Thursday, December 31, 2015

2015 - The Highlights (EHeroFlareNeos)

With 2016 upon us, now is the time to reflect on 2015. College may have prevented us form writing as many reviews as before, but that won't prevent us from talking about the releases of the past year. Our only limitation is whether or not we've seen or played it. As usual, the list is in no particular order.

Top Movies of 2015

Inside Out

Coming off a wave of less-than-stellar movies, Pixar shows with Inside Out that they have fully returned to form. The movie follows the rather interesting premise of telling a story from the perspective of a character's emotions rather than that of the character. While the movie is capable of making the viewer laugh one minute and cry the next in true Pixar fashion, it's also a pretty useful way to visualize the effects of emotions on human behavior.

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens

While I did have my reservations about this installment in the Star Wars canon, a lot of which came from the inescapable hype train unleashed by Disney, The Force Awakens managed to be much better than I thought it would be. The plot makes several echoes to the original trilogy, but the movie is enjoyable anyway, partly thanks to the thrilling action and top notch special effects. Unfortunately, we'll need to wait for the upcoming Episode VIII before receiving any sort of closure or explanation for some of the new plot threads introduced, as well as any semblance of a concrete backstory for some of the new cast.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection 'F'

Following Battle of Gods and partially inspired by a Maximum the Hormone song, Resurrection 'F' is the second canon Dragon Ball movie follwing the ending of the Buu saga from the famous "Z" portion of the original series. The plot may be a little rusty in this installment, but the real highlight is the action. It feels very satisfying to watch Goku once again defeat the resurrected Frieza, though there are a couple minor hangups within this section that don't detract too much from its enjoyability. Though not required, watching Battle of Gods will enhance the relationships with the characters Beerus and Whis and reading the 9-chapter Jaco the Galactic Patrolman (also by Akira Toriyama) will help the title's character's appearance make more sense. Additionally, knowledge of the Frieza Saga is also required to fully understand Frieza's actions. Mega64's sweded version of the Frieza Saga can help with this if you don't want to (re-)watch several episodes of the anime, though watching a comedy video isn't a perfect solution.

Top Games of 2015

Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain

I had actually played the PS3 version, but wanted to honor Hideo Kojima
by using the original box art (before Konami removed his name).

The debacle between Konami and Hideo Kojima, not to mention Konami's business practices, is pretty well-documented, though the details aren't entirely known, and, as a result, The Phantom Pain is an unfortunate crossfire victim, resulting in cut content that would have provided better closure to the story and elements of gameplay and story that feel a little under-cooked. That said, this game provided some of the most fun I've had all year. The gameplay is the most polished in the series yet, taking everything Kojima learned from previous Metal Gear games and applying them while still adding new elements like the Buddy system and adaptive enemies to keep it fresh and exciting. It may not be as iconic as previous entries, save for maybe Metal Gear Sahelanthropus, the intriguing character Quiet and the loyal buddy DD, but this was an experience I simply had a hard time putting down and in the end, that's what really matters.

Batman: Arkham Knight

The finale of Rocksteady's Batman: Arkham Trilogy doesn't quite match the experience of Arkham Asylum and Arkham City, but the game still manages to be fun. The addition of the Batmobile is excellent and the side missions are interesting, though the payoff can feel a little underwhelming and the Riddler trophies are still annoying. Road bumps aside, this is a very polished game, particularly in the combat, and well worth playing.

Assassin's Creed Syndicate

Taking place in Victorian London and starring twin protagonists, Syndicate is a drastic improvement in nearly every way over Unity. The gameplay takes some cues from the Batman: Arkham games by Rocksteady and focuses somewhat on gang warfare to help the experience feel fresh and tweaks to the graphical output (ex. less dense crowds) help the experience run much smoother than before. Plotwise, it's not quite as engaging as some of the other games and it puts up a rather PC front that at times sounds like it's pandering for no reason, but the latter actually happens much less than I thought it would and the experience is still enjoyable.

Top Disappointments of 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

While not exactly a bad movie, Age of Ultron is certainly a disappointment when compared to heavy hitters The Avengers and Guardians of the Galaxy. An overly ambitious plot filled with character/plot details with no foreshadowing and an overdose of special effects and choreography, the last of which also makes Black Widow look too perfect, results in a movie that feels too unrealistic, even by the standards set by the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

2015 - The Highlights (Tetris_King)

Another year, another time to reflect on what we did and did not like about it. Though my output on this blog has slowed significantly, you will still find my thoughts on my favorites and disappointments of the year (out of the handful of new movies and games I watched/played this year), with review links where applicable, presented in no particular order.

Top Movies of 2015

This is truly Pixar’s best effort in a while, especially after the awful Cars 2 and disappointing Brave. Without giving anything away, this movie about emotions manages multiple times to tug at the heartstrings (and when it does, it hits hard); it nearly got me to cry in a public theater, and after a second viewing at home it still managed to get to me. I would encourage anyone who hasn’t seen this movie yet to do so as soon as they can, and if you’re a Pixar fan you will not be disappointed.

I was nervous about what to expect from this movie going in, especially after factoring in the massive hype as well as the Prequel Trilogy, but my fears were alleviated upon my initial viewing, surpassing my expectations to where I feel like watching it again. Without delving into spoilers, though it’s not perfect, the writing was really good, especially in regards to character dialogue, and the story took some interesting turns that I really was not expecting. It doesn’t live up to the sheer amount of hype in the months preceding the movie’s release, but it is definitely worth seeing as soon as possible, especially if you’re a Star Wars fan and have managed to avoid spoilers up to this point.

