Review in Brief – Thrawn: Treason (Book 3)

Thrawn: Treason by Timothy Zahn

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

The Thrawn series might have stumbled with its second book, but #3 fixes most of those mistakes and makes for an exciting entry. Eli Vanto is back and Anakin/Vader is relegated to mere mentions, which is a blessing, because I’m not sure I could read more of that storyline. While direct interaction between Vanto and Thrawn is minimal, it’s great to see the team back together again. The interactions between characters feel believable and enjoyable, driving what might have otherwise been a dull story.

Much like the prequel films, Thrawn 3 revolves around politics, but unlike the former, it’s actually interesting. Examining The Empire from the perspective of those that are not necessarily faithful to The Emperor’s zealous vision for the galaxy is refreshing. It creates a wide diversity among the characters and makes each chapter exciting, even when much of the conflict is simply political machinations.

I’ll be honest, these books are not literary masterpieces, but they are fun and provide some interesting new Star Wars stories that make me want to keep reading. If you’re a Star Wars fan and/or love the Heir to the Empire trilogy, this one is worth a read. I also highly recommend the audiobook which has excellent voice acting, SFX and soundtrack.

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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…

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.