BlacKkKlansman (2018) – Movie Review

Our world is in desperate need of change. If you are like me, you may feel as though you do not know how you can do your part to help mend wounds of society that are still open and bleeding after hundreds of years. Political activism is a necessity but it is a slow and resistant mechanism to change, or else things would already be fixed. While our governing bodies begrudgingly crawl at a dangerously slow pace to reflect the values they so proudly claim to champion, we must realize that is but one element of our problem. For us, as the self-proclaimed “greatest country in the world” to live up to that moniker, we need to also put in the work to better ourselves at the individual level.

I have no local protests that I can join and I am desperately searching for some outlet that I can contribute even the slightest to the dialogue that needs to be had. Whether it be by coincidence or a pseudo-premonition, I had just shown my parents the film “BlacKkKlansman” a week ago, just a few days before George Floyd’s murder at the hands of the Minneapolis Police was caught on film and exposed for the world to see. I had already seen it twice when it was making its theatrical run in 2018 and I had recalled the visceral reaction I had when leaving the theater both times. It is a film with a painfully clear message that has criminally never been addressed in the myriad of generations that preceded both the story and the film, and have only been exacerbated in the time since. I do not know what else to do right now, but I will use this opportunity to talk about a tremendous work of cinema, to the best of my abilities, and hopefully be able to contribute in someway to the goals that director Spike Lee would have hoped would come from his work.

The film follows Ron Stallworth (John David Washington), who becomes the first black officer in the Colorado Springs Police Department in the early 1970s and begins an investigation into the Ku Klux Klan with the help of a white officer, Flip (Adam Driver). Together, they infiltrate a local chapter of the white supremacist organization in order to stop the presumptive assassination of the leader of the Black Student Union, Patrice Dumas (Laura Harrier) after she hosted national civil rights leader Brother Kwame Ture to speak at an event. Ron meets and befriends Patrice while undercover at the speech, but they quickly discover that they follow two different paths to achieve a common goal. Patrice and Brother Kwame, who are advocates for a coming “Black Revolution”, are unlawfully arrested, harassed, and sexually harassed by a member of the Colorado Springs Police. Meanwhile, Ron is an undercover cop trying to use the system that has treated black people like animals against the Klan to protect her.

The characters also serve as microcosms of the differing ideologies about racism and police. Beginning with Ron and Patrice, we see how the black public has lost faith in law enforcement to protect them and views them as the oppressor. Patrice is correct in her evaluation and the film does not hide the fact that many officers, both local and federal, actively pursue racially charged actions and hide under the cover of their badge. Ron represents the idea that not all cops are bad and some have moral goals for pursuing law enforcement. Flip shows that not all white cops are racist, but before he met Ron, he was passively going along with it because it was not any of his business. And Fredrick Weller’s Master Patrolman Andy Landers is the cop that fully and intentionally abuses his authority to criminalize being black in his community. And while the overlying issue of “Everyone versus Racism” is a clear moral dichotomy, Spike Lee shows that multiple conflicting truths about racism and law enforcement can all exist simultaneously underneath the surface.

Undoubtedly, the most powerful trait of this film is its ability to expressly paint parallels to our modern world, and thus make the viewer really ponder their own place in the system. It is one thing to recount the events of the past and think “Oh, that is horrible! How could that ever happen?”, and it is entirely another when that very same film forces you to face the fact that the problem is alive and well almost 50 years later. I believe it to be the true genius of Spike Lee that he removes all notion of ambiguity, bombards you with a clear message, but the mediums he utilizes never feel contrived. Imagine a viewer who does not want to hear this message for whatever their stated reasons are, whether they feel it is anti-Trump or a direct lecture on their own character. Instinctively, they would likely put up their own walls and refuse to listen, which is human nature. But “BlacKkKlansman” powers through this reflex. There is no way to deflect this message because it utilizes real, current parallels. It is right to the point and it hits hard.

Because of the brutality and truthfulness of the subject-matter, Lee infuses a seamless blend of dark comedy and melancholy to make this tough pill easier to swallow. Afterall, the goal is for you to absorb the message, not drown in it. Washington and Driver display amazing chemistry, wit, and heart in their portrayals, and Topher Grace makes a surprisingly bombastic performance as real life former Grand Wizard David Duke both alluring and infuriating. It cannot be understated just how important the acting is to making this movie the force that it is. This message is not a new one. The black community has been pleading with the rest of society for centuries with this message, and artists have and continue to find new ways to express this. It is the persistence and creativity of the artist that propels each iteration of this message to provide a unique and differently powerful punch that it does.

There is no way around the fact that “BlacKkKlansman” will make you feel. It is up to you to determine if those feelings are that of shame, anger, hope, heartbreak, or inspiration. The closing minutes of this film are a montage of real-life footage taken during the Charlottesville “Unite the Right Rally” of 2017, in which hoards of tiki-torch wielding white people chanted the Nazi slogan “Blood and Soil”, as well as “Jews will not replace us” throughout the city as they protested the removal of a Confederate Monument from a public park, and in turn were met with protests that sparked an explosion of civil rights rallies across the country in response. What you are shown is real and it is happening now. The idea that this is an issue of the past is a myth. Racism still exists. It is strong. It is openly supported by leaders of the United States. It is still violent. It is still perpetrated by our criminal justice system. And “BlacKkKlansman” forces us to confront that reality.

To many, none of this is news. To members of the black community, this is a daily reality and nothing more than an artistic representation of normal life. Many white people, such as myself, cannot understand that reality on our own. We have never lived in a system that oppresses us and actively treats us with malicious intent. It is imperative for us to listen, now more than ever. Seek to understand and help. Be an ally. This should not be and is not a “Black versus White” issue. This is “Everyone versus Racism”. Do not be defensive because we are not the victims. Apathy and indifference are not an option and silence is deafening. Change is long overdue.

In an ideal world, a film like “BlacKkKlansman” would be a once in a generation masterpiece. It is a production that will undoubtedly stand the test of time, but based on our track record, racial injustice will continue to survive, even if it just changes its appearance. I recall my father showing me the film “Mississippi Burning” both as a child and an adult and thinking that we should have moved past living in a society that would still so openly protect racism long ago. The ideas seemed so clear and obvious and the message seemingly has been penetrating through to white audiences for at least a generation now, so I couldn’t comprehend the disconnect between understanding and lack of change. In between these two films, there is a rich bounty of stories on the subject that do not get the audience a film like this does, just as there are likely thousands of instances of racist brutality that is not captured on video for the world to see. The message of this film is not simply that racism is bad, it is that racism is brutal, alive, fortified, omnipresent and it is our responsibility to not repeat the failures of the past because we ARE failing.

“BlacKkKlansman” earns a 9.5 out of 10

Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Laura Harrier, Topher Grace, Fredrick Weller, Jasper Pääkkönen, Paul Walter Hauser, Ashlie Atkinson
Directed by: Spike Lee
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

If you feel inspired to help make a difference and do not know how to put that to practice, you can start with simply having an open dialogue. After, I recommend visiting , and for ideas on how to take action in your community. Please, everyone stay safe out there. Do not forget that we are still under a pandemic and that you should social distance where possible and where a mask and gloves when out in public. Don’t let one tragedy hide under the shadow of another.

