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…

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.

A History of the Mystery – The Jersey Devil

This ‘real’ video is legit some of the best evidence for the myth…

On this episode of the critically acclaimed (by about 5 people) episode of Cryptids Decrypted, Ashton Macaulay, Tyler Mitchell, and John Ceccareli break down the Jersey Devil Myth. Now, you might ask, what gives us the right to deface such a legend? Well, as it turns out, the qualifications for expertise are simply owning a microphone and basic Google-Fu!

Jokes aside, this is without a doubt the wildest myth we’ve covered so far and it’s a fun conversation. If you’re interested in hearing about army generals firing cannonballs at mysterious figures in the fog, or a beast just trying to hail a cab, this is the episode for you. As usual, it’s up on most streaming platforms like Spotify or Apple Podcasts. For more locations, check out our Anchor page below.

Star Wars – The Re-Review – Rogue One

We have ten weeks until Star Wars – Episode 9 – The Rise of Skywalker releases, and conveniently, there are ten films in the series that come before it (yes, I’m counting the spinoffs). To view Episode 9 with the proper perspective, and gain shameless views for my site, I’m going back to watch all ten movies and review them with fresh eyes. Now, before I get into the first movie, a couple of notes.

First off, I love Star Wars, always have, always will, but on this run through I’m going to be looking at them a bit more critically. So, know that while these reviews might harp on the films, they are still some of my favorites.

Second, my watching order. I’ve thought about this for a while and am going with a modified version of the Ernest Rister order. I may have lost some of you already but let me break it down with a picture to explain who the heck an Ernest Rister is and why I’m following him.

Now we have that out of the way, let’s talk about the first film.

Rogue One – The First Star Wars Story

From the moment the movie starts Rogue One tries to carve a unique space for itself in the Star Wars universe. There’s no opening crawl, and instead we’re thrust straight into the action, a first for the Star Wars series, and a good indicator that this sits outside the mainline films. Unfortunately, in an effort to set a new tone and quickly introduce us to all its characters, Rogue One’s first hour feels very disjointed in both tone and filming style. In the first thirty minutes we’re introduced to a myriad of new planets never seen on the screen, and each is barely given enough room to breathe before the film cuts somewhere else. This is understandable given the film’s already two-hour run time, but it can definitely be confusing, even for a fan of the series.

Putting aside the jumpy first half, Rogue One does introduce some memorable characters with the standouts in some of the more minor roles. Personally, K-2S0, yet another sassy robot, and the pair of Baze and Chirrut are some of the most interesting characters, despite not being the leads. K-2SO’s one-liners help break up the film’s darker tone with some comic relief, Chirrut gives us some insight into what happened with the Jedi temples after Order 66, and Baze carries a damned big gun. Saw, played by Forest Whitaker is another standout side character, but he’s given so little screen time, that its hard to really enjoy his performance.  

A blind jedi boi and a thick gunner make eyes at each other on the beach
Name a Star Wars couple you’d ship more, I’ll wait.

Getting to the leads, their characters aren’t bad either, but Cassian Andor, Rogue One’s captain, swaps between cold-blooded assassin and suddenly hopeful rebel at the drop of a hat. While I like the idea of showcasing a more problematic character in Star Wars rather than another cookie-cutter hero, Cassian wasn’t that. Instead, he came off like a half-baked Han Solo with more dramatic flare and it just didn’t work.

Jyn Erso on the other hand is a bit more interesting. Born the daughter of the Death Star’s architect, she’s got plenty of reasons to be confused by the way the factions of the world work, and her character works best when she’s all the powers at be. Unfortunately, the story of Rogue One ends up being pretty cut and dry, leaving a simple black and white position for her character to take. When it comes to siding with the plucky rebels, or The Empire, hell bent on destroying whole planets with their shiny new Death Star, there’s not much of a choice. There wasn’t anything the writers could have done to ameliorate this as the plot was set from the get-go, but it does shortchange an otherwise memorable character.

If only this line had been given a sarcastic delivery

There’s also a few returning characters that are a heavily mixed bag. Through the magic of ridiculously expensive CGI, a not-so-believable Grand Moff Tarkin returned, and to be honest, he felt unnecessary. The scenes with him were distracting just because of the uncanny nature of his animation and didn’t do much to further the plot. Vader on the other hand is a true badass, aside from possibly one of the worst lines in Star Wars history…

Darth vader has a terrible fucking one liner
Just… SO bad. Who thought this was a good line? Was Lucas involved?!

Yeah, oof, and this is in a series that had the lines “I hate sand” and “She died of a broken heart”. Even with those in mind, this is by far the worst line in the entire saga. On the bright side, the rest of his screen time is memorable and sets up his entrance in the next film beautifully. Come to think of it, that’s what Rogue One is best at overall: setting up A New Hope.

