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.

Home for the Holidays – Chapter 2

This is Chapter 2 of a little holiday story with my favorite monster hunter, Nick Ventner. If you need to catch up, here’s a link to Chapter 1! Excuse my makeshift cover above, I’m a writer and not much of an artist 🙂

2 – Family Reunion

James pulled up to a house that was covered from foundation to chimney in twinkling, multicolor lights. The thought of the power bill alone was enough to make Nick sick to his stomach. He stumbled out of the car and immediately vomited into the snow. The strong burn of cheap alcohol filled his nose, but the freshness that came after a good vomit was a pleasant counter. “Well, we can rule out a water goblin in the case of my empty flask.” Nick wiped the vomit from his lips.

     “Jesus Christ, Nick. Can you try to compose yourself a little bit?”

     “That was the idea.” The horrible stink of bile filled his nostrils and he ate a handful of snow to wash it all away. If he was to continue drinking in any capacity, he needed to taper off, and vomiting was the fastest way there. Nick stamped his feet and flexed his hands, measuring his new level of sobriety. Satisfied, he straightened up and tried to put on his best impression of a smile. “Alright, let’s go meet these people who are definitely your family.”

     James shook his head. “I knew this was a mistake.” He turned away and walked up the short path to the front door.

     Trying to be clandestine, Nick snuck around the back of the car and opened the trunk. From inside, he pulled out a small collapsible harpoon rifle, a set of knives, and a flash grenade. The rifle was compact enough to fit on an insert he had cut into his winter jacket years ago, and he concealed it there. The grenade went in a pocket, and he put the knives in various uncomfortable positions around the rest of his body. It was a routine he was used to, and had saved his life countless times.

     “You coming?” called James from the porch.

     Nick looked longingly at a pile of holy symbols heaped toward the back of the trunk and reluctantly shut it. “Yup, sorry, almost forgot my book.” He grabbed the tome off the passenger seat and hurried to catch up with James, nearly slipping on ice in the process. He shuddered to think where one of the knives might have gone if he had.

     “You’re not really bringing that thing, are you?”

     Nick looked at James very seriously. “You’re my apprentice and I need you trust me on this one. I bring this with me everywhere and it’s gotten me out of more than a few scrapes.” Nick belched a sickly cloud of bile and stale liquor into the frosty winter air. “Whoo, sorry, that was a nasty one.” He gagged on the words as they came out.  

“You almost had me for a second.” James waved a hand in front of his face, trying to disperse the smell. “Just don’t bring it out at dinner. These people are open minded, but not that open minded.” James rang the doorbell.

Immediately, the door flew open, spilling a beam of cheery light out from the entryway. Standing in the doorway were a man and a woman, both in their fifties, beaming. “My, my, young James, is that you?” asked the woman in a horribly saccharine voice.

“You sure have grown,” boomed the man.

Nick winced at the boisterous volume and tried not to vomit again. If that’s not a wendigo impersonating a human, I don’t know what is. Greetings at the Ventner household were offered in grunts or curses, and Nick preferred it to this jolly crap.

“It’s good to see you both.” James hugged the two of them. “How long has it been?”

Both the man and the woman shook their heads in confusion. “Gosh, I don’t even know,” said the man. “Long time, that’s for sure.” He chuckled and looked past James, seeing Nick for the first time. “And who’s your friend?” he asked.

“Oh, that’s Nick. He’s sort of my boss at my new job.”

Nick put on a plastic smile and tried his best to turn on the charm. “Nothing ‘sort of’ about it.” He laughed and reached out a hand to shake the man’s hand, being sure not to take his glove off. “I’m Nick Ventner, proprietor of the Ventner Agency. Maybe you’ve heard of it?” He watched the man’s eyes as he said it, and swore he saw a twitch of fear there, but it could have just as easily been nothing.

“No, I can’t say I have, but either way, good to meet you, Mr. Ventner. Any friend of James is a friend of ours. I’m Bill, and this is my wife, Marie.”

“A pleasure to meet you both.” Nick scanned every inch of their faces, looking for something he could use, something off, but by all appearances, they were normal.

“Well, why don’t you both come in and we’ll fix you something hot to drink. You’ll catch your death out there.” The woman motioned to hurry them both inside.

     Nick looked at James, hoping to see some sign of reluctance, but there was nothing. Am I really the one going crazy here? He thought back to the creature that had crossed the road and put the radio on the fritz. If they were dealing with some manner of psychic beast, they were already in deep trouble.

     “You coming, Mr. Ventner?” asked the man.

     “Yes of course, sorry. Get lost in my own head these days, running a business and all.” Nick stepped into the house and was surprised to find it wasn’t much warmer than outside.

     “I should have warned you, our heat’s been on the fritz,” said Bob, walking into the kitchen. “But we’ve got hot cocoa and some spirits to warm your bodies, and a couple of space heaters in the bedroom.”

     Nick took off his gloves and looked around the entryway. He exhaled, still able to see his own breath.

     “Terrible timing for the heat to go out in a storm like this,” commented James, beginning to undo his parka and then thinking better of it. “Maybe I could take a shot at fixing it tonight.”