The New World (2005) – Movie Review

I have this friend (I know that is a shocking development for you) and for the sake of privacy, we can call them “Guy”. Guy insists on recommending films for me to review as if I needed the guidance of lesser beings to instruct my cinematic viewing schedule. But Guy is persistent and eventually crawls his way under my skin and I am forced to use the twin guns of tact and finesse to destroy my worthless adversary with a fair compromise: if he follows my “Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode Guide”, I will allow him to choose one film for me to review. Naturally, he fell for my clever ruse and submitted to my terms and conditions, and after he completed The Clone Wars, all that was left was for him to choose his one film.

Guy had long been ranting about how the extended cut of “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” was vastly superior to the fecal extract we were given in the theatrical release, and I was thoroughly convinced that he would assign me the task of watching the 4 and a half hour nightmare, so much so that I had already put in an order to Walmart for a pack of 5-Hour Energy Extra Strength shots. And yet, the world continues to make fools of us all, for even though Vegas had “BVS” as the clear frontrunner, Guy defied logical convention and submitted “The New World”, a 2005 historical romantic drama from director Terrence Malick, as his choice. According to Guy, “The New World” was such a surreal cinematic experience and he was so curious how I would interpret the film that he was willing to forfeit his only chance to force me to watch the extended cut of “BVS” to do so. It is such a bold gesture on Guy’s end that earned my respect.

And just as quickly as Guy had earned my respect is equally as quickly as he lost it. “The New World” was not the experience I was promised. For reference, I watched the entirety of the film with both of my parents, and immediately after the credits rolled, they both declared in unison that “Guy is no longer allowed to suggest films in this house ever again”. Now, I will be clear, my parents are not always the keenest viewers of cinema and their opinions aren’t gospel, but I thought that was a funny true story to include here.

“The New World” is the story of early British settlers at Jamestown Virginia, specifically Captain John Smith (Collin Farrell) and his capture by the natives and his subsequent love story with the chief’s daughter, Pocahontas (Q’orianka Kilcher). There are supporting roles played by Christopher Plummer and Christian Bale as well, but the main storyline is simply about Smith and Pocahontas. This story has been made most famous by Disney as one of their notoriously culturally insensitive animated portrayals, and in that comparative sense, “The New World” is tremendously more loyal to factually-based storytelling than its cartoon counterpart. Malick’s main goal with his film is clearly to express the unfiltered wonder of exploring a new world and culture, and in a way, he does succeed.

To be fair to Guy, his opinions are not completely unfounded in some sort of reality. I will give him his due and admit that I understand where he was coming from. The first act of the film, which is undoubtedly the strongest, does exude many qualities akin to the surreal, dream-like description he promised me. Cinematographer Emmanuel “Chivo” Lubezki is inarguably one of the most talented people to ever pick up a camera and he proves just how influential the right photographic techniques can be in the storytelling process. When Smith is with the tribe of natives, dubbed “the naturals”, the film is at its most captivating mainly due to the beauty of how it was filmed. Smith himself wonders if his experiences were a dream because they contrast so heavily with the life he knew at Jamestown with his fellow settlers. Without Chivo’s cinematography, as well as James Horner’s understated musical score, I doubt the feelings would have effectively been consigned.

But it is after Smith returns to Jamestown that the film falters as without the technical aspects creating an extrasensory experience, the flaws of the film become extremely apparent. As the visual and audio aspects begin to take a backseat to the characters, you begin to see just how extremely minimalist the script is and just how much it relies on its technical achievements to tell its story. The plot begins to drag shortly after a quick violent scrimmage the follows Smith’s return, so much so that the film requires unnecessary amounts of effort to follow the motivations and what little subsequent actions that follow are.

Perhaps the most disappointing aspect of the film is that despite its very talented cast, no one delivers a noteworthy performance. Christopher Plummer is the only actor in the entirety of the film that does not whisper every one of their lines. The minimal audible volume of all the characters is a severe problem of the film. Not only does no one emote even in the slightest, but it is a physical struggle to hear what little dialogue there is. Subtitles are absolutely required or much of the film becomes incomprehensible. This is not even a matter of turning up the volume on your television as much as the fact that the characters mumble all of their lines under their breaths with the most stoic expressions on their faces. Again, without the technical achievements, I believe the story would be impossible to follow.

I feel like I should reiterate the fact that I believe I understand the goals of Malick when he made this film. He created a piece of cinema that is very beautiful to look at. I believe he wished to simply document the story, which ultimately results in a neutral tone. I cannot help but feel that the film doesn’t have anything to say about any of the content it is showing other than the beauty and stark comparisons of culture. After the film concludes, the only lingering questions I found myself having been just those that wondered if there was a message at all.

The fascinating aspects of this story are not given enough attention to truly be thought-provoking. Was Smith a traitor to his people? Is it appropriate to fall in love with a 14-year-old girl in any time period? Was Pocahontas kidnapped and forced to conform to Christianity or did she simply seek refuge at Jamestown? Were the settlers truly hostile or were the naturals justified in the defense of their land? Was Pocahontas justified to re-marry John Rolfe (Christian Bale) after she believes Smith died even though she did not love him? Was Smith selfish for leaving Pocahontas to pursue his career? Why are any of these characters worth following? Unfortunately, none of these questions are adequately explored. The minimalist approach is tremendous for exploring the beauty of the settings but there is not enough substance in this film.

It is not fair to say that this film is a failure. I highly doubt most filmmakers could craft such a beautiful film with a cast like this one. Malick was very respectful to Native American cultures, and to the best of my knowledge, I believe he did a tremendous job with his research to create a genuine retelling of the story. There are plenty of challenges that he did rise to meet and that should be applauded. I just can not bring myself to truly recommend this film to most people because it is not a very easy film to watch. It is a long, slow journey that does not deliver a satisfying enough conclusion to justify the path it has taken. Some aspects undoubtedly can be appreciated about it but if you are hoping to see a film that is entertaining or thought-provoking, this is not that film.

And so, Guy’s only recommendation did not live up to the expectations that he had set for it. Is this an indictment on Guy as a person? Probably. If we are being honest, Guy has a lot about his own life to reconsider. One could suggest that he cowardly shrunk at the opportunity to recommend the real movie he wanted me to see. Others could just say Guy is just a simpleton. All of those opinions have their merits, but I think we should go easy on Guy. He usually agrees with me on most topics and no one is perfect, so he was bound to have at least one public wrong answer. No need to hate him because I know he is a good guy (Heh. I am proud of that one).

I give “The New World” a 6.5 out of 10

Starring: Collin Farrell, Q’orianka Kilcher, Christopher Plummer, Christian Bale, August Schellenberg
Directed by: Terrence Malick
Rated: PG-13
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

Before Sunrise (1995) – Movie Review

In quarantine, it is important to try new things and avoid stagnation. We now live in a world where time is nothing more than a human construct as we float in an endless void. I have been struggling, as I am sure are many others, adjusting to and finding motivation in our new normal, and so, on the basis of a trusted recommendation, I watched the film “Before Sunrise” to see if it could spark something in me. Director Richard Linklater has a well-earned reputation for constructing thoughtful character studies and coming-of-age tales, and his “Before” Trilogy has garnered significant praise from audiences for decades. If anything, I knew this film would give me a lot to think about.

On the surface, is not the type of movie I expected to connect with. Typically, I gravitate towards films that prioritize structure and favor plot over characters. That is not to say I ignore character development, but usually the most important element of a film, in my eyes, is having a competent story. However, the vision of this film is unobstructed by what you think you want and proudly walks against convention. Perhaps the greatest compliment I can give this film is that Linklater makes zero attempts to appeal to my preferences and it still manages to forge an unexpectedly emotional connection to me as a viewer.