At its core, Rogue One is a film about filling one of the series’s biggest plot holes and making it seem like a stroke of narrative genius. As a quick refresher, and another spoiler, Episode 4 ends with the rebels blowing up the immaculately constructed Death Star by having a farmer shoot 2 torpedoes into an exposed vent on the station’s surface. This causes a chain reaction that blows the whole damned thing up. Originally, fans were left to believe this was a terrible design flaw on the Empire’s part, but Rogue One has a better answer: sabotage.

Rogue One’s narrative of an engineer at odds with the Empire’s goals of creating a planet-destroying weapon works, and creates a believable reason for the Death Star to be more vulnerable. It’s aspects like this, bridging the gap between movies where Rogue One really shines, and most of them happen in the film’s back half. The last forty-five minutes of Rogue One are arguably some of the best in the Star Wars franchise. The battle for Scariff is memorable, has a point, and unlike many of the other films, does a fantastic job of demonstrating the human cost of such an effort. It gives more weight to A New Hope and shows the audience exactly what the cost was to set up Luke’s miraculous trench run.

Overall, despite these misgivings, I still really enjoy watching Rogue One. It’s a fun film that gives us something different from the mainline saga. The battles are intense and easily some of the best in the series, most of the characters are memorable, and we are introduced to some cool new worlds, albeit briefly. The script’s tone and some of the more gratuitous fan service (looking at you CGI Tarkin) were definitely not necessary, but they don’t take the film down as a whole.

Final verdict: 3.5/10 – Absolutely worth watching if you’re a fan, and gives great context that somehow makes A New Hope even better.

Wrongful Possession

This is the short story based on September’s suggested prompt, which came in the form of a meme:

So anyways, here’s a story about a demon possessing the wrong person. Please like, subscribe, comment, or do something to let me know if you enjoyed reading it!

Wrongful Possession

Ken was taking a lonely walk through a particularly dreary cemetery on a Friday afternoon. His colleagues had left work early to prepare for a party that he hadn’t been invited to, and as a result, he was feeling more than a little lonely. For a while, he considered wandering the streets aimlessly, but the bustling crowds only made him feel more alone. At least at the cemetery he was technically surrounded by people, and he was quite sure none of them minded him being there.

     Unfortunately, or fortunately depending on how you look at it, Ken wasn’t the only animated life in the cemetery that afternoon. A large, stone church reached toward the heavens, peeking out from between mausoleums. It was an old, sad-looking building with a massive bell tower that hadn’t clanged since a pair of bad riots in the eighties nearly tore the structure down. Ashley was hiding on the top of that bell tower.

     Not to put too fine a point on it, Ashley was a demon recently escaped from Hell. Like most other freshly escaped demonic entities, she was on the hunt for an easy possession. While she would certainly be on Hell’s shit list for leaving in the first place, entering a mortal was one of the few loopholes that would keep her off their radar. It wasn’t an intentional blind spot per se, but Hell certainly wasn’t putting their best engineers on demon tracking.

     As she sat on top of the church, she counted the passing seconds, wondering how long she had before enforcement would arrive. She had no doubt that her name was already being broadcast to every demon hunter in the Midway area, it was just a matter of how busy they were. Either way, there wasn’t much time to find a host.

Originally, she had chosen the church out of hubris, hoping to prove her skills by possessing one of the clergy. After several failed attempts that had ended in painful repulsion by the holy-hot spray bottle that was blind faith, Ashley opted for a new approach. The church was filled with the pious, sure, but the cemetery would likely have mourners, and mourners were vulnerable to say the least. However, there was a problem with this plan. Apparently, no one liked to bury a loved one on a Friday afternoon.

Ashley was near giving up and turning herself in when she spied Ken shuffling through the gravestones. He was the bipedal equivalent of a seedy motel she didn’t want to stay in but was the last place with available rooms. Knowing time was short, she leapt off the tower with a practiced flourish and swan dived into Ken’s head. To her surprise, there was no resistance, and a mere second later she was at the wheel, so to speak.

     Ken, who didn’t notice most things, felt an odd sensation like all his skin was prickling at the same time. There was a brief feeling of vertigo, and his vision tunneled out, giving the impression that he was sitting far behind his own eyes. Cackling demonic laughter echoed off the now cavernous walls of his skull. He didn’t have much of an opinion about it and waited for the situation to sort itself out.

     Ashley attempted to adjust to her new skin but felt lances of pain and discomfort as she did so. She looked down at the body, ensuring she wasn’t poking out in any odd directions, but no, everything was normal. “Hell, what is that?” she said aloud, grasping at a dull, throbbing pain in her lower back.

