Cannery Row – A Review in Brief

Cannery Row by John Steinbeck

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Cannery row is less of a story and more of a description of a place in time. Steinbeck describes a coastal town with incredible detail using a constantly shifting perspective, examining the town through the eyes of a given person or place. It takes a few chapters to get used to, but as time went on, I felt like I got to know the setting better than most other works. Even in the short 181-page length, the author builds a memorable cast of characters and paints a thorough picture of their day-to-day lives. If you’re looking for a story, Cannery Row has a few, but none of them are central to the book’s purpose. Instead, Steinbeck makes the setting the main character, and its evolution through a short span of time the plot. It’s a very unique read, and I highly recommend it.

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Review in Brief – Secondhand Souls – Christopher Moore

Secondhand Souls (Grim Reaper, #2)

Secondhand Souls by Christopher Moore

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A Dirty Job is one of my favorite books I’ve read in recent memory, meaning the bar for Secondhand Souls was impossibly high for the jump. The story picks up right where A Dirty Job left off, and is at its most interesting in the first half. While the book focuses on the same characters, it ends up feeling like some of them lose their depth in favor of leaning more heavily into tropes. It’s unfortunate, because I love Charlie Asher so much, but he feels a little short-changed in the sequel. Fortunately, the new characters introduced for the sequels are standouts, with the villain, Lemon being one of my favorites.

The story is fun and intriguing, but ultimately feels handicapped by its conclusion. The book wraps up at a blinding pace with a bit of an anti-climactic showdown and ends up feeling a bit hollow. I would have liked to see a bit more depth in the last third of the book, but overall, the story was still enjoyable.

For fans of A Dirty Job, I’d definitely recommend picking it up. If nothing else, it gives more time with the characters we’ve come to love and has Moore’s trademark humor.

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Star Wars – The Re-Review – Episode 8

Here we are, at the end of the Skywalker Saga, almost ready for Episode 9. It’s been a long process with good movies, bad movies, and some that floundered in between. Today, I’m taking another look at Episode 8 – The Last Jedi, arguably the most controversial film in the Star Wars series. Critics lavished it with praise, and yet audience scores told a completely different story. I remember loving Last Jedi when I first saw it in theatres, and it definitely holds up on the re-watch. So, let’s get into it, feel free to fight me in the comments or on Twitter if you disagree, I’ll be waiting.

Here’s a quick refresher on where I scored the other films so far: 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)Revenge of the Sith (3/5)Return of the Jedi (4/5), and The Force Awakens (4.5/5). You might notice, I’ve skipped Solo, but I will come back to it at a later date. I just got busy making an audio drama, a podcast, and writing a holiday story for y’all.

Last Jedi’s opening is incredible. It’s got humor, tension, great space fighting, and feels like it carries some real weight. For the first time in the series, we’re shown the consequences of running in, guns blazing, and staying until every last fighter is gone. The Resistance is nearly broken at the beginning of the film with only a handful of ships left to stand against the ever-increasing presence of the First Order. Despite all that, Poe is still joking with General Hux while he’s stalling for time in their master plan, and I love it.

Poe’s character is delightfully flawed in all the ways you’d expect from a hot shot pilot. Take him out of space and he would fit in easily with Tom Cruise’s Maverick from Top Gun. The only problem is, historically, Star Wars has never shown any consequences for that kind of behavior. In all the previous films, being a good pilot was enough to get you through three movies without losing anyone all that important along the way (unless you turned to the Sith). That’s why it feels so important to watch Poe fail in this movie and fail repeatedly.

About halfway through the film, Yoda says to Luke: Failure the best teacher is. This movie could not encompass that lesson more. From Luke’s failings as a Jedi Master, to Poe’s misguided hatred of Commander Holdo, or the half-baked plan on the Casino Planet, Canto Bight, it’s all about the main characters failing. A lot of people raged against that, and I don’t understand why. Part of me believes they were uncomfortable with so many of the lessons being handed down by women in positions of power, but that’s a rant for another time.  