Moving past my offerings of vague praise, the film itself is simply about two people, Céline (Julie Delpy) and Jesse (Ethan Hawke), who meet on a train from Budapest to Vienna and spend one evening getting to know each other. The two are young strangers who take a chance on enjoying the company of someone they likely will never see again after the following morning. While the premise does not seem like a likely situation that I, as an antisocial quasi-human, would ever do, the film sets up their interactions as the believable actions of naïve optimists with nothing to lose from trying.

The product of this could be described best as a moment of life that is so meaningful that one should hope for in their own lives. The film is essentially one deep, elongated conversation between two individuals as they travel about Vienna and discuss their lives, beliefs, past, and hopes for the future. I can understand if it sounds pretentious but it is executed in an unbelievably realistic manner. They even acknowledge the awkwardness that arises from this situation and they embrace it. They are as brave as you wish you were. Perhaps my most fatal flaw as a failed human is that I am notoriously deaf to romantic queues in film, likely because I don’t perceive romance the same way Hollywood portrays it typically. However, the connection between Céline and Jesse feels so tangible and real that even someone as out-of-touch with love as myself could not only pick up on the budding love but also found myself invested in their feelings.

The idea of falling in love with a stranger in a foreign country by spending only one evening with them seems unrealistic, but credit to the writing, nothing feels forced or cheesy. Every interaction they share and topic they discuss prove the visceral qualities of these characters who are portrayed as some of the most realistic individuals I have ever witnessed in film. It is the imperfections that they truly find most attractive in each other, which is a concept stories like to claim they tout without ever fully understanding the message they are preaching. My personal favorite scene is when they go to a dive bar and begin to reveal their recent romantic pasts while playing pinball. They unveil a healthy dose of cynicism that previously might have gone undetected and grounds their relationship from seeming too-good-to-be-true. It shows that life is very much about trial and error, that they take responsibility for their past though it may not be perfect, and that even from the negative experiences of the past, we can grow for the future.

This film could have easily fallen into the traps of being a cliché or cheesy romantic comedy, and while there are moments of lighthearted humor, it would be disingenuous to classify this film as a romantic comedy. Like Jesse suggests in one of his passing train thoughts, this is the art of people living life. In lesser hands, I have my doubts that this film could work, but this cast and crew deliver an exceptional product that I was able to connect with on a deeply emotional level. I eagerly anticipate watching the two sequels, both of which were nominated for Academy Awards for writing, and completing this trilogy of films.

I give “Before Sunrise” a 9.3 out of 10

Starring: Julie Delpy, Ethan Hawke
Directed by: Richard Linklater
Rated: R
Runtime: 1 Hour and 41 Minutes

Uncut Gems (2019) – Movie Review

I had initially viewed “Uncut Gems” in theaters in the first week of January of 2020 and had chosen to forgo writing a review. I had just returned from a 10-day road trip and was responsible for seeing “1917”, “Richard Jewell”, “Little Women”, and “Bombshell” in the same week to catch up on what I had missed during my hiatus and to save time, most of my opinions about those films were condensed to small nuggets in the margins of other posts. However, the world being on lockdown has provided me with a second opportunity to give this film the attention that it deserves.

I recollect that this film quickly elevated itself into the cultural conversation as a “comeback” vehicle for Adam Sandler. Sandler has a large and very loyal fanbase due to his successful run on “Saturday Night Live” and his dominant run of 90s comedies, but has recently found himself on the butt-end of cinema with duds like “Jack and Jill”, “Blended”, “That’s My Boy”, and “Pixels” among others. Though he never lost the love of his fans, critics rightfully put his career in the ground over the past 2 decades, but when the first footage of the film was released, the entire world seemingly was rooting for its success.

The selling point of the film was always Sandler, and I recall praising it after my first viewing, but I was curious if that recognition was truly warranted or the product of misplaced wishful-thinking. As it turns out, I found his performance even more tactful upon my subsequent viewing. Interesting vocal tendencies that I might have overlooked originally became more apparent, also suggesting a fair amount of preparation went into developing the character of Howard by Sandler. This is not an example of Adam Sandler being himself in a more sophisticated film, rather a genuine example of an actor creating a character and putting in the effort to effectively make the role unique. Through his filmography, Sandler has proven to be capable with the right motivation and right material, to deliver quality performances, but he takes it to a new level here.

Howard Ratner is not the same lovable idiot role Sandler has made a career off of. He is a man of sleaze. From the way he rips off people at his jewelry shop, to the way he is hiding his separation from his wife and an affair with his employee from his children to the total irreverence he treats the prospect of consequences with, Howard is a legitimate scumbag. And yet, you are always rooting for him, even when he continuously puts every relationship, both personal and professional, in immediate jeopardy because of his debilitating gambling addiction. The best way I can describe it is that Sandler shows just enough for you to sympathize with him, even if you cannot empathize with his decision-making. You find yourself yelling at the screen, pleading with the man to just stop, cut his losses, and go back to his family, and even when he ignores your cries, you are still hopeful he will learn his lesson before the next incident.

“Uncut Gems” is a rush of adrenaline that will elevate your heart-rate without giving you much of a chance to catch your breath. Characters frequently yell over each other’s dialogue. Lighting is harshly juxtaposed against brightly colored sets and costume designs. The settings and characters are saturated with material extravagance and hedonistic behaviors. The only honest description is that the film is stressful which might not be easy to digest for everyone.

Those who favor the tone have suggested it was among the best films of 2019. With careful consideration, I would put it right on the fringe of a top-10 film but I cannot elevate it into that category. It is very good and perhaps in a year of more standard-level competition it would easily fit in the top-10, but something is lacking. While it is exceptional at being itself, it lacks any catharsis. There is not as much substance to chew over post-viewing and my biggest criticism is that it lacks layers that most of the other films have. If you cannot relate to the story of addiction or cannot see yourself in Howard’s family or lifestyle, it is not much more than quality acting and an exciting tone.

A retrospective examination of “Uncut Gems”, just a few months after its theatrical run, provides a unique perspective of the concluding year of the 2010s in cinema. Objectively speaking, 2019 was one of the strongest years of cinema of my lifetime, and when everyone is overachieving, it is even more difficult to stand out. I personally believe that Sandler deserved to be nominated for his performance here and I would put it up against almost every leading performance by an actor that got more love. In a more standard year, “Uncut Gems” could have potentially been an Academy Award Cinderella story thanks to its unmatched tone, challenging dialogue and “controversial” subject matter, but alas, it was not to be. Unable to breakthrough, “Uncut Gems” somehow failed to garner a single nomination from the Academy and thusly lost out on gaining a legacy that many had hoped for it. But even without earning prestige, “Uncut Gems” serves as a shining beacon to remind us all what can be created when films are driven by passion and genuine care for the material.

I give “Uncut Gems” an 8.7 out of 10

Starring: Adam Sandler, Julia Fox, LaKeith Stanfield, Idina Menzel, Eric Bogosian, Kevin Garnett, Mike Francsesa, Judd Hirsch
Directed by: Josh Safdie and Benny Safdie (as the Safdie Brothers)
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 15 Minutes

Star Wars: The Clone Wars Episode Guide

“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is an animated Star Wars television series that originally aired on Cartoon Network in October of 2008 and is perhaps the most expansive and diverse source of Star Wars content out there. There is an unfortunate perception out there that animated media is simply for children and that misrepresentation grossly diminishes the sophisticated storytelling the series has to offer. “The Clone Wars” never cowers away from mature themes like death, torture, and slavery, as well as philosophical elements associated with identity, morality, and finding one’s place in a galaxy at war.