     “Oh, don’t worry about it, dear,” called Marie. “We don’t mind it too much.”

     I’ll bet you don’t, thought Nick, looking at the walls suspiciously. There were pictures of Bill and Marie everywhere, and even one family photo of what appeared to be a young James. Nick approached it carefully as though it might shoot poison darts at him and brushed a fine layer of dust off the frame.

     “Try not to break anything,” muttered James and started off toward the kitchen before Nick had a chance to protest.

     Dust on the photos, Nick noted. Heat’s out. James hasn’t heard from them in a long time. It was all adding up to a suspicious amount of evidence against the allegedly perfect family that had been presented before them. Can’t let my guard down, need to be careful. Nick walked down a darkened hallway, away from the kitchen.

     A voice stopped him dead in his tracks. “Looking for the bathroom?”

     Nick spun around violently, reaching for the knife he had concealed in his waistline. When he was halfway through the turn, he saw Bill, smiling at him from the entryway, holding two steaming mugs. Nick’s heart hammered in his chest, beating a crazy drum beat that no amount of drugs could make danceable.

     “Feeling a bit jumpy?” asked Bill.

     Nick took a deep breath, removing the tension from his muscles one by one. “I’m sorry, it’s just—”

     “You’re feeling a bit hung over.” A wry smile crept across Bill’s face.

     Nick’s eyes widened.

     “Oh, don’t be embarrassed. Saw you puking out front. Figured you might need a little hair of the dog to get you through it.” He held a cup out. “It’s rum with a splash of hot cocoa in it. Nice and warm to get us through this absolutely miserable storm.”

     Nick reached out and took the cup, sniffing at it experimentally. His eyes watered from the steam. Overpowered by urges, Nick sipped at the liquid and felt fire run past his tongue and into the back of his throat. He exhaled, blowing a large cloud of mist. “Holy shit.”

     “Damn right. That’s the good stuff.” Bill took a sip of his own. “Now, I know you must feel like a stranger here, but James told us you don’t have anywhere else to be for the holidays. You’re welcome with us, and you’re not imposing.”

     Nick didn’t like the sound of that. It sounded warm, fuzzy and foreign. “I don’t—”

     “Or, you can think of it as a place where you can get blind drunk in a corner. Hell, that’s what I plan on doing.” Bill held the cup to his lips and drank deeply, draining what was left of it. “I’ll fix us another cup…”

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If you like what you read, consider checking out our new, free audiodrama, Man of the Mountain. It’s about a man hell bent on maintaining the bigfoot legend, and the tabloid reporter that takes it upon herself to stop him. It’s on all streaming platforms including Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and Stitcher. For a full list of links, check out our Anchor page.

Home for the Holidays – A Nick Ventner Tale

The following is the first chapter of a holiday Nick Ventner Tale. If you like wendigos, booze-ridden monster hunters, and a bit of cheer, read on 🙂

1 – The Suburbs

Snow fell in heavy flakes on the windshield of the beat-up sedan. “You sure this thing is going to make it through the storm?” Nick unscrewed the top of his silver flask and tried desperately to get a few more drops out of it. Somehow, on the three hour drive out of Midway, it had all disappeared. He wasn’t sure, but he suspected some sort of water demon might have had a claw in it.

     “I’ve done this drive plenty of times, Nick.” James hands gripped the steering wheel calmly. The weak, yellow cones of the headlights tried to cut a path through the snow, but barely illuminated ten feet in front of them. The highway, usually bumper-to-bumper with traffic, was almost completely empty. Occasionally, they’d pass another vehicle, gathering snow after its owners had abandoned it, but no one else was fool enough to still be out.

     “Maybe we should turn back to Midway, get ourselves a couple of handles and spend the night drinking every time we see a snowflake.” Nick shook the flask violently, rattling the metal stopper. “I could have sworn there was more of this.”

     “You drank it before we even hit the onramp. I believe your words were: How fast do you think I can—”

     “Drink this flask, alright, I get it.” Nick tossed the empty flask to the floor. “Why would anyone live out here anyway?”

     “Parkview is a nice place for those who don’t like the hustle and bustle.”

     “Quite a few murders for the burbs if I remember right.”

     “That was over twenty years ago, and I’ll remind you, you wanted to come.”

     Nick sighed and slumped into the seat. “Only because you said there would be free food. I don’t know if you’ve seen the financials lately, but after the Cerberus in the sewers, no one is jumping to hire us.” It had been a damned good fight, but so messy for Public Works the following morning. Pissing off civil servants was never a good way to drum up more business. “Fucking unions,” Nick muttered.

     “Maybe if you hadn’t have pumped it full of thermite right next to a gas main, the explosion would have been smaller.”

     Nick huffed and leaned his head against the window. The glass was cold, calming what was sure to be the start of a raging hangover if he couldn’t get to more booze soon. “We might have been that thing’s chew toy if I hadn’t.”

     James sighed. “Maybe we could use a bit more planning for the job we’ve got coming up in Clearwater?”