Dragon Ball Z: Resurrection ‘F’

In this canon Dragon Ball movie, the almighty Frieza is brought back to life and, after he decides to train for the first time in his life, the ensuing battle against Goku and Vegeta is nothing short of glorious. There is also a healthy dose of comedy mixed in with all the action, with humorous situations coming from smaller moments. The animation is also amazing, doing justice to the style of action present in the series. This movie is a must-see for Dragon Ball fans, especially after you’ve seen the other canon movie, Battle of Gods (and/or have read the 9-chapter manga, Jaco the Galactic Patrolman). It may be a bit harder to go into this movie without any prior knowledge of Dragon Ball, though Mega64’s (sweded) companion video serves as a humorous summary on some of the major events of the Frieza Saga.

Top Games of 2015

Transformers: Devastation

Platinum Games did an amazing job with this Transformers game, especially with how it goes all out in matching the 80’s cartoon’s look, style, and sound (they even got a number of surviving voice actors from the original cartoon, meaning Dan Gilvezan gets to play Bumblebee again after all these years). I haven’t actually played Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (Platinum’s ever-popular entry in the Metal Gear series), but from what I’ve seen of Rising’s gameplay, I thought that the gameplay style translated perfectly to Transformers, including the way they incorporated the ability to transform. There are five playable Autobot characters in the game: Optimus Prime, Bumblebee, Sideswipe, Wheeljack, and Grimlock; I only played through the game once as Optimus Prime, though I am interested in playing it again later as each of the other characters, as well as trying to get all those oft-elusive collectibles.

Skylanders: SuperChargers

Having played the Skylanders games annually for the past 5 years, I think this is perhaps the best one yet (though it did come out about a month earlier than usual). The gimmick this time is Vehicles, and while said gimmick admittedly has one or two shortcomings, the game seems to require less to get 100% (which is good for me) and items are made easier to get with the addition of a wishing well in the hub world and chests in each level randomizing what you get (this includes Soul Gems and Story Scrolls, the latter of which is presented as pieces of Kaos’ Diary recorded on vinyl). I have not bothered with the new Online Multiplayer option, but I can definitely say that the game is more fun with a second local player.

Top Disappointments of 2015

This is not to say that Age of Ultron is a terrible movie; I thought it was actually enjoyable and it still had some good humor in it. However, I found that there seemed to be too much going on within the overall story and that it could have been either cut down to speed up the pacing or presented as a longer feature to give the full story. In any case, while I loved Marvel’s first Avengers movie (I rank it up there with Spider-Man 2), this one did not feel like it lived up to its predecessor.

2015 - The Highlights (lionsroar)

Films watched for the first time and reviewed in 2015

Note: Since Trophy Unlocked has to pay for most of the movies we see in the theaters and for most of the films we watch at home, we don’t have the scope of a newspaper reviewer. We don’t see everything that’s out, so our ratings of films are based on what we decide to spend our money on.

Best Films of the year:

In no particular order:

A return to form for a franchise that has been over-exploited and more than a little neglected. After a disappointing second trilogy, The Force Awakens harkens back to the original trilogy, in both spirit and story context. Not a perfect film, it is still worth seeing more than once, which is really rare these days.

Pixar is no longer the studio that can do no wrong, but they certainly came up with a winner in their summer release. Inside Out takes a look at what goes on in the head of a young girl and shows how emotions and memories make us who we are. Very inventive, funny and moving, this is one of the better Pixar films, which is certainly saying a lot.

Not a big fan of Tom Cruise, but I really must say I enjoyed Rogue Nation. It seems that the Mission: Impossible franchise is actually getting better with age.

One of the more interesting concepts in recent years, the idea of following the life of a boy from childhood through college seems quite daunting and Richard Linklater, as well as his actors, should be commended for not only pulling it off, but making a compelling film.

Again, another film in a long running franchise, Jurassic World gave this moribund franchise a new start, bringing it back bigger than before. Like Star Wars, new blood infused this story with new life, though it still doesn’t make sense from a scientific or moral perspective. But for free, it was worth every penny.

Honorable Mention:

I had seen this movie before, but had not reviewed it until this year:

I knew going in that this Buster Keaton short was hilarious, but it is still one of the better films that I watched this year and it deserves to be watched again and again. Keaton may have worked in the shadows of Charlie Chaplin and Harold Lloyd, but his body of work includes some of the best comedies ever made and One Week is one of his better efforts in short form.

Disappointments of the Year:

In no particular order:

I feel like I’m picking on a lost film, but London After Midnight, from what is left, seems to fail on so many levels. The plot is a little wonky as a murder mystery gets a horror film overlay, but the driving force of the plot, the person who most wants a police investigation into a murder, is the killer himself, which makes no sense. I wish the film had not been lost in a fire, but I doubt seeing it whole would really have changed my opinion.

Big-budget non-franchise films are hard to come by and I doubt this film would have gotten made without Brad Bird’s involvement. But one expects better from the man behind The Iron Giant and from lead actor George Clooney. Tomorrowland aims big, but sadly misses the mark.

A famous film does not always live up to its reputation and while Fatty and Mabel Adrift had some moments, it was for the most part not as funny as advertised. Fatty Arbuckle and Mabel Normand are silent comedy royalty, but this particular pairing sadly does not stand up to the test of time.


Joss Whedon set the bar too high with The Avengers (2013) and simply could not match it even with a bigger budget, the return of most of the original cast and the addition of James Spader as the villain. In this case, bigger does not mean better.

Going in I knew this film would suck. Some superheroes make for better movies than others. For some reason, not one has quite found a way to make a good film about the Fantastic Four and this third try is no exception. Making everything politically correct didn’t help and actually worked against it in some ways.

Honorable Mention:

The James Bond series is the grand-daddy of all film franchises, which along the way has laid a few eggs. While definitely not the worst of the franchise or of Daniel Craig’s tenure as 007, I hope that his time as Bond does not end on this slightly disappointing note.