The Final Season of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” is now streaming on Disney+. This series is one of my favorite animated television series and does a fantastic job at expanding on the lure and stories of the prequel films in the Star Wars Saga. Unfortunately, the series did not exactly begin with the most clear of direction, as the feature length film was actually just 4 mediocre planned episodes sewn hastily together. If you are interested in binge-watching the show during quarantine, some guidance might be needed to traverse the filler episodes.

I have constructed a list of all of the essential episodes of the series and in the proper order in which to watch them. Not every episode that I omitted from the list is bad, just not as important to the show’s themes and overarching story as the ones that did make the list. But if you are interested in absorbing the series in its entirety, by all means watch them all! Just know that there will be some Jar Jar-heavy episodes, heavy politics episodes, and droid-centered episodes. Each have something to offer, but might not appeal to everyone.

Season 3 Episode 1 – “Clone Cadets”

Season 1 Episode 5 – “Rookies”

Season 1 Episodes 19-21 – “Storm Over Ryloth” ; “Innocents of Ryloth” ; “Liberty on Ryloth”

Season 2 Episodes 5-8 – “Landing at Point Rain” ; “Weapons Factory” ; “Legacy of Terror” ; “Brain Invaders”

Season 2 Episodes 12-14 – “The Mandalore Plot” ; “Voyage of Temptation” ; “Duchess of Mandalore”

Season 3 Episode 2 – “ARC Troopers”

Season 3 Episode 10 – “Heroes on Both Sides”

Season 3 Episodes 12-14 – “Nightsisters” ; “Monster” ; “Witches of the Mist”

Season 3 Episodes 15-17 – “Overlords” ; “Altar of Mortis” ; “Ghosts of Mortis”

Season 3 Episodes 18-20 – “The Citadel” ; “Counter Attack” ; “Citadel Rescue”

Season 4 Episodes 7-10 – “Darkness on Umbara” ; “The General” ; “Plan of Dissent” ; “Carnage of Krell”

Season 4 Episodes 19-22 – “Massacre” ; “Bounty” ; “Brothers” ; “Revenge”

Season 5 Episodes 2-5 – “A War on Two Fronts” ; “Front Runners” ; “The Soft War” ; “Tipping Points”

Season 5 Episodes 1, 14-16 – “Revival” ; “Eminence” ; “Shades of Reason” ; “The Lawless”

Season 5 Episodes 17-20 – “Sabotage” ; “The Jedi Who Knew Too Much” ; “To Catch a Jedi” ; “The Wrong Jedi”

Season 6 Episodes 1-4 – “The Unknown” ; “Conspiracy” ; “Fugitive” ; “Orders”

Season 6 Episodes 10-13 – “The Lost One” ; “Voices” ; “Destiny” ; “Sacrifice”

The show gives a spotlight to many phenomenal characters that the films do not, such as Asajj Ventress, Ahsoka Tano, Captain Rex and all of the Clones. Don’t worry though, Anakin and Obi-Wan are right there the whole time and even Count Dooku becomes mildly important! The final season is currently streaming on Disney+, however episodes are still being released on a weekly basis every Friday. I hope you enjoy the show as much as I do!

Snowpiercer (2013) – Movie Review

As the world is coming to an unceremonious, yet merciful end, we can once again turn to the prophetic edicts of cinema to enlighten us as to our uncertain future. What was once a simple exercise in imaginative speculation now is a useful precaution to help tune our expectations. The film “Snowpiercer” offers many insights as to the destination of our rapidly decaying socio-economic structure, as well as a reminder of the less tangible aspects of human resolve. When the film released in 2013, it may have gone unnoticed in the eyes of western audiences. Convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein, who headed the production of this film, often clashed with director Bong Joon Ho and tried to bury the release of his own film simply to spite a man who he didn’t like. 7 years later, Bong Joon Ho wins 4 Oscars in one night and “Snowpiercer” is getting a television series adaptation on TNT, all while Harvey is sentenced to 23 years in prison and has been diagnosed with COVID-19. Perfectly balanced, as all things should be.

In the world of “Snowpiercer”, Earth has frozen over after a failed climate experiment sends the planet into a new ice age. All life on the planet is killed off except the lucky few survivors who boarded the train Snowpiercer, a reimagining of Noah’s arc that is powered by a perpetual-motion engine that will never stop. Aboard the train, a strict class system emerges, where the wealthy passengers live hedonistic lives of excess and comfort up in the front sections of the train, and the passengers at the tail-end live and are treated like a pestilence. Among the passengers in the tail is a bearded Chris Evans character named Curtis, who leads the passengers of the tail on a systematic revolt of the hierarchy, moving from one incredibly imaginative train car set piece to the next.

Bong has quickly ascended to the position of luminary guide for the cinematic discussions of class in the modern world. His 2019 Oscar-winning international phenomenon “Parasite” dove deep into the psychological disconnect of the wealthiest class’s perceptions of the struggles of the working class, and many of those themes and ideas were explored first, albeit through a different lens, in “Snowpiercer”. Aside from those selected to govern and police the train, a majority of the upper class are blissfully unaware of the struggles of those living in the tail. They never interact with them, and for the most part, just go about their lives without even a consideration of their existence. Their actions are not evil merely complacent and irreverent, but the consequences are equally as significant as if they were actively oppressing them by their own intent.

The exceptions to the aforementioned callowness are the few times when rebellions are organized and systematically foiled. Curtis’s revolution is intended on being an overthrowing of the establishment that has oppressed the passengers in the tail but is weaponized by the head to continue their oppression of the tail. What is the greatest weapon for enforcing the status quo? Fear. What is the greatest catalyst for exploiting fear? Ignorance. The wealthy class is taught to fear the tail because revolutions are shown to them as violent and foolish, and their oppression is justified for without it, the train, and subsequently, their safety will fall into chaos.

Perhaps my favorite aspect of the head of the train is the submission to zealotry that is uniformly adopted by its passengers. There are very few concepts in sociology that fascinate me more than a shepherd leading a herd. It is arguably the most enduring social construct outside of the family that humans have ever abided by, and quite possibly the strongest influence on the average person’s life after said family. What is most remarkable about it is the voluntary nature of this submission which is an indication that the masses are willingly surrendering their agency to a higher power. These people bow before Wilford (Ed Harris) and the eternal engine he created, the results of which are the manipulation of the passengers’ cognitive and moral processes. He is their deity and his engine is his son that has guided them to salvation. This sort of cultism can be considered a natural evolution of our religious bodies and political institutions and is seen to only be empowered further under cataclysmic circumstances.

On the other side of the revolution is a testament to the human spirit. Curtis, as you will come to find, has committed truly horrible acts in the name of self-preservation and desperation. He is our hero, not because of his altruism, but his resolve. His past does not prevent him from looking to better himself or his surroundings in the future. He adopts the role of a leader to guide them from the ashes of what they once were to a hopeful future. It is under this guise that he represents what we as humanity can become if we are willing to change our ways and learn from the past.

While our real-life apocalypse may not be led by people as beautiful or talented as the one presented in “Snowpiercer”, we can look to it, not as a cheat sheet, but as a guide. The logistical differences between our world and the film’s world are noticeable, but the depictions of humanity have tangible similarities to reality. Works of fiction, especially science fiction, seek to extrapolate our tendencies to a logical conclusion and thus make us wary of pitfalls. For even if the world is not doomed to end in the coming weeks, we should still reject apathy towards growing disarray in our socio-economic landscape and learn how to change before it is too late.