Fuck yeah, Yoda commits arson, what else did you expect?

The main complaint I hear about Last Jedi is that it doesn’t feel Star Wars enough, and I frankly don’t see it. The thirty minutes on Canto Bight are exactly the kind of side plot shenanigans we’d expect, complete with a sweeping shot of a sweet alien Casino and prison breakouts with loveable rogues. The only missed opportunity there was having horse racing instead of pod racing… I mean come on, when I saw the casino rumble, I was excited and then immediately disappointed. Sure, the b-team spending their time releasing a bunch of alien horses was a bit cliched, but Canto Bight on the whole was such a cool creation, that I’m willing to forgive it a bit.

Now this… isn’t podracing, but it’s still pretty great

Luke’s entire training of Rey is exactly like what Yoda did for him on Dagobah, just extended and adapted for a modern audience. Rey also faces the dark side in a way that’s more real than any character we’ve seen before. That’s right, I mean you, Anakin. Her struggle is palpable and only underscored by her constant, mysterious connection with Kylo Ren. Together, they’re learning more about each other and themselves, and their final meeting led to one of the most epic saber fights I can remember. Is it disappointing to see Snoke go out so quick? Yes. Do I believe he’s gone entirely, no, because as Luke says: No one’s ever really gone.

I mean, this is pretty savage…

A quick aside, my money is on Snoke being some kind of avatar for the nearly-dead Emperor and that we’ll watch that play out in Episode 9. Luckily, if I’m wrong, you can tell me real soon.

 Getting back to my thread, if Luke’s training and Canto Bight weren’t Star Wars, the final ground assault on Crait absolutely is. This last stand against an army of armored AT-ATs and a miniaturized Death Star cannon is excellent and well shot. Watching the speeders kick up trails of red dust as they fly toward their inevitable doom was one of the cooler shots in the film. The resolution of the battle in the form of Luke’s last stand is powerful, badass, and exactly how I wanted him to go out. He’s cheeky to the very end, and still has one last lesson to teach his padawan. IF THAT’S NOT STAR WARS, I DON’T KNOW WHAT IS.

Ranting aside, watching the main characters learn from their own failures and the failures of others sets up the end of the movie perfectly. As The Resistance is starting to rise from the ashes and recover, so too are our beloved heroes. Poe finally gets his command, but he’s learned a valuable lesson, and will make a better leader because of it. Finn’s suicide mission is aborted by the very person who stopped him from running away in the first place. The list goes on, and I love the way Rian Johnson tied all these lessons together.

Overall, The Last Jedi was a very enjoyable breath of fresh air for the series. It would have been very easy to pump out another cookie-cutter Star Wars film, but instead, Johnson gave us something we had never seen before. Once Episode 9 comes out and ties up the story, I think we’ll find more people revisiting Episode 8 and truly appreciating what it set up. It might be rough around the edges, but Last Jedi still holds a spot near the top for me.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – The Force Awakens

Ten years passed between the release of Revenge of the Sith and The Force Awakens. Walking into the theater, the anticipation for the film was palpable, and I don’t think I’ve ever been in a more nervous/excited crowd for a film. Where the prequels stumbled and blundered their way through a wonderful universe, Force Awakens brought back what the series was known best for. With standout side characters, an intriguing new set of villains, and plenty of space/saber battles, it felt like coming home. Before we dive in, 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), Revenge of the Sith (3/5), andReturn of the Jedi (4/5).

Force Awakens sets itself apart from the other films in the first fifteen seconds by taking time to focus on a group of people the series has basically ignored, storm troopers. Attack of the Clones showed us the creation of the original troopers, but clones only last so long. Force Awakens gives us one of the best characters by exposing what exactly it’s like to become a storm trooper and how people might get into that life in the first place. Finn is a wonderful new addition to the universe and brings a new level of understanding to the previously bland and seemingly endless opposition, all within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

The opening also does a perfect job of balancing moments of humor with darkness. Poe’s banter with Kylo Ren is appreciated comic relief, but also underscored by the fact that there’s a buzzing bolt of laser that Kylo straight up stopped with the force. Not only is Kylo powerful, but also ruthless. He skips the pre-amble of general villainy and gets right to the murdering. In the first ten minutes, he orders the destruction of an entire village of innocent people, setting the stage for Finn’s choice to desert and showing us what this new villain is all about.