The Good Dinosaur - Wasn't Good Enough at the Boxoffice

The Good Dinosaur (2015) Starring the voices of Raymond Ochoa, Jack Bright, Sam Elliott, Anna Paquin, A.J. Buckley, Jeffrey Wright, Frances McDormand. Directed by Peter Sohn. Screenplay by Meg LeFauve. Produced by Denise Ream. 90 Minutes USA. Color Animated, Comedy, Drama, Adventure

In an unusual move, Pixar Animation released two movies in the same year, first, Inside Out and second, The Good Dinosaur. One was a huge blockbuster hit and the other struggled to find an audience and might even be considered a flop. Such a label is unfair to a film like The Good Dinosaur; while it doesn’t quite have the magic that Inside Out had, it is a breathtaking example of the achievements of computer animation.

The gimmick of the film is that the meteor that lead to the extinction of the dinosaurs 65 million years ago, misses. Rather than being killed off in an instant, the dinosaurs continue to dominate the Earth. It is a very interesting premise, but the film has dinosaurs slowly (65 million years slow) evolving into farmers rather than simply hunters. Sadly, that’s where the premise starts to fall apart. There is a sort of Flintstone equivalency with dinosaurs managing, without opposable thumbs, to repurpose objects for practical purposes.

Rather than wiping out the dinosaurs, the meteor flies by Earth.

The setting is sort of like a frontier Western, except the settlers are dinosaurs trying to grow crops that they need to survive the winter. There are no Indians, but the main villain here is Mother Nature, which can provide sunshine and also send thunderstorms and floods. The Western theme is played up, almost to the detriment of the film, as buffalos are herded and rustled and T-Rexes are shown to look like cowboys riding horses.

The background visuals are spectacular. I have never seen an animated film that looked so real. Clouds and running water look like they were filmed rather than rendered. The characters are not so realistic, but they really shouldn’t be, this isn’t a documentary about dinosaurs. The PG rating is justified as there are some strong images, an allusion to taking a hallucinogen and a real sense of peril at times.

The backgrounds in this film are spectacular.

The plot revolves around a young dinosaur, Arlo (Raymond Ochoa), who is the weakling of his family. He wants to make good, but he is timid and afraid. He forms an unlikely friendship with a six year-old human, Spot (Jack Bright), when the two end up swept away from Arlo’s home by a fierce and deadly flood. Spot starts out as an unwelcomed pest whom Arlo can’t shake, but in time they grow to not only respect the other, but a platonic love develops between them as Spot helps Arlo find his way back home. They each end up watching the other’s back and Arlo grows to believe in himself.

The human Spot moves to protect Arlo as the two develop a close bond.

The Good Dinosaur boasts some heavyweight voice talent, but with the exception of Sam Elliott’s Butch, they aren’t readily recognizable. Elliott is also the only one who seems destined for their role to the point it sounds like it was written with him in mind. Most of the others don’t have much presence or that much to do for that matter. No one’s bad per se, just under-utilized.

While Inside Out told us a story we’ve never seen, The Good Dinosaur tells us one that we’ve seen many times before, or at least feel we have. The twist is that dinosaurs are in the lead roles and the gimmick is not enough to carry the film.

The Good Dinosaur still does manage to touch your emotions. There is more than one moment that pulls at your heart strings and you should find yourself crying or close to tears at least once, if not twice. But there is more to making a good movie than making the audience cry. It’s too bad the story is not as revolutionary as the visuals.

Saturday, December 26, 2015

Stubs - Return of the Jedi (1983)

Return of the Jedi (1983) Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels. Directed by Richard Marquand Written by Lawrence Kasdan and George Lucas. Produced by Howard Kazanjian.  Color. US. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

And what goes up…

Back for a third and final slice of the original Star Wars trilogy, we now turn our attention to Return of the Jedi (1983).

There was no surprise anymore about there being another Star Wars. After the success of The Empire Strikes Back (1980) and Lucas’ declaration that this was a three trilogy saga, the third installment was a foregone conclusion.

Just like in the NFL, it’s hard to keep the same team together year in and year out, especially after you’ve had great success. Irvin Kershner decided he’d had enough of the Star Wars universe and backed out of directing the third film. He’s quoted in a Vanity Fair article from October 2010, “After working for two years and nine months doing Empire, and having it take so much out of my life and having given me so much, I felt that it was a complete experience and it was time to move on.”

Lucas then offered the director’s chair to David Lynch, best known at the time for Eraserhead (1972) and The Elephant Man (1980). Lynch would turn down the opportunity, so that he could direct Dune (1983). David Cronenberg was also on Lucas’ short list, but the director of The Brood (1979) and Scanners (1981), would also turn him down, choosing instead to direct Videodrome (1983) and The Dead Zone (1983).

The director Lucas chose was Richard Marquand, best known up until then for Birth of the Beatles (1979) and Eye of the Needle (1981). While I really liked Eye of the Needle, it would not seem to be a stepping stone to taking on such an endeavor as a Star Wars sequel. For proof, since Marquand had little experience with special effects, Lucas, who wanted to retire from actual filmmaking, had to spend a lot of time on the sets.

And what’s a director without a team. Harrison Ford was the only one of the major three who had not signed up for two sequels. By the time Return of the Jedi was in pre-production, he had already appeared in Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) and Blade Runner (1982) and wasn’t all that keen to return to the role. He suggested that Han could be killed through self-sacrifice, and Kasdan apparently concurred, thinking if it happened early in the film, it would provide some doubt of the others' survival. But Lucas was against it and he had the final word. Merchandising, which was essentially paying for this sequel, would suffer. Lucas wanted a happy ending, which would mean more merchandise sales.

Production began, under the pseudonym Blue Harvest: Horror Beyond Imagination, on January 11, 1982 with 78 days spent at Elstree studios, where the production took up all nine of the sound stages there. After that, production moved, in April, to the Yuma desert in Arizona for Tatooine exteriors. Next it moved for two weeks to the redwood forest outside of Crescent City, California for more exteriors of Endor and concluded with 10 days of bluescreen shooting at ILM studios now located in San Rafael. The idea of the early and quick production schedule was to give ILM as much time as they needed for the special effects. The film was scheduled to be released on May 27, 1983, but was moved to May 25 to the anniversary of Star Wars’ release in 1977.