As a work of cinema and Bong Joon Ho’s rightful introduction to Western audiences that was stolen from him, “Snowpiercer” is tremendous. It is a thought-provoking exercise into humanity’s future as well as an entertaining and well-acted action film. The term “better late than never” may have been conceived just to adequately describe how we have come to treat this film.

I give “Snowpiercer” a 9.0 out of 10

Starring: Chris Evans, Song Kang Ho, Tilda Swinton, John Hurt, Octavia Spencer, Ed Harris, Ko Asung, Jamie Bell
Directed by: Bong Joon Ho
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 6 Minutes

12 Monkeys (1995) – Movie Review

Humanity’s nature is very perplexing. If you were to be approached by a stranger on any given day prophesizing an impending plague, most likely you would dismiss that stranger as hysterical. And yet, our existence is due in no small part to our wily ability to survive and our primal instincts that demand self-preservation among all else. Cataclysms have happened before but we carry on as if we are sure they could never happen again. Perhaps we would not be where we are without our much-justified sense of skepticism as well, but those two instincts can be at odds with each other. On December 30, 2019, Dr. Li Wenliang offered us a warning of the discovery of a new strand of the Coronavirus. He was dismissed and silenced, and not even 3 months later, he is dead at the hands of the very virus he attempted to warn us about while global society is coming to a screeching halt at the mercy of Dr. Wenliang’s foretold pandemic.

“12 Monkeys” is a film that thrusts you into Dr. Wenliang’s position. James Cole (Bruce Willis) is a survivor of pandemic sent back in time from the year 2035 to recover information on how the disease spread so the remaining humans can construct a cure in their present time. Upon arriving in 1990, Cole is presumed to be a paranoid schizophrenic and detained in a psychiatric ward. Dr. Kathryn Railly (Madeleine Stowe) is his psychiatrist that believes Cole is suffering from a condition of mental divergence, where his psyche constructed the idea of the upcoming plague and him being from the future as a way of escaping his current reality. Cole, however, is insistent that his mission is true and the death of 5 billion people is a mere 6 years away from the current moment. Unfortunately, his detainment means he cannot proceed to gather information and he ends up befriending Jeffery Goins (Brad Pitt), another patient at the institution who suffers from paranoia before he is brought back to 2035 to get another crack at his mission.

The film proceeds to see Cole travel through time, instantaneously on multiple occasions, which eventually strains his understanding of reality. He steadily believes he is mentally ill, as Dr. Railly diagnosed him and comes to question if he was ever from the future at all. We as the viewer begin to view Cole as an unreliable narrator of events and start to question if the cartoonish hellhole of the future could be real or just images placed in his head from the ramblings of patients like Jeffery Goins. And as we begin to grow skeptical of Cole, we become Dr. Railly, a retrospective irony you will come to see as the film progresses. “12 Monkeys” presents a case study of what is known as the Cassandra Complex, which is the psychological phenomenon that Dr. Railly studies. This dynamic gets its name from Ancient Greek Mythology, where Cassandra rejects the advances of the god Apollo and in retaliation, he bestows upon her the ability of prophetic foresight and the guarantee that she will not be believed. Dr. Wenliang, like Cole, suffered from the Cassandra Complex. Their warnings were given to unwilling listeners that were only validated after it becomes too late.

“12 Monkeys” reveals a trick in our cognitive abilities. The characters in the film that are outwardly paranoid are all dismissed, but yet they all seem to have merit to their thoughts. Even Goins, who is a manic patient with obvious psychological issues, is never totally off-base with his evaluations of society, both inside and outside the psychiatric ward. His rants are easy to brush off as the ramblings of a lunatic, but he is correct about almost everything he says, including his father’s work on animals and diseases. Inversely, as Dr. Railly, who was praised as a rational follower of psychology, finds evidence that supports Cole’s story, and begins develops an outward paranoid appearance, eventually inheriting the Cassandra Complex she studies.

But it is irresponsible to believe that this film is advocating paranoia. I am sure Cole would be just as opposed to the masses freaking out over the end of times because he frequently says that his mission is not to stop the virus but to gather information. In his words, the outbreak already happened in his time and he cannot stop that. People going insane over the end of times will not prevent the end from coming and he knows it. What the film is preaching is not to be dismissive and to listen. It is very simple. Return to the real world for a moment. Our current public health crisis is causing a bevy of reactions in society. Some are paranoid and hoarding supplies for Armageddon, and some that are still going to bars and restaurants as if it is a normal day. We have all been given our warning, yet some are paranoid and others dismiss it. And both are viewed as harmful actions.

And for all the film tells us is inevitable, it still revels in the ambiguity of motivations, purpose, and reality. Director Terry Gilliam uses an exceptionally light touch when introducing ideas in the plot, enough to make you leave your viewing with plenty to ponder. There is a multitude of elements within the film to appreciate, as well, that each contributes in some way to the uncertainty the audience feels. The frequent use of Dutch angles, a flat filter, and harsh, bright lighting help convey an unease through visuals. Although the representation of technology in this film is very much restricted to the limited imagination of the 1990s, the production design does succeed in creating a believable yet mildly outlandish view of a dystopian future. The electrifying performance of Brad Pitt as Jeffery Goins also delivers a major contribution. This character is burdened with being friendly, unbalanced, unpredictable, deranged, and intelligent in every scene he is in, and in the hands of a lesser actor, could have become a slapstick-heavy comedic relief character, but instead is an important player that you cannot pin down for sure. Even Bruce Willis, a man notorious for not caring about his work, puts in a very respectable and committed performance that could easily be delusional.

After watching “12 Monkeys” you are forced to ask yourself if you would believe Cole if you were Dr. Railly. Hopefully, you would not stop your self-questioning there. How do you think you would have treated the warnings of Dr. Wenliang in December of 2019? Or, hypothetically, would you be able to convince someone on September 10, 2001, of what is to come tomorrow? Would you listen to someone who tried to warn you? Imagine the burden of knowing but not being listened too. Apollo really was malicious to punish Cassandra the way he did.

I give “12 Monkeys” a 9.0 out of 10

Directed by: Terry Gilliam
Starring: Bruce Willis, Madeleine Stowe, Brad Pitt, Christopher Plummer, David Morse
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 9 Minutes

10 Post-Apocalyptic Movies You Should Watch While Quarantined

Welcome to the end of times! Humanity has had a good ride, right? I mean if you forget centuries of enslavement of other humans, the poisoning of the planet to the point of turning Earth into one spicy meatball, and just teency-weency bit of genocide here and there, humanity has been pretty ok. At least a solid C- student.

Anyway, we are all doomed and there is no reason to have hope. COVID-19, aka the Coronavirus, is either a virus constructed by the Illuminati to thin out the weaklings from humanity or it is actually the Earth’s immune system attemping to expunge the virus that is humanity from every corner of this lonely blue rock floating in the void.

While the collapse of society is indisputably an inevitable conclusion, movies have been preparing us for this very situation for decades! These tales are all potential visions of the very near future so arm yourselves with knowledge! Use your time in isolated quarantine to learn what to expect when the confines of social practices crumble and a new world order takes over.

“Children of Men” (2005)

If this looks familiar, “Children of Men” just recently made an appearance on the Top 10 Films of the 2000s list. More importantly, this film will totally prepare you for what to expect if humanity becomes infertile and the end of intelligent life is just around the corner!

