secret, George Lucas didn’t think he was going to get a full trilogy when he made Hope, so he moved the trilogy’s climax to the first film. Years later, we get to Return of the Jedi and rather than trying something new, we just get a second, more vulnerable Death Star.

At least we got this line

Aside from that, Return’s plot does host some high points for the series. Ian McDiarmid made his debut as The Emperor, and his performance is fantastic.  Sure, his character does quite a bit of monologuing, but it’s hard not to be captivated by his sarcastic, confident demeanor. The Emperor is a wonderful villain, and it’s through the lens of his expert manipulation that the audience is finally able to feel some sympathy for Vader. Now, that sympathy doesn’t go a long way once you’ve seen Anakin murder children in Sith, but looking at the original trilogy on its own, it works.

It’s also fantastic to see the trio of Han, Luke and Leia back together after they spent so much of Empire apart. The three of them had amazing screen chemistry, and it’s really a shame that this is the last film we get to see them all together in. Hamill continues to build on Luke’s character, leaning into the calm, collected, deadly nature of a Jedi. This change is apparent from the first moment he comes on screen, strolling into Jabba’s palace like he owns the place.  His farm boy and willful apprentice aesthetics are gone, and in their place is a true hero. Through these character developments, Hamill manages to steal most of the scenes he’s in and for the first time, doesn’t feel like he needs to be propped up by side characters.

One of the best exchanges

In fact, that’s a theme felt through the entire cast. Every character in Jedi feels like they could stand on their own and carry the film. It makes their interactions even more of a joy to watch, especially in the first half of the movie where they’re given plot to work with. The 20-30 minutes where the team is rescuing Han is easily one of my favorite moments in Star Wars. Jabba’s palace is an incredible set piece with unique aliens around every turn and all sorts of crazy shit (see dancing twileks and carnivorous beasts in the floor) that feels right at home.  My only complaint about the first half of Jedi is Boba Fett going out like a punk. There was a lot of potential in that character, and he’s gotten life in the expanded universe of books/comics, but I would have loved to see more of it on screen.

RIP little buddy

Now, that’s the good half of the movie, the back half has some serious issues, and a lot of them stem from George Lucas getting a little merchandise happy. The entire sequence on Endor, while fun, does seem like it’s just him being determined to get teddy bears in the film, so he can sell more toys. The whole battle on Endor ends up feeling silly compared to the dark tone of the rest of the film, especially when it’s being directly contrasted with Luke’s struggle against the emperor. That’s a real shame, because for a lot of the movie, Return boasts one of the darker plots of the franchise (second to Rogue One and the last 20 minutes of Sith).

Watching the film’s protagonist struggle with the very force that overthrew his father is fascinating and makes the film feel like it’s got real stakes. That’s even more apparent watching it on the heels of Sith, because it’s clear how quickly a Jedi can turn. The final saber fight between Luke and Vader is methodical, but more importantly telegraphs a bigger struggle behind the scenes. There are some flashy flips and a couple of saber twirls, but for the most part, they’re hitting with powerful, targeted strikes. When Luke finally lets the anger out and cuts off Vader’s hand, he’s on the razor’s edge, and for a moment, there is genuine uncertainty that he will remain good.

Luke gets electrocuted for a while in this film…

Meanwhile, ignoring that heavy plot, the movie is content to ping-pong back and forth to the murderous little Ewoks thrashing the Empire. It puts the film off balance for me, and creates tonal inconsistency, which as I’ve said in other reviews, is a serious pet peeve of mine. This only got worse in the nineties remaster with the addition of crazy bug musical numbers, beaked sarlaacs, and more. Don’t get me wrong, that musical number in Jabba’s palace is weird and wonderful, but it doesn’t feel like it belongs with the rest of the movie. It’s like Lucas had two very conflicting ideas of how the movie was supposed to go and rather than reconciling them, smashed them together and called it good.

But, we got the original Thicc Boi

Of course, it’s the original trilogy and there had to be a popcorn ending, but it could have felt more earned if the film had maintained a darker tone until the end. Really, almost every part of the film aside from Endor maintains that aesthetic and it’s sad to see it cheapened. Still, through it all, the final battle and Vader’s sacrifice are an emotionally satisfying conclusion to the saga. Personally, I would have been fine seeing the franchise end at Jedi, even with some of the excellent films we got after. It wraps things up nicely and still left plenty of openings for fan fiction and the expanded universe to fill gaps. But, as Yoda said, there is another…

Inter-Dimensional Lake Monsters Among Us?!

Well, if that googly-eyed, odd, pipe of a fish isn’t enough to convince you that monsters exist in the deep, maybe my second interview with David George Gordon will! David is an expert in all things cryptid and nature. He’s written several field guides on more traditional flora and fauna, but is especially renowned for his book, The Sasquatch Seekers Field Manual.