In late 1982, trailers appeared in cinemas and movie teaser posters were distributed announcing the release of Revenge of the Jedi. But George Lucas, no doubt mindful of merchandising, got cold feet. Jedis, he surmised, wouldn’t seek revenge, and he changed the name to Return of the Jedi. (Revenge as part of a title would be saved back for the third film in the second trilogy, Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)).

Like its predecessors, Return of the Jedi opens with the statement “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away....” followed by a prologue crawl: “Luke Skywalker has returned to his home planet of Tatooine in an attempt to rescue his friend Han Solo from the clutches of the vile gangster Jabba the Hutt. Little does Luke know that the GALACTIC EMPIRE has secretly begun construction on a new armored space station even more powerful than the first dreaded Death Star. When completed, this ultimate weapon will spell certain doom for the small band of rebels struggling to restore freedom to the galaxy…”

The Emperor is not pleased with delays in construction of the new Death Star and dispatches Darth Vader to spearhead the project with plans to arrive himself in the very near future.

Shortly after Vader arrives, The Emperor comes to see what all the delays are about on the Death Star.

Meanwhile, on Tatooine, Luke Skywalker searches for Han Solo, who in The Empire Strikes Back had been frozen in a carbonite monolith and presented to Jabba the Hut, whom Han owes gambling losses to, by Darth Vader.

Luke sends the two droids, C-3PO and R2-D2 as emissaries to Jabba. R2-D2 carries with him a hologram message from Luke, who offers to bet Jabba for Han’s release. As a goodwill gesture, he offers Jabba the two droids as a gift, much to C-3PO’s chagrin. While Jabba takes the droids, he has no interest in entertaining offers for his favorite ornament.

Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) appears in a message delivered by R2-D2 and C-3PO to Jabba the Hut.

Later, after having been entertained by musicians and dancers from various races, Jabba is visited by a Bounty Hunter, who has with them a prisoner Jabba wants, Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew). After some negotiations, the Bounty Hunter gets a good price for the Wookie and he is led away.

But the Bounty Hunter is, in reality, Princess Leia in disguise. And later that night, after the partiers are apparently asleep, she sneaks back into the Jabba’s and melts the Carbonite, freeing Han. But Jabba was one step ahead of them and both are captured. Han is sent to a prison cell, where he is reunited with his longtime friend Chewbacca.

Shortly thereafter, using his mastery of the “Force,” Luke gets past Jabba’s guards and gets an audience with him. He finds that Leia has been made into a slave girl, wearing that famously skimpy bikini.

Leia (Carrie Fisher) seems very cozy saddling up to Jabba the Hut when Luke arrives.

Luke offers Jabba a deal, liberate his friends or face a certain death. Jabba laughs at the idea and, using a trap door of sorts, sends young Skywalker into a dungeon along with one of his hapless guards. To Jabba’s and his entourage’s surprise, while the creature in the dungeon downs the guard, Luke manages to kill it. But the Jedi is taken prisoner.

This time, Jabba takes Luke, Han and Chewbacca to the Dune Sea’s pit of Carkoon, which is essentially the mouth of a creature called Sarlacc. But when they drive to force Luke to walk the plank over the mouth, he puts his secret plan into action. With the help of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), who has infiltrated Jabba’s entourage and Leia, who manages to strangle Jabba with the chain that he’d used to bind her to him, Luke prevails.

Luke's plan is working. He, Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca are taken to be fed to Sarlacc.

Later, Han, Leia, C-3PO and Chewbacca leave in the Millennium Falcon and Luke heads back to the Dagobah System, to continue his training with Yoda. But when he gets there, the old warrior tells Luke that he’s dying. He tells Luke that while his training is complete, he will not be a full-fledged Jedi until he confronts his long-lost father, namely Darth Vader, formerly Anakin Skywalker.

Yoda warns Luke to be wary of anger, aggression and negative feelings that might trump his spiritual powers. And while he tells Luke that he is the last Jedi, he tells him there is also another Skywalker just before he dies.

Luke is uncertain that he can go on without Yoda’s mentorship, but the spirit of his other deceased mentor, Ben “Obi-Wan” Kenobi, is there to continue with the exposition. He explains that Luke and Princess Leia were separated at birth so that Darth Vader would remain unaware of his daughter’s existence. Obi-Wan admits to lying to Luke about his father, but gives him the explanation that if you look at it a certain way, Anakin was killed off by Darth Vader.

Meanwhile, Rebel forces want to attack the new Death Star before it is completed. But while it might not have all its own weaponry in place, it is protected by an energy shield generated by a plant on the planet Endor. In order to attack the Death Star that plant was to be destroyed. With the shield down, Lando can lead the attack on the Death Star.

The plan is to send General Solo, it is wartime, in a captured imperial shuttle down to Endor and to deactivate the shield. Leia, Chewbacca and the droids agree to go with him. As the strategizing continues, Luke returns to base and offers to join in with Han’s covert attack.

When the shuttle approaches the Imperial Fleet to get clearance down to Endor, Darth Vader senses his son is aboard the shuttle. Luke, meanwhile, realizes he’s put the operation at risk. Despite that, the shuttle continues to Endor. They are discovered by Imperial guards riding flying motorcycles and in order to prevent them from giving away their presence, Luke and Leia take chase. During the chase, the two get separated and when Luke returns to the main group, he learns that Leia is still missing.

Leia, who has been thrown from her vehicle, is befriended by a furry creature. Though unnamed in the actual movie, we learn he is an Ewok, a race of bad ass teddy bears living on the planet. When Leia is reunited with her friends, the Ewoks mistake C-3PO as one of their deities come to life. This allows them to form an alliance to attack the power station.

Ewoks are sort of soulless Teddy Bear-like creatures that inhabit Endor.

The night before, Luke tells Leia that he has to confront Darth Vader, confessing that he is Luke’s father. He wants to bring Vader back into righteousness, but if Luke’s mission fails, Leia has to continue the fight, as she shares “the Force” because they’re twins separated at birth.