“I Am Legend” (2007)

What if you find yourself the lone survivor of our lovely contagion, which somehow turned all infected peoples into a sort of vampire-zombie? “I Am Legend” will tell you exactly what to do! First off, find yourself a dog and arm yourself. After that, just use the alternate ending to this film.

“Soylent Green” (1973)

What if all of humanity’s resources are depleted and you find yourself part of the survivors who’s oly food source is a mysterious green substance? You should probably eat it all without asking any questions. I bet it’s delicious.

“12 Monkeys” (1995)

Well, what if the virus spread to the point where humanity’s last hope is to send you back in time to stop the outbreak before it happens? Mid-90s Bruce Willis can confirm that you’ll be locked in an insane asylum, but at least you’ll get a front-row seat to witnessing Brad Pitt earning his first Oscar nomination!

“Snowpiercer” (2014)

But what if humanity can only survive on an air-tight train that circles the globe for 18 years, powered by a perpetual motion engine that is worshiped like a deity, but also installs a horrific classist society? Definitely eat everything you can without asking any questions. I bet it’s all delicious. Bong Joon Ho tells us your best bet is finding Song Kang Ho because he seems pretty chill!

“Mad Max Franchise” (1979 – 2015)

How about if the world is a giant desert and everything becomes punk rock and hardcore? You better pimp your ride IMMEDIATELY! Things are about to get wild, dangerous and a little kinky, too…

“28 Days Later…” (2002)

What if you find yourself awakening in an empty hospital after an undetermined amount of time only to find that the city you find yourself in is completely abandoned? “28 Days Later…” is the film that will walk you through what to do, especially if you’re British!

“The Book of Eli” (2010)

What if humanity’s last hope is organized religion? You can stop laughing now. I am just saying, maybe it is a possibility. If you find yourself in possession of the last known Bible and you also happen to be a nomadic badass, this film has all of your answers!

“The Ωmega Man” (1971)

How about if you find yourself in a situation similar to “I Am Legend” but you can’t digest its message unless it is presented in the most 70s way imaginable? That’s an incredibly specific situation but rest easy because “The Ωmega Man” is exactly the film needed to fill that niche! We are covering all angles here.

“Zombieland” (2008)

This one might be the most helpful yet because it quite literally has a rulebook for you to follow! Just keep away from Bill Murray and everything will be alright.

I hope you find this list useful. At the very least, use this to pass the time while everything else goes to Hell! Godspeed to you all and stay safe. I’ll see you all in a few months out on Fury Road!

The Invisible Man (2020) – Movie Review

Loosely based on the 1897 novella of the same name by H. G. Wells and a pseudo-remake of the 1933 science-fiction thriller, “The Invisible Man” is a horror vehicle helmed by Leigh Whannell, the legendary creator of “Saw” of “Insidious”. However, if you are more like me and had no idea about this film’s connections to other stories, and all you had to go on was a trailer that you feared maybe revealed too much information, “The Invisible Man” is a suspenseful and well-earned thriller that is expertly paced and acted and turns a potentially unbelievable premise into a psychological torture session that is easily connected with.

My history with the horror/thriller genre is relatively thin compared to that of other genres. It is only in the past few years that I have taken up films in this genre and began to learn what makes an effective horror story. Like all avenues of storytelling, there are certain common pitfalls stories of this genre must be wary of, lest they stray into the realm of cheap, unearned reactions at the expense of coherent movie elements. Going into the theater, I was anticipating a jarring and physical horror that was reliant on jump-scares and sudden bursts of sound to punctuate the film, only to be pleasantly surprised by the disciplined and ambitious approach used in incorporating sound and visuals in the storytelling.

The most important factor in the success of this film is Elizabeth Moss. She is the fulcrum in which the film could potentially shift from believable to outlandish. Her character, Cecilia, endures the brutal realities of an abusive relationship as well as the psychological tortures of an unseen entity. She is responsible for portraying the effects of those traumas, often in scenes without the presence of anyone else on-screen with her, and she does a tremendous job. With a lesser effort, this role could easily have suffered from overacting and removed any sense of realism from the film.

Likewise, the direction of this film is commendable. Whannell expertly makes use of techniques that capitalize on a lack of sound and visuals to suggest the presence of danger. Scenes have their suspense built from what cannot be observed, and shots of empty silent rooms work to establish an omnipresent feeling of paranoia throughout the film. With my initial concerns in mind, I was very pleased that “The Invisible Man” did not rely on loud noises and jump scares to make its presence known. While they may appear in an isolated moment or two, it is never overplayed and the suspense is almost always earned.

When you combine the performance of Moss with these techniques, this film becomes a deeper, psychological experience. The story that plays out presents more mental torture than it does a physical one. When the Invisible Man harms, it is always more profound when the physical victim is someone other than Cecilia. They could have spent the entire film beating her into submission by pantomiming physical recoil, but instead look to present her as a victim with fleeting sanity and credibility, to the point where she becomes an unreliable observer of her own life.

There are not many flaws in this movie, but among them is that it does require a certain level of suspension of disbelief for some of the events to transpire, at least in a logistical sense. There are some elements of science-fiction that characters capitalize on to allow some of their actions to be possible, and within the world and rules that have been established, they mostly work. However, the more you ponder just how certain characters know what they do or got to where they are at certain points of the film, the more you will come to understand that the film requires the viewer to accept that things just are the way they are and these “leaps” in logic are probably just too tedious to explain while remaining entertaining. By no means are these series of leaps a fatality to the film, and it is very possible to enjoy the movie without ever thinking of them.

Unfortunately, I imagine “The Invisible Man” will follow suit to many of the well-made female-led horror films of the last few years, such as “Us” and “Hereditary”, as films that might go forgotten later in their year when more “conventional” films begin to dilute the waters. I am not quite sure this one is up to the same standard as those, but there are elements of this film that warrant attention and it is my hope that this eventually evolves into a cult classic. This movie is an intense experience and definitely succeeds in communicating the stress of its story to its viewers.

I would give “The Invisible Man” a very respectable 8.7 out of 10

Starring: Elizabeth Moss, Aldis Hoge, Storm Reid, Oliver Jackson-Cohen, Harriet Dyer, Michael Dorman
Directed by: Leigh Whannell
Rated: R
Runtime: 2 Hours and 4 Minutes

10 Problems with the Writing of the Star Wars Sequels

If there is one piece of common knowledge about myself that is in the public sphere, it is that I fancy myself a fan of the Star Wars franchise. But, it is no secret that I am not a fan of the new Star Wars trilogy. However, I often feel that objective criticism gets drowned out by loud complaints of illogical crowds on the internet. About a year ago, I wrote a roughly 17-page paper on the failures of the sequel trilogy, but in hindsight, I think that was overkill. First of all, the trilogy hadn’t even been completed yet and I already put a knife in it. That was not fair. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, it was way too long. No one wanted to read it! It was one of the first things I had written for the blog and I have learned a lot since then. I would like to revisit that premise with a renewed vision.

With the addition of new material to consider, I feel my original opinion has been reinforced, but with new perspective. I am well aware of the perception of confirmation bias so I hope to present my case in an as close to an objective manner as possible. I think if you are going to make a point in an argument, you must remain objective and mustn’t let emotional attachment sway your logic. So, in this post, I will present 10 problems with the writing in the Star Wars Sequel Trilogy. I will define the term problem as a (1) flaw with the structure of the plot that results in consequences that did not need to exist, (2) inconsistencies within the established story, and/or (3) illogical or incomplete plot threads. I will not be addressing anything in a comparative sense to any other aspect of the franchise, as that would only show my personal preference and not a true problem. Furthermore, this is not a list of things I do not like, as that is not a criterion for objective discussion. We are all allowed to like different things!