In our interview for this episode, we left the mystery of Bigfoot behind in favor of talking about something a little stranger. Cadborosaurus is a mythical sea/lake monster rumored to live off the coast of British Columbia. David has gone on several expeditions looking for the creature, and we cover them all, including the research for his upcoming book on the subject. It’s definitely one of the stranger topics I’ve covered, but as always, David is a fantastic guest and a very entertaining speaker.

As always, this episode is up for free on most streaming platforms (Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and more). You can follow those links or just listen below! Remember, the best way to support the podcast is to share it around if you like it, comment on this blog, tweet at me (@RealMacAshton), or just holler from the rooftops. We really appreciate it :).

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Revenge of the Sith

The light at the end of the tunnel is near as I have reached the end of the much-maligned prequel trilogy. Coming hot off the heels of Attack of the Clones which was a wholly painful experience, Revenge of the Sith felt like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t touch the originally trilogy as far as quality, but as far as the prequels go, it feels like the most Star Wars of them all. Links to past reviews:  Rogue One (3.5/5)A New Hope (4.5/5) The Empire Strikes Back(5/5), The Phantom Menace(2/5)  and Attack of the Clones(.5/5).

Revenge works as well as it does, because Lucas finally learned his lesson and started playing to his strengths. Rather than beginning the film with lengthy exposition or political intrigue outright, Revenge opens on a space battle, and a pretty good one at that. The visuals still look good to this day and it’s the first time we’re shown space warfare on a massive scale. Previous films focused on small squadrons of recognizable pilots, but Revenge shows us huge capital ships exchanging cannon-fire (yes, old-timey, naval cannon-fire). Pilots are ripped from their spaceships after they explode, floating into the cold, void of space, and from the outset, it’s clear the film is going for a darker tone.

My biggest issue with the film’s opening is the wooden banter between Obi Wan and Anakin. What I think Lucas was trying to do was demonstrate how calm a Jedi is, even in battle, but it makes the whole scene feel a bit stilted. A little emotion in these lines could have made the banter more playful, but instead, it’s stale. There’s a point in the opening where Obi Wan is on death’s door, and neither Jedi seem particularly disturbed by it. If this was consistent throughout the film, I might mind it less, but feeling too much for family who’s dying is kind of Anakin’s whole thing.

Remember this great, little character moment?

Character inconsistency, ironically, seems to be Anakin’s most enduring trait. Throughout the film, he ping pongs between extremes, playing the part of good Jedi padawan and murderous psychopath without much room in between. Like Clones, none of Anakin’s character decisions feel earned. At the beginning of the film he is conflicted, but on a good path, yet in the course of a fifteen minute interaction with Palpatine, he’s suddenly game to murder younglings and forsake the order that literally freed him from slavery and gave him a home. In my opinion, it would have helped to spread this darkness out across the movies more, which I think Lucas attempted (see Tusken Raider murders in Clones). Unfortunately, there’s no weight to it until suddenly there is, and that makes Anakin’s transformation almost laughable.

The problem is that Sith is so pre-occupied with tying up all the loose ends leading into A New Hope that it doesn’t give any of the plot points time to breathe. The entire back half of the film seems like it’s just there to create plot consistency (and a few holes). If anything, it feels like we could have used another movie to help stretch some of the choices out. In the last thirty minutes, we see the fall of the Jedi almost in their entirety, Anakin’s complete reversal from Jedi to murdering Sith, Padme’s death, Luke and Leia being hidden, Obi Wan and Yoda raiding the temple, the list goes on. I could have used one more movie to dive deeper into Anakin’s turn and watch how the mechanics of that played out, but sadly, I’m sure it would have turned out poorly.  

This makes Vader hard to sympathize with in Return of the Jedi…

Luckily, Anakin is finally paired with some decent supporting characters, and with their help, his journey is a lot more watchable this time around. Ewan McGregor hits his stride as Obi Wan in Revenge and it’s a joy to watch his take on the character. Likewise, Ian McDiarmid’s return as The Emperor is fantastic and I can’t wait for him to reprise the role in Episode 9. With Obi Wan as the protagonist and The Emperor acting as the antagonist, Anakin is almost relegated to a side character, caught between titans, and that works so much better. If the rest of the films could have focused in the same way, I think we would be left with a different, far better trilogy.

Unfortunately, one character in particular is once again shortchanged and misused. Padme is reduced to crying, pregnant, lady with nothing to do other than weep over Anakin and die. It’s astonishing to me that Lucas created a character arc for her that is so cataclysmically bad. Padme had a ton of interesting directions to go, but it’s like all her traits from Menace were forgotten in favor of servicing Anakin’s dark broodiness. It’s one of the greatest shames of the prequel trilogy, and the creators should truly be ashamed of it. Even worse, Padme’s death at the end of Sith creates a plot hole, because Leia says she remembers her real mother in Return of the Jedi. Having Padme run off to hide the children from Anakin would have been a stronger character decision and might have made her feel just a little bit more valuable in the grand story arc.