     “Oh yeah, that tends to flare up when its raining. Doctors don’t really know what it is,” said Ken from the back of his brain.  

     There was an awkward pause. Ashley had never been confronted by a host before. “Silence fool, your body is mine!”

     Ken fluffed the folds of his brain like a pillow and leaned back in thought; He didn’t really much care for his body. “Yeah, alright then. Am I being possessed?” Religion was never something that had tickled Ken’s fancy, but he had seen The Exorcist a few times.

     “Am I being possessed?” mocked the demon in a singsong voice. “Agh!” she exclaimed, clapping a hand to the side of her head. A sharp pain shot across it like a lightning bolt. “What the fuck was that?”

     Ken hadn’t felt a thing. “Probably a cluster headache,” he admitted. “The doctors say there’s not much to be done about them. Told me to reduce stress, but I tried to tell them I don’t have much stre—”

     “Are you not at all concerned about your current predicament?” Ashley had one hand to her back, and the other on her temple. The pain in her head was easing, but there was a lingering sensation reminding her that it might come back.

     Ken thought about the question. Being possessed wasn’t exactly ideal, but then again, what had been recently? “It’s nice to have someone to talk to,” he admitted.

     Ashley let out a low growl. “Nothing about possession is supposed to be nice.” She suddenly felt a wave of sadness wash over her. All her years trying to find a way out of Hell, only to be wasted on this useless flesh bag. Tears sprang to her eyes unbidden. I might be the most useless demon in the world.

     Ashley’s thoughts echoed through Ken’s head and he couldn’t help but chuckle.

     “What’s so funny?!” Ashley snapped.

     “Well, see, that’s the depression talking. It’s funny to see it from the outside for once.”

     He’s laughing at you because you’re a pathetic excuse for a demonic entity. He’d be more frightened of a newborn than you.

     “I’m really not saying that.” Ken stifled another laugh. For the first time in years, he wasn’t the victim of his own consciousness, and it felt great. A weight had been lifted from him the second the demon stepped in.

     “What have you done to my mind, mortal?!”

     “Well, it’s not what I’ve done, is it?”

Ashley tried to growl at him, but it came out as a whimper.

“Ease up a bit.” Ken had never been so care-free. “Like I said, that’s just depression. Apparently, it’s attached to my brain, which you currently inhabit.”

     “Fuck this!” screamed Ashley.

     “You could try exercising; the doctors say that might help! Or maybe pick up a new hobby.” Ken couldn’t help it, he burst out laughing. All the idiotic solutions people had proposed came rushing back to him. He would have felt bad, but she was a demon after all, right?

     A horrible, crushing weight constricted on Ashley’s new chest and she sat down, propping her back up against a tombstone. Tears were running down her cheeks in wide rivers. “I’m from Hell, but damn. Do you ever get used to this?” she asked, feeling a rare moment of vulnerability.

     “Ehhhh,” ken hesitated. “Not really, no, but sometimes it’s less horrible than others.”

     Ashley thought about it. She had been in the mortal’s body for under a minute and had never felt worse. “Screw it.” She coiled her ethereal legs and sprang out, landing back in her demon form on the cemetery path.

     Ken was thrown violently back into his body, nearly keeling over from the impact. Standing before him was a horrible winged creature with jet black eyes and horns to match. She turned towards him and opened her mouth, revealing hundreds of pointed, white teeth. “Well, doesn’t that feel better?” She stretched muscled limbs and they cracked horribly, echoing off the graves. “I’m going to do you a kindness, mortal.” She crouched, ready to pounce and widened her mouth.

     “Sorry miss,” came a voice from the side, “but I don’t believe you have a license to be on this plane.” The deafening roar of a shotgun blast cut through the quiet cemetery.

     Ken watched as the demon was shredded by a hundred pellets that burned anything they touched. Black gook sprayed him, leaving a clear impression of his silhouette on the gravestone behind him. He looked to his left and saw a man dressed in all black cleaning a triple-barrel shotgun.

     “Sorry about that.” The man tipped his black hat politely. “Good job getting her out though. Father,” he motioned to another man who was cowering behind a mausoleum a few hundred feet away. “Good news, no exorcisms needed today.”

     A shaking man in priest’s robes stepped out crossing himself.

     The other man put his shotgun in a leather holster and brushed what was left of Ashley off his coat. “This one could probably use tending to though.” He tipped his head toward Ken.

     The priest nodded and bustled over. “Why don’t we get you cleaned up, my boy? Come inside.”

     “T-thanks,” Ken managed, still in shock.

     The priest wrapped an arm around his shoulder and together they walked toward the church. Despite it all, Ken had one thought: I miss her already.