Leia doesn’t seem surprised by the revelation and encourages Luke to run away, but he is intent on saving their father from “the dark side.”

Soon, Luke is captured by Darth Vader, who has journeyed down to Endor. Luke gives his father the chide to join forces or to kill him. But Vader remains true to his evil ways and turns Luke over to the Emperor, who tells young Skywalker that the rebels have fallen into a trap he’s set. To demonstrate the new Death Star is operational, he orders the destruction of a rebel space station.

Darth Vader (David Prowse) brings Luke back to the Death Star to present him to the Emperor.

Meanwhile, back on Endor, Han and his group are helped by the Ewoks into the power station generating the energy shield.

Back in space, Lando and his fleet must call off their attack of the Death Star when they realize the shield is still in place. Empire forces attack the Rebels in space and on land.
Luke, who is watching helplessly, grows angry, one of the things Yoda warned him against doing. The Emperor seizes on this anger and, feeling Luke is being drawn to the “dark side,” returns his lightsaber.

But Luke attacks Darth Vader instead, as the Emperor watches, chuckling with delight. Luke is convinced that his father won’t be able to kill his only son, while Vader tells him the only way to save his friends is to convert to the “dark side”. When Vader reads Luke’s mind, he learns that Leia is his daughter and suggests that she, too, can be guided to the “dark side”.

Father and son battle with lightsabers, much to the delight of the Emperor.

This causes Luke to lose his composure and sever Vader’s lightsaber bearing hand. The Emperor is delighted by the turn of events, but Luke refuses to kill his father.

The Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) takes fiendish delight in Luke and Vader fighting in front of him.

Meanwhile, back on Endor, the Ewoks rescue Han’s landing party and together they manage to shut off the Death Star’s shield.

The Emperor grows tired of Luke’s resilience and tortures the boy. Darth Vader kills his evil master in order to stop him from hurting his son.

Out in space, Lando and his wing discover the shield is down and continue their attack on the Death Star.

Luke wants to save his father, but Vader, after his battle with the Emperor knows his life is over. He orders Luke to remove his oxygen mask so that he can look at his son with his own eyes. Father and son gaze into each other’s eyes for the first and only time before Vader dies.

Darth Vader has Luke remove his helmet so he can gaze at his son.

Luke escapes and the Death Star is destroyed. Back on Endor, the Ewoks celebrate when they see the explosion in the sky. When Leia is concerned about Luke’s safety, Han tells her that he’s safe. She admits to feeling a spiritual connection to Luke, which Han mistakes as love. He promises not to stand in the way of her relationship with Luke. But Leia confides that she and Luke are brother and sister, which Han is happy to hear.

Later, on Endor, Luke mourns his father with a funeral pyre as everyone rejoices in the Rebel victory, even the ghostly images of Yoda, Obi-Wan and, yes, even Anakin Skywalker.

The spirits of Anakin, Yoda and Obi-Wan rejoice at the Rebel victory in Return of the Jedi.

The film was released on May 25, 1983. By now, and as we’ve learned from the subsequent prequel trilogy, the franchise is critic-proof. Reviews were mostly mixed, though some, notably Roger Ebert, loved the film. Domestically, the film made over $252 million. It would add another $165 million worldwide. Merchandising would not suffer, though I don’t have numbers, but from then on, it seems, there has been merchandising in some form or the other, in retail, book and toy stores ever since, even when there was no imminent release of a new film.

Like all of the previous films, Return would get the enhanced treatment with 1997’s Special Edition and the original would disappear, hopefully preserved in some film vault in canisters next to Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back. But for the average filmgoer, you might as well consider the version we’re reviewing as “lost”.

That said, Return of the Jedi provides the best example of special effects needing enhancement. It is painfully obvious when green screens are used, even more so than in the first two installments. They come off looking fake rather than special. It is most noticeable on the chase scenes through the redwood forest on Endor.

Like in the previous films, the costuming is hit and miss, but here it is more miss than hit.

Outside of the iconic costumes already introduced, there is nothing really good. Whenever we’re introduced to a new “race” of creature, they look like they’re wearing costumes. There is no sense of a soul, for lack of a better word, behind any of the eyes on any of them. They come across as looking like something you’d see in a high school production rather than a multi-million dollar film. The Ewoks, as an example, might as well have had button eyes than what they had.

Not all the costumes were bad in Return of the Jedi.This outfit is particularly iconic.

The Ewoks are also an example of Lucas trying too hard, in this case, not to lose young viewers. It is no accident that they resemble teddy bears though they definitely have a native vibe, like pygmy's from a Tarzan movie.

Disappointing costumes and special effects aside, the acting is what really doesn’t congeal in this movie. It’s as if the man characters are going through the motions without emotion. Maybe familiarity has brought on a certain flatness, but I don’t feel like any of them (Hamill, Ford and Fisher) really put in their best efforts here. Even Alec Guiness, who again makes an appearance as Obi-Wan, comes across as flat in his delivery.

The plot point that is brought out in Return of the Jedi, the fact that Darth Vader doesn’t know he has a daughter, seems a little hard to believe. If this took place in a little backwoods village without any advanced technology, you might believe that a woman might be pregnant with twins and she and her husband might not know until she actually gives birth.

But even though this is long, long ago, these people have mastered inter-galactic travel. It’s hard to believe that a pregnant woman wouldn’t know there were multiples inside her. Add to that Anakin’s mastery of the Force and it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t sense two “younglings” growing inside Padme. After Revenge of the Sith, I always assumed he knew and that they were trying to hide both children from him.

Watching The Empire Strikes Back and then Return of the Jedi was similar to watching Spider-Man 2 (2004) and then Spider-Man 3 (2007). When Spider-Man 2 ended, I couldn’t wait for 3, but after sitting through the final in the trilogy, I felt more like “phew that’s over.” Return of the Jedi is not as good as Spider-Man 3, but the disappointment is just as real.