Snoke and The First Order

Supreme Leader Snoke was introduced in “The Force Awakens” as a new shadowy threat to the galaxy. A dark side wielder with no association to the Sith, Disney paraded him around as a great mystery to be solved with goals and origins outside of what we thought we knew about Star Wars. This was a lie. Snoke is killed off roughly halfway through “The Last Jedi” without ever explaining who he was, where did he come from, what he wanted from Kylo, or even what his goals for the First Order were. He just existed. This is an example of very poor creativity, but even according to my own rules, it is not defined as one of my problems. Of course, the real problem with this is that the writers introduced threads that did not lead anywhere causing the conflicts and philosophies that surrounded the character to be nullified. This problem was attempted to be reconciled (poorly) but that eventually led to a new problem…

Palpatine and The Final Order

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This is a pseudo-continuation of the previous problem, as they are essentially symbiotic. When Snoke was killed off, the writers scrambled to introduce a threat that could be greater than Snoke so that Kylo Ren and Rey would be forced to team up for victory. This led them to go crawling back to the very dead, most definitely deceased Emperor Shev Palpatine. Immediately, two major problems arise from this action: this nullifies the Prophecy of the Chosen One and means that the Rebels actually didn’t accomplish anything in the Original Trilogy. Vader apparently never killed the Emperor. The saga, that always had been about the tragedy of Anakin Skywalker’s life, no longer features the redemption that drives his whole character. The Emperor and the Empire never died and Anakin sacrificing himself because of the love he felt for his son was meaningless! Forget the fact that the writers removed all tact and nuance from his character, and forget the fact that the only reason he is still alive is a vague callback to a line from the Prequels about the Dark Side. Those are bad, but not problems. This reduces the meaning of the 6 films that this franchise is based on!

And, how could I not talk about that Palpatine’s plan in this film is illogical? He announced that Snoke was somehow his creation, meaning he essentially controlled The First Order. But, upon arriving at Exegol, Palpatine reveals he has an entire fleet of planet-destroying warships, and troops that staff them called The Final Order. What was he ever trying to accomplish with The First Order in the first place if The Final Order existed and he controlled both? This renders the previous 2 films, in addition to the 6 before that, as nothing more than flashy backstory for this moment, as even those conflicts were never important. Plus, he now wants Rey to kill him so he can take over her body or something (?). I am not even sure, to be honest. Whatever it was intended to be, it ends in him becoming a classic Marvel CGI sky-beam that is inexplicably defeated by Rey having a second lightsaber and saying that she is “All of the Jedi”…. What?!?!

Finn and Rose’s adventure in “The Last Jedi”

Finn and Rose have zero impact on this film. I don’t mean this hyperbolically, either. I mean if you simply remove them and their actions from this movie, nothing about the conclusion or how any events transpire change. Follow this: The Resistance flees from The First Order in a slow-speed chase until they run out of gas until Poe and Maz Kanata send Rose and Finn to Canto Bight to find a codebreaker that can help them sneak onto The First Order cruiser and disable their tracking so the Resistance can get away. Simple enough. Well, they do not find their codebreaker, but find someone else. They sneak onto the cruiser and get betrayed by their new friend without succeeding in their mission. Meanwhile, the Resistance fleet was able to escape on their own and destroy the cruiser they are on, all while freeing Rose and Finn and allowing them to meet up with the Resistance fleet immediately afterward. If they stayed on the ship, to begin with, and never left, they’d still have ended up in the same place with the same people in the same situation. Their actions have zero impact on anything and it fills roughly 1/3 of the film’s runtime. And then the writers make Rose do the single most illogical maneuver yet: stop Finn from saving the Resistance. Finn was about to make a heroic sacrifice and complete an character arc that would have given some credence to his time with Rose, but instead, Rose, a character who was adamant about defeating the First Order from the beginning, puts all of the remaining members of the Resistance in immediate mortal danger, including herself and Finn, who she was trying to save!

Leia’s full training as a Jedi

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This is an example of J.J. Abrams tripping over his own feet as he panics to course-correct after Rian Johnson drove over a cliff. “The Last Jedi” showed Leia performing one of the most over-the-top Force feats in all of Star Wars after she is sucked out into the vacuum of space for a few minutes due to the bridge of her command ship being destroyed with her on it. After floating in the cold emptiness for some time, she magically regains consciousness and Force-flies her way back to the ship where she survives with only a minor case of being tired. Then, the film concludes with Luke sacrificing himself so the Resistance can escape, leaving Rey with little over a few days’ worths of training and zero remaining Jedi to help her grow to a reasonable level. J.J. tries to remedy this by explaining that Leia was secretly trained as a Jedi by Luke sometime after “Return of the Jedi” but before Ben Solo was born. Leia has been a known force-sensitive since the 1980s, so that’s not the problem. The problem is that we were already given an explanation of what Leia was doing in between the trilogies, and being a Jedi, specifically, was not that. We were told she chose not to be a Jedi so she could focus on building the New Republic and later the Resistance. But even if we look past the inconsistent storytelling, how is it that this was never once mentioned by Leia or anyone else before “The Rise of Skywalker”? When everyone spent the previous 2 films searching for THE LAST JEDI, nobody thought to mention how Leia was a fully-trained Jedi of supposedly equal strength as Luke AND SHE WAS IN THE SAME ROOM AS YOU?  

Kylo Ren’s inconsistent and unclear goals

Ben Solo/Kylo Ren is touted by some fans as the deepest character in Star Wars, and even suggest that Adam Driver’s portrayal is what George Lucas was aiming for with Anakin in the prequels. In fact, one of the few aspects of the trilogy that I will vocally support is that Driver is more emotionally ranged than Hayden Christiansen. But the character of Kylo Ren is very inconsistent with his intentions. He is introduced as a warrior of the Dark Side in the first scenes of the trilogy, and we only get slight glimpses into why he chose that path for the remaining parts of the series. We were given bits like “he’s got too much of Vader in him”, to him being a “Vader fanatic”, to “Han and Leia were absent parents”, to the eventual explanation that Luke sensed him having a bad dream and then he stood over his sleeping nephew with an ignited lightsaber threatening to kill him in cold blood. Understandably, he is pissed off at his family and even embraced the Dark Side as a means of vengeance, but one thing we have never understood is what his goals were when he aligned with The First Order. Was it simply power? It seems lazy enough of an explanation. But what of his calls to “Let the past go. Kill it if you have to”? In “The Last Jedi”, he is more than just an angry boy. He asks Rey to help him start anew. He is an anarchist… at least until Rey rejects him and he immediately takes up the mantel of Supreme Leader of the First Order. And wasn’t he obsessed with fulfilling Darth Vader’s legacy (recreating the past) and collecting all those relics before that moment? . It is so hard to keep track of what he is trying to achieve at any given point. The easiest way to follow his ever-shifting ideologies is to observe the condition of his helmet. After he destroys it to symbolize his independence in “The Last Jedi”, he quite literally undoes his character development by putting it back together piece-by-piece, serving as one of the least subtle visual metaphors I have ever witnessed. All we know for sure is that he is conflicted and that is used as a shield to hide a character that can’t figure out what he wants but sure as hell wants whatever it is!