And what he’s about, is tantrums

Kylo is moody, broody, and dangerous. While that might sound familiar from the prequels, Adam Driver is able to pull it off where Christiansen failed. Kylo feels like a realistic villain and his impulsive nature justifies the decisions he makes throughout the film. He is the dark side incarnate, living on emotion and filled to the brim with fear. What’s interesting is where that fear comes from. We’ve seen the light side struggle with the dark, but never vice versa. Kylo Ren is the first Sith we see genuinely wrestling with a pull to the light and trying to prove at all costs that he has what it takes to master the dark. It’s a beautiful, tragic motivator for the character and gives him life.

But, the villain would be nothing without a plucky new light-side user to oppose them, and Rey provides that in spades. Ridley’s character mirror’s Ren in so many ways and sets up the conflict between them perfectly. Like Ren, Rey is afraid that she has been left behind forever and feels alone in the universe. Her journey from scrapper on Jakku to eventual padawan parallels Luke’s in a way but feels different enough to not seem like a direct copy.

Love this ‘stop holding my hand’ scene. Also, apparently, this gif brought to you by #FallonTonight?

Which, brings me to one of the main criticisms I see of this film, it’s parallels to A New Hope. Many think it steps over the line of homage to straight mimicry, but on this watch through, I don’t see it.  There are some character similarities, but there are also some brand-new additions we’ve never seen in the franchise. Now, that doesn’t mean the film is without errors, and one of them is also its most blatant copy, Starkiller Base. I really hate that the climax of this film is once again about destroying a planet-size weapon that destroys other planets. It’s been played out twice, it didn’t go well for The Empire either time, and frankly I’m bored of it.

The final assault on Starkiller Base is a fun sequence with an amazing aerial dogfight and one of the best saber battles, but it’s worn ground. Now, I do feel that Kylo’s idolization of Darth Vader and The Empire means a direct copy of their old plans makes sense. He’s always trying to finish what Vader started, and one can only assume the shadowy Snoke shares the same basic agenda. All the same, watching another massive super weapon destroyed in less than ten minutes of screen time felt like things were too easy. If they really needed to do a planet-destroyer again, they could have let it survive the resistance’s initial assault, but alas, no cigar. If they bring back another planet destroyer in Episode 9, I’m going to be pissed.

But I’ll admit, this was cool

Speaking of the parallels to Hope, it’s nice to see the original cast back, even if Luke is only there for fifteen seconds. I would have liked to see the trio of Han, Leia and Luke reunite one, final time. Fortunately, I actually think it’s better this way. Harrison Ford brings the same life to Han that he always had, and somehow, Carrie Fisher only got better with age. Leia in Force Awakens is by far my favorite incarnation. Her whip-smart humor has been honed, she’s sarcastic as ever, and the fear she inspires in Han is wonderful and great comedically. Their reunion on Takodana at Maz’s castle is one of the most impactful scenes in the movie and carried strong emotional weight.

Overall, I absolutely love Force Awakens. I was going to try and pick it apart, but there’s not that much wrong with it. Starkiller Base is a misstep in my opinion, but it also doesn’t hurt the film that much. The new generation of characters we’re introduced to have some of the best emotional depth in the series and prove they’re worthy to catch the torch from the old guard. I can see some similarities to A New Hope, but honestly, I think there’s a lot of people who are just going to be angry at new Star Wars because it’s not the original trilogy. Personally, I think the modernization is a good thing, and leads to some needed innovation in character and plot. Which is all to say, I’m sure we’re going to get in some real spicy fights over Episode 8.

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…