     Nick laughed. “The tabloid job? You’re staying in the car for that one. It’s going to be a quick in and out, nothing more.”

     “You ever fought a sasquatch before?”

     “It’s just a man in—” Nick stopped as the radio turned on suddenly, flipping between stations rapidly and playing unintelligible garbled static. A mix of Christmas music, weather warnings and talk radio blasted through the car at full volume. Nick slapped at the dial trying to get it to turn off, but the noise sent sharp pain coursing into his temples.

     James reached out and turned the dial to off, but the radio continued to whine and sputter. Ahead of them something ran across the road, visible only briefly in the headlights. Nick had a chance to see mangy, grey fur before James slammed on the brakes. The car started to spin immediately, sliding sideways through the freeway like a drunken acrobat.

     “Jesus, James, turn into the spin!” screamed Nick, wishing once more that he had been more thoughtful with his flask rations.

     James turned the wheel, gripping it with white knuckles and the car skidded slowly to a stop. Looking through the fogged windshield, it was difficult to see anything beyond the falling snow.

     “What was that?” asked Nick.

     “Probably a bear. They started moving out here a few years ago after the forest fire.”

     “A bear, in the dead of winter?”

     James sighed. “Do we really need to talk about climate change again, Nick?”

     “I don’t know, does climate change explain why the bear would have fucked with the radio?” Nick reached into the back seat and pulled out a thick, leather-bound tome. He always carried it with him , despite protestations from James that ‘monsters don’t live in the suburbs.’ He’ll learn, thought Nick and began flipping through the tome’s pages.

     “Five minutes out of Midway and you’re pulling out the Monster Manual?” James scoffed.

     “You know damned well, it’s not called that.”

     “It’s a manual for monsters. What would you like me to call it?”

     “It’s the ramblings of a drunken master who killed far more beasties than you or I. Now, I suggest you start driving, because the longer I go without a drink, the lower your chances of survival get.”

     “Right, like your other apprentices?” James put the car into gear and they were rumbling down the snow-covered highway again.  

     Nick rolled his eyes. For once, he had been completely honest with James when he hired him. Almost all his previous apprentices had died horribly at the hands of strange creatures, cannibal cults, or door-to-door salespeople with a grudge. Trouble was that James hadn’t believed him and thought it was all just a scare tactic. It didn’t help that the confrontation with the Cerberus had given him far too much confidence for his own good.

     James continued guiding them on their already harrowing journey to suburbia. Nick read through the pages of his master’s book, looking for creatures that lived in cold climates. There were far too many for an expeditious search. It seemed the old fool had catalogued everything, even a yeti, a creature most believed to be extinct. Finally, after looking specifically for entries tagged with ‘Found in Urban Areas’, Nick came upon The Wendigo.

     The beast was originally of Native American origin, but in the modern world had become more of a general horror. Nick read on. Wendigos are one of the trickiest beasts for a hunter to encounter. While I am fairly certain I have never run across one, there is no way to be sure as Wendigo are well versed in psychic warfare. When they aren’t roaming the forests looking for fresh prey, they can disguise themselves in human form.

     James pulled off the highway and onto a street lined with identical houses. To differentiate themselves, the various owners had littered the outside with colored lights. Nick looked out the window and saw an inflatable Santa Claus rocking back and forth in the strong winds. “Why did it have to be the suburbs?”

     “Oh, shut up and enjoy it.” A wide grin was plastered across James’s face.

     Nick was distracted by his puzzlement. In their short time together, James had been nothing more than a dour, sarcastic ass. How was the kid not panicking about the creature or the radio? Nick shook his head and continued reading. What’s worse, Wendigos are so persuasive in their appearance that they can force false memories on their prey. Nick stopped as a few pieces clicked together. “Hey James, how did you say you know these people again?”

     He laughed. “They’re my family, Nick. Well, not blood-related, but they were around all the time when I was a kid. You know, the kind of people you call aunt and uncle even though they’re not?”

     Nick didn’t have the slightest idea what the hell James was talking about. Holiday cheer at the Ventner household was found at the bottom of a candy-cane-stuffed rum bottle. Between that and re-runs of the same fifteen movies on television, the holidays passed in a fuzzy blur. “But you’re not blood related? Interesting.” Nick turned back to the book.  

     “What are you reading about?”

     “Probably nothing, don’t worry about it.” The entry didn’t say anything about radio frequencies or messing with electronics, but Nick supposed with a psychic being, that wouldn’t be too far off the mark. “How much farther?”

     “Five minutes. Enjoy the view. Isn’t this nice?”

     “Sure, kid, this is nice.” The words tasted like vomit. Somehow, over the course of their drive, the holiday lights had grown more prevalent. Nick looked out the window at the glittering houses and felt an empty feeling. Something wasn’t right, he was pretty sure of it. A queasy feeling sloshed around in his lower stomach. All at once, he felt the contents of the flask he had drained. Maybe it’s just that, he reassured himself.

Second chapter will be uploaded soon! There will be a total of five chapters, all out before Christmas. If you like it, consider sharing the story around, I’ve recently deactivated Facebook, so word of mouth is all we’ve got!

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…