Admiral Holdo’s Evacuation Plan

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The “Holdo Maneuver” has been essentially explained away into being a fluke that can never happen again, so I won’t be talking about it here. What I will say is that Admiral Holdo is not a good leader and her plan is illogical. This is not some crazy theory by some kid on YouTube either, this is just a fact within the story itself and it makes no sense as to why it would ever be executed the way it was. When the First Order is waiting for the 3 Resistance ships to run out of gas, Poe demands to know what course of action Holdo plans to take to ensure their survival. Instead of informing anyone in the fleet what she had in mind, she simply chose to patronize Poe for being brash. Sure, Poe was very reckless in the past but this is hardly the time or the place for that conversation considering everyone is near moments from death and he simply wished to know what they were going to do. Her refusal to communicate with anyone, let alone other top military personnel stationed on her vessel in moments of emergency, led to an attempted mutiny that split the remaining forces of the Resistance against themselves, all while 2 of the 3 cruisers were shot out of the sky. After Poe is subdued by Leia, it is revealed that Holdo had always planned on using the escape pods to escape undetected to a nearby planet. Why would she not make this information available to anyone? The entirety of her plan was put at risk because she didn’t communicate. Similar to Finn and Rose’s meaningless adventure, Poe’s mutiny did not need to happen. What’s worse is that it doesn’t seem Poe has learned his lesson by “The Rise of Skywalker” as his single character trait is still being reckless.

Abandoning General Hux as a serious character

I was a really big fan of General Hux in “The Force Awakens”. He had a very interesting power dichotomy with Kylo Ren as they vied to be Supreme Leader Snoke’s favorite. Hux was always destined to lose to Ren eventually but he was still able to shine with an underappreciated Nazi-inspired speech before the initial firing of Starkiller Base. He even ended that film on top, having successfully placed the blame on Ren for The First Order’s defeat to the Resistance. However, once the opening crawl for “The Last Jedi” finished on-screen, Hux’s characteristics changed abruptly. He went from being a cunning rival to Ren and a feared military tactician to nothing more than a punching bag for cheap attempts at comedy. The major problem is that “The Force Awakens” and “The Last Jedi” have no gap in time in between them for this sudden change to develop. He went from being a “Schindler’s List” Nazi to a “Hogan’s Heroes” (Google it if you’re too young to know the show) Nazi in a matter of minutes. How does one go from delivering a booming edict to commemorate upcoming genocide to being pranked by a series of “yo-mama” jokes in essentially a couple of hours? From that point on, he became so non-threatening that they had to kill him off and introduce General Pryde in “The Rise of Skywalker” just so The First Order could retain even the slightest perception of being serious and threatening.

Killing all of the Jedi (again)       

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The most pivotal moment in the canon of Star Wars is “Order 66”, which is when the then-Chancellor Palpatine ordered all of the clone soldiers of the Republic to turn on the Jedi and kill them. This marked the beginning of what is known as “The Jedi Purge” where the followers of the order were nearly hunted to extinction, with a select few individuals surviving for a time. It is the moment that sets up the Dark Times and allows the reign of the Empire to exist relatively uncontested for almost 2 decades. After Luke defeats the Emperor on the Death Star II over Endor, he starts a Jedi Academy where he begins training a new generation of Jedi, until the Academy is destroyed by the Knights of Ren and all of the new Jedi are killed, except for Luke (and Leia). This essentially is the 2nd canonical Purge. “But if it was fine before why is it a problem now?” you might be asking. The problem is not really relevant within the films but rather Star Wars canon as a whole. On the side, several other survivors of the First Jedi Purge have become extremely relevant characters with many of their exploits playing pivotal roles in major plot lines. These characters are believed to have survived the totality of the Empire and gone on to be part of the future of Star Wars, even in stories that might not yet be written. But with the introduction of a 2nd Jedi Purge, their survival of the Empire no longer means anything, as they will inevitably be killed off by the Knights of Ren. I am sure there are ways to write around this incident and allow those select survivors to continue on their path unobstructed by inevitable defeat, but for now, it seems the likes of Cal Kestis, Ezra Bridger, Ahsoka Tano, and Baby Yoda* are doomed to perish in Luke’s Jedi Temple. And, as for all of the Jedi we have not yet been introduced to, their stories have ended before they even began.

*I do believe they will give these characters a different path, but my point is that at the moment, all surviving Jedi are still going to die and rooting for their success in the interim seems less meaningful.

Reliance on filling in the blanks retroactively

Who remembers the line “A good question for another time” in “The Force Awakens”? Maz says this to Han when he asks her how she came into the possession of the supposedly lost lightsaber of Luke and Anakin. The line is innocent enough but it reveals a key problem in this trilogy: details being filled in by supplementary materials. At best, we as the viewers are forced to suspend our disbelief in some capacity to allow that lightsaber to be in her possession. If you were curious, that story is being revealed in a comic book series. What of Captain Phasma? She was presented as a badass warrior and a rival to Finn in the films, but she received barely over 4 minutes of total screen time in the entire series before her death in “The Last Jedi”. But don’t worry, you can purchase a hardcover novel about her to tell you why she would have been interesting in the films. And the Knights of Ren? They do little in the entire trilogy except stand ominously in a circle and be killed by some version Ben Solo. But, once again, have no fear! Their backstory and history with Ben Solo are explored in a comic book series! There are situations, characters, and entities that are supposedly important pieces to the plots of these movies, and yet, other than their physical presence in the films, the films ignore them. What’s most insulting is that to get the information, you usually need to purchase material that is more expensive than a movie ticket.

It is unclear if anyone in the Galaxy cares

In a classically cynical ending, “The Last Jedi” concludes with Leia’s personal distress call to the Galaxy going totally ignored by everyone. It seems that all of the favors and good graces she had racked up throughout her life were not enough to convince a single person in the Galaxy to help save her and her Resistance from total annihilation. People suck. Fast forward to the conclusion of “The Rise of Skywalker”, roughly 1 year later. The Resistance sends out a similar distress call, this time without Leia, and quite literally everyone shows up! What changed? Did everyone just really hate Leia? Was Lando that much better of a recruiter to the cause? And how did he assemble an army at the planet of Exegol? That planet was not charted up until a few moments before this people’s militia arrived. Everyone must’ve been on the edge of their seat waiting for that call to action. I understand that there needed to be an army present for the final climactic duel of the entire saga, but it is very unclear if or why anyone cares. Even after the conclusion of the trilogy, we have only seen with our eyes a single planet under First Order occupation, and it was unceremoniously destroyed like a fly on a windshield. As far as we know, The First Order isn’t bothering anybody other than the Resistance. For as meaningless as the Canto Bight was to the plot of “The Last Jedi”, the one thing it did show us was that a planet had a functioning society that operated on the outside of The First Order and even coexisted in economic harmony with it. The impact of the conflict as a whole was poorly explored and inconsistent in every single film of the trilogy.

And those are 10 Problems with the Writing in the Star Wars Sequels. I could make a whole other list to focus on more opinion-based takes, such as missed-opportunities and criticisms of creativity, but I feel like that could be a little too much negativity for one sitting. As always, I want to remind everyone that I love Star Wars, and being critical isn’t meant to be malicious. I would love to hear your thoughts on this! Do you think these problems are a fatal flaw in the storytelling process or do you not consider these problems at all? Do you have a different take on any arguments that I made or do you have an argument to make for a point that I omitted? Let’s discuss!

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