You don’t watch Return of the Jedi because it’s a great movie; it’s not. You watch it because it completes a trilogy you’ve already given the first two parts of multiple viewings and hours of your life. But as disappointing as this might be, it is still heads and shoulders above the next three films, which we will not be reviewing.

The stage is set for Episode VII; who would have thought it would take 32 years to get there.

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens - The Franchise Reborn

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) Starring: Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamil, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac. Directed by J.J. Abrams. Screenplay by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams Michael Arndt. Story by George Lucas. Produced by Kathleen Kennedy, J.J. Abrams, Bryan Burk. 135 min. Color. U.S.A. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

You’d have to be off the grid and off planet not to know there is a new Star Wars film in the theaters, The Force Awakens, directed by J.J. Abrams.  Even if you’re not a part of “social” media, you can’t avoid the marketing for this film which seems to have reached most areas within the consumer market, from truck ads to food on the grocer’s shelves to the seemingly endless line of toys.

While no film could live up to such hype, The Force Awakens comes pretty close. As you’ve no doubt heard, this one is setting boxoffice records, but that’s really not a measure of how good a film is. With a built in and loyal fan base, we’ve seen far worse films from this franchise (prequel trilogy) made into megahits. Add in 6,000 screens and higher ticket prices, not to mention add-ons for 3-D and IMAX, and we could be in for a new all-time box-office champ.

I will say that while I waited with my family for the film to start at the Cinerama Dome on Sunday afternoon, I was nervous. The previous films, Episodes I through III, had been disappointing. Maybe it was time for someone else to take over the franchise, but I will admit I was uneasy about Disney putting Abrams in charge. While he might have suggested the story, the lack of George Lucas’ involvement seems to have been a good thing.

The story, and I will endeavor not to spoil anything, is actually very involving. There are a couple of Deus Ex Machina moments, but that seems to be my experience with Abrams’ work. If you accept it as part of the territory, they really don’t get in the way. The story involves many of the same plotlines that have been a part of the franchise from the beginning: parentage and the struggle of good v, evil, once again “the Force” and “the dark side.” There are other throwbacks to the original films as well and John Williams is back as film composer.

To my surprise, for the first time in a Star Wars film, people seem to talk like people talk, with awkward moments and sarcasm. It was quite refreshing. Exposition is handled much better than the clunky way Lucas often did and even the new characters seem to be well-rounded and it didn’t take an entire trilogy to tell their story. Bravo to screenwriters Lawrence Kasdan, Abrams and Michael Arndt, who have written one of the best Star Wars scripts. Not everything is explained, but that's what sequels are for, aren't they? The writers manage to pay homage to the past while at the same time pointing the way to future adventures or should I say episodes?

Lego recreation of the director and cast going through a table read of the screenplay
written by Lawrence Kasdan, J.J. Abrams and Michael Arndt.

The main actors from Star Wars through Return of the Jedi, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill, are back, but Ford does most of the heavy-lifting as far as acting goes. He does get top billing after all. Chewbacca is also back in the fold. The droids we’ve also come to love also appear, though in much reduced roles. Lucas had planned for them to be in all nine of the films he envisioned, but if they had been in this much more they wouldn’t have made this film better.

Newcomer Rey (Daisy Ridley) learns from Han Solo (Harrison Ford) in the new Star Wars film.

But The Force Awakens is really more about the next generation and they are very well represented by Daisy Ridley as Rey; John Boyega as Finn aka FN-2187, Oscar Isaac as Poe Dameron and Adam Driver as Ben. Ridley, a virtual unknown, is phenomenal in what should be a breakout role for her. Boyega, is also not a familiar face, unless you count the numerous trailers for this film, but he is good as well. I can’t say too much more about these actors and these roles without giving too much away, but trust me, the acting is very solid all the way round.

John Boyega plays Finn in The Force Awakens.

As a counter to the return of C-3PO and R2-D2, a new droid, BB-8 is introduced. While he's presented as a youthful R2-D2 style bot, since he's been available for purchase since the summer, one has to wonder how much of his introduction was for story and how much for merchandising.

BB-8 is presented as the new generation's R2-D2 and is available for purchase at many fine retailers.

Having recently seen the original Return of the Jedi makes the special effects seem all the more amazing. While filmmakers endeavored to make as many of the special effects practical as possible, any film about space requires blue screens, green screens and plenty of CGI, all of which seem to mesh well with location shooting. There are the usual diversity of alien races, but these don’t look like grown up Muppets, the way they did in Return of the Jedi. And if you have a chance to see this in 3-D, then do it.

Despite my concerns, J.J. Abrams really came through here. He not only managed the myth, but he actually made a better story than I could have hoped for. Now, I guess I should worry that he’s not directing the next installment. That’s really too bad, on so many levels. A franchise, like a good team, needs strong leadership. We don’t want to see Star Wars go the way of the Die Hard franchise, which suffers without someone to give it direction. Lucas might have needed to go, but the series needs an overall vision, that constantly changing of creative teams would seem to work against.

I had my concerns, but J.J. Abrams rose to the occasion with his work on The Force Awakens.

Overall I would say that this is the best Star Wars film since the original. It may not live up to the hype, but it is well worth watching at least once. If you’re like my family, you may want to see it again. If you’re a real fan boy, you’ll go broke watching it.

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Stubs - The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

The Empire Strikes Back (1980) Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Billy Dee Williams, Anthony Daniels. Directed by Irvin Kershner. Written by Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan. Story by George Lucas. Produced by Gary Kurtz. Color. US. Science Fiction, Action, Adventure, Fantasy

Eight weeks after the initial release of Star Wars, Lucas was already planning the sequels, their money and his own reduced involvement in the filmmaking process. In an August 25, 1977 interview in Rolling Stone, he’s quoted as saying, “I figured the merchandising along with the sequels would give me enough income over a period of time so that I could retire from professional filmmaking and go into making my own kind of movies, my sort of abstract, weird, experimental stuff.” Merchandising from Star Wars along with his share in the profits allowed him to become an Executive Producer on the next film, investing $33 million into the production of The Empire Strikes Back. Lucas quickly went from what he liked to consider himself to be, a Hollywood outsider, to his own mini entertainment mogul.