Fuck this noise

Characters aside, the plot of Sith is also marginally better than either of its prequel predecessors. The arc of the film feels focused, and substantially darker than any of the films that came before it. There are more hands chopped off in this film than the rest of the prequel and OG trilogy combined. Don’t believe me? Here’s a chart of hands lost per film. Go ahead, take a look, I’ll wait.

Brought to you by Microsoft Excel and some googling

Sith houses some of the darkest scenes in the entire Star Wars franchise. In the two- and half-hour runtime, we get decapitation of beloved villains, mass child murder, and watch Anakin burn alive after Obi Wan cuts both his legs and one of his arms off. Obi Wan straight up stands there and watches Anakin burn to death rather than putting him out of his damn misery. Overall, I think this was the right tone to end the prequels with even if it wasn’t executed right. With a little more thought into why the character decisions had to be so god damned dark, this could have been one of the best films of the lot.

Overall, I like Sith the best out of the prequel trilogy by a mile. For the most part, its supporting cast is excellent, it finally gets its focus right, and Lucas leaned into the things Star Wars does best: saber and space battles. Where the film really stumbles is how it treats Anakin and how rushed his story feels. At the end of the day, the prequels were set up to be Anakin’s story, and as the credits roll, that story is complete, but doesn’t feel satisfying. While I can see the steps Lucas took to make Anakin’s turn to the dark side seem more gradual, it wasn’t enough and the ending still feels sudden. It hurts, because the prequels have so much potential, but they’re just not up to snuff for the rest of the franchise.

As a bonus round, Sith produced some of the best damned memes in the entire franchise, so, head over to r/prequelmemes and treat yourself. It helps get that Attack of the Clones taste out of your mouth.

What is A Man of the Mountain?

Hello everyone, if you’ve been following me on social media recently, you’ve probably seen me talking about my latest writing project, A Man of the Mountain. So, I figured I’d take a second and answer some questions about what it is exactly.

What is it?

A Man of the Mountain is a prequel novella (think shorter book) to my first novel, Whiteout. BUT, you don’t have to have read Whiteout to enjoy this. It stands completely on its own and if anything, might be more fun to listen to before the novel.

In an unconventional twist, we’re releasing it as an audio-drama before putting out physical copies. What’s an audio drama? It’s basically an audio book with higher production quality, more sound effects, and a cast of different people reading different characters. Leigh James, a man we met on Reddit, fits given that I met my publisher on Craig’s List, recorded most of the narration, found all the actors, sound effects, and music for this. He did an incredible job, and is the real hero here 🙂

How much does it cost?

That’s the beautiful thing, it’s FREE! You can listen now on any platform you get your podcasts from: Spotify, Apple Podcasts, Stitcher, and six others. You can also listen to it on the player below:

Now, that doesn’t mean we’re not going to sell it eventually! The episodes will always be free on your podcasting platforms, but in a month or so, we’ll be releasing the full audiobook for those who don’t want to wait for the episodes to release.

In addition, we’ll be selling the novella in e-book and physical formats, beginning on the day the last episode drops, 3/3/20. Pre-orders are live for the e-book with paperback/hardback coming soon.

Episodes release every two weeks!

What does this mean for your other podcast?

TWO CHRISTMASES! I’m still working on Cryptids Decrypted and will still be putting out around two episodes a month. In fact, next week, I’ve got an awesome episode releasing where I interviewed David George Gordon about inter-dimensional sea/lake monsters. It’s pretty fantastic. If you don’t want to wait for me to edit it, I’ve put up the raw interview video. Apologies in advance for the quality, I blame Skype and my lack of lighting knowledge.

Bonus Round: When is the full sequel to Whiteout coming?

We haven’t pinned down a date yet, but likely sometime in the first half of 2020! It’s called Downpour, and here’s a link to a sample of the first few chapters. Call it your reward for making it this far in the post 🙂

Book Review in Brief – IT – Stephen King

It

It by Stephen King

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Going in to this novel, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve seen the trailers for the movies, but never actually watched them. As a huge fan of Stephen King, I can say this is one of his best. IT stands as a unique horror novel that thrives by focusing on the lives of people in a small town. Mich like Salem’s lot, the horror lives in the character’s reactions and emotion moreso than the thing itself.

Throughout the book, King manages dual timelines without confusing the reader, and developed a memorable set of characters that are instantly recognizable. My only complaint is the length. While the first two thirds feel like every page is necessary, some of the later chapters end up feeling like they could have used more brevity. All the same, the fact that King manages to keep the book engaging for a thousand pages is mind blowing in its own right.

Overall, if you can commit to the length, it’s worth your time. Also worth noting, the audio version can make it difficult to discern when the book switches timelines, but is very well read.

4/5 Stars

View all my reviews