As early as June 22, 1977, 20th Century Fox was already negotiating with Lucas about a sequel, then called Star Wars 2. To write the film, Lucas hired Leigh Brackett, a science fiction writer. She completed a first draft in 1978, which Lucas didn’t particularly like. But before he could talk to her about it, she died of cancer. Lucas then wrote the second draft by himself. It was in his draft that he first used the idea of calling them Episodes; this was Episode II at the time, still no notion of a pre-sequel. It was in this draft that Lucas first came up with the idea of Darth Vader being Luke’s father (oh yeah, spoiler alert). Lucas enjoyed the writing process so much that he wrote two more drafts in April 1978.

The idea of Darth being Luke’s father was not thought of until then. It definitely changed the storyline both going forward as well as backwards. If you remember, Obi-Wan talks about Luke’s father as having been killed by Vader; now that explanation sounds sort of esoteric as if one personality killed the other or something like that, if you lean your head to the side like a dog watching television it sort of makes sense.

To justify this new plot twist, Lucas wrote a backstory for Vader. Tell me if this sounds familiar: Anakin Skywalker was Ben Kenobi's brilliant student and had a child named Luke. Anakin was swayed to the dark side by Emperor Palpatine (was also a Sith Lord as well as a politician). Anakin battled Obi-Wan Kenobi on the site of a volcano and was wounded, but then resurrected as Darth Vader. Meanwhile, Kenobi hid Luke on Tatooine while the Republic became the Empire and Vader systematically hunted down and killed what was left of the Jedi order. (That’s basically three movies summed up in a paragraph.) Now the sequel was a going to be part of a trilogy and Episode II was now Episode V, I mean he had that backstory to put on the screen. An article in the May 19, 1980 issue of Time magazine made this official, as Lucas explained that Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back were centerpieces in a nine-part narrative and only two characters were planned to continue their roles throughout: R2-D2 and C-3PO.

Lawrence Kasdan, who had just completed writing Raiders of the Lost Ark (1981) for Lucas' pal Spielberg, was hired to complete the work on the screenplay.

To direct, Lucas looked no further than one of his old school professors at the USC School of Cinematic Arts, Irvin Kershner. Kershner was not one of those, who can’t do, teach types. He had been a director before and after his time at the school. Kershner, though, was known for smaller, character-driven films like Hoodlum Priest (1961) and Face in the Rain (1963) and episodes of TV series like Ben Casey (1961) and Naked City (1962-3). Prior to Empire, Kershner had directed the thriller Eyes of Laura Mars (1978). Nothing in his career seems to be pointing him for a sci-fi epic like Empire was setting up to be.

Production would get underway on March 5, 1979 on the Hardangerjøkulen glacier in Norway. The filming was just in time for the worst winter storm in fifty years. For one shot, the crew remained in the hotel and shot Mark Hamill running outside into the snow.

Eight days later, production moved to Elstree studio in England where they used 60 sets. They stayed there until September; meanwhile the budget had increased from $18.5 to $25 million, making it one of the most expensive films made to that time. The cost was so high that the bank, where Lucas had received a loan, threatened to pull it. Lucas went to 20th Century Fox to acquire more financing, which he managed to get without giving up his sequel or merchandising rights. So good was the deal that it cost Alan Ladd Jr. his job as head of the studio.

Rather than sneaking into a few theaters, like Star Wars had, Empire was given the gala treatment, with a world premiere on May 17, 1980 at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., a Royal Premiere in London three days later. The film went into general release on May 21 in the U.S. and the U.K.

Here we go...

Like Star Wars, the film opened with a crawl that sought to fill in the story since the end of the first film. The film was now titled “Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back”: “It is a dark time for the Rebellion. Although the Death Star has been destroyed, Imperial troops have driven the Rebel forces from their hidden base and pursued them across the galaxy. Evading the dreaded Imperial Starfleet, a group of freedom fighters led by Luke Skywalker has established a new secret base on the remote ice world of Hoth. The evil lord Darth Vader, obsessed with finding young Skywalker, has dispatched thousands of remote probes into the far reaches of space…”

A behind the scenes shot showing the filming of the title crawl.

The action starts with an Empire Spaceship deploying said probes. Several land on Hoth, the frozen planet below, where the Rebels have set up their base of operations. While he’s on patrol riding a two-legged Tauntaun, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) sees a probe land and thinks it’s a meteorite. 

Luke (Mark Hamill) tells Han he's going to check out what he thinks is a meteorite.

Han Solo (Harrison Ford), who is also on patrol, heads back to camp while Luke goes to investigate. He notices that the Tauntaun is getting spooked and before he can do anything, he is knocked unconscious by a Wampa, a predatory creature, which kills the Tauntaun and drags Luke away.

Luke hanging in the Wampa's cave like a side of beef.

Back at camp, Han announces to Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) that he’s leaving to stay ahead of Jabba the Hut, his creditor. If he doesn’t leave, he fears for the security of the base. Leia doesn’t want him to leave, but recoils when Han suggests it’s because she’s secretly in love with him. They part on bitter terms.

Before Han can leave, C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) informs him that Master Luke has not returned from patrol. Han is alarmed to hear that. With a blizzard raging, night falling and the base about to lockdown, he goes out in search of Luke.

Alarmed to learn Luke is still outside, Han (Harrison Ford) decides to go looking for him.

Meanwhile, Luke regains consciousness hanging upside down, like a side of beef, in the Wampa’s cave. Tapping into the Force, Luke manages to call his lightsaber to him. Freeing himself, he fights and at least severely wounds the Wampa. Escaping out into the cold, hostile night, he eventually succumbs to the conditions. But before he passes out, Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) appears to him in a vision, telling Luke to seek out the Jedi Master who had trained him, Yoda.

Back at the Rebel outpost, Leia, who is in charge, reluctantly agrees to seal the base for the night, knowing she is trapping Han and Luke outside until morning.

Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is reluctant to close the base and leave Han and Luke to fend for themselves.

When Han finally finds him, Luke is near death. Cutting open his own dead Tauntaun, Han shoves Luke into its body cavity to stay warm while he sets up a shelter for the night. Luke comes to, back at the base. Han continues to harass Leia about being in love with him. To prove she’s not, she gives Luke a passionate (though we now know from Episode III is an incestuous) kiss.

Even though Han destroys Vader’s probe, it is already too late. Vader knows they’re there and sends in a fleet of armored (and awkward looking) imperial walkers. Boarding his fighter, Luke, along with others, flies out to stop the walkers. But they are outmatched. The ship is hit; Luke’s gunner is killed and he crash lands.

At the rebel base, with Vader’s men moving in, Chewbacca, Han, Princess Leia and C-3PO escape in the Millennium Falcon. On the ground, Luke watches them fly away before getting into his space fighter with R2-D2 navigating, takes off and heads for the Dagobah System and Yoda. When gets to his destination, he crashes into a remote swamp.

Luke is helpless to prevent his ship from sinking to the bottom of the swamp.

Things aren't going much better back on the Millennium Falcon, which is malfunctioning. Unable to activate its light speed hyper drive and with the Empire’s starship hot on his tail, Han tries to avoid detection in an asteroid field, taking refuge inside one. There, the crew feverishly works to repair the spacecraft. In an intimate moment, Han and Leia kiss, but he soon realizes that they are not inside the asteroid, but actually inside the belly of an enormous worm inside the asteroid. They fire up the Millennium Falcon and make their escape just as its closing its jaws.

Han flies the Millennium Falcon out of the belly of a giant worm.

Meanwhile, Luke is not alone. An aged troll-like Muppet is hovering around him. When he engages the creature, he rifles through Luke’s provisions and sort of talks in circles. He claims to know this Yoda (Frank Oz) Luke is looking for, but doesn’t seem to be in a hurry to reveal that he is the one he seeks. At first, he is reluctant to take the boy on for training, citing several reasons, including Luke’s age, his impatience and his bitter attitude which make him unsuitable to be a Jedi. But he eventually does come around, but warns Luke that the Force has a very seductive dark side, adding that Luke will know the difference if he is at peace with himself and that Jedis never use their power aggressively. As part of his training, Luke confronts an image of Darth Vader, whom he manages to behead in a lightsaber duel. However, when he sees behind the mask, it is his face staring back at him.

Luke trains with Yoda  (voiced by Frank Oz) on his back.

Darth Vader, meanwhile, orders his Starfleet to follow the Falcon. For the first time, we see Vader’s evil master, the Emperor (Clive Revill). The Emperor tells Vader that this Luke Skywalker is the son of Anakin Skywalker and must be dealt with before he threatens the Empire. Rather than killing Luke, Vader suggests that he can be lured to the dark side, which is all right by the Emperor. To set a trap, Vader convenes bounty hunters to track down Han and the Millennium Falcon.

The Emperor (Clive Revill) communicates with Vader via hologram.

Han flies toward the Cloud City metropolis of Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams), a former associate who now controls the Tibanna gas mine near Bespin.

Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams) used to run with Han in the old days.

Meanwhile, Yoda tasks Luke with telepathically lifting his fighter plane from the swap it has sunk into. Luke complains and cannot manage it, telling Yoda that the mystical ideals of the Force are impossible to attain. Yoda, however, raises the fighter with little effort. Luke continues to work on his skills and improves, but he’s bothered by a vision that Han and Leia are in danger. He wants to rescue them, but Yoda warns him that he will destroy the Rebel movement if he doesn’t complete his training. Obi-Wan weighs in and warns Luke he will soon be tempted by the dark side of the Force and will have to battle Darth Vader alone. But Luke ignores such advice and sets out to rescue his friends.

Yoda has no trouble with lifting the ship out of the swamp using the "Force".

Obi-Wan’s ghost mutters to Yoda that Luke is the last hope of the universe. In response, Yoda professes: “There is another”. We'll have to wait to find out who that is.

The spirit of Obi-Wan (Alec Guinness) speaks with Yoda.

Meanwhile, Han and Lando are reunited and the men pick up where they last left off, fighting over the ownership of the Millennium Falcon. Shortly thereafter, Vader arrives and Lando rats them out to him. That’s when they learn of Vader’s plan to entice Luke into a trap and to then carbon-freeze his body so it can be transported back to the Emperor. But as a Beta-test, Vader uses the carbon-freezing device on Han. As Han’s going into the device, Leia confesses her love for him and gives him a good-bye kiss.

Leia and Han share a kiss before he is frozen.

Vader then hands over Han’s body to the bounty hunters, who leave to collect their rewards.
Leia, Chewbacca, and C-3PO are detained, but Lando proves he’s not a bad guy, after all, by secretly rescuing them. He also promises to help save Han. But Vader advises Luke to given in to his anger, because it is necessary to killing one’s enemies.

Lando (Billy Dee Williams) turns Han over to Darth Vader. Vader, in turn,
 hands Han over to Bobba Fett (Jeremy-Bulloch), a bounty hunter.

In the fight and perhaps in an attempt to unleash that anger, Vader unhinges part of the space station, causing Luke to be sucked out of the room. While he clings for his life to a railing above an abyss, his friends come under gunfire across the city. They manage to recover R2-D2 and escape in the Millennium Falcon.

Luke gets sucked out a hole Darth Vader creates.

Meanwhile, Luke’s battle with Vader continues and Vader cuts off Luke’s hand. In shock, he backs away to another perch above the abyss. Vader invites Luke, once again, to embrace evil and declares himself to be Luke’s long-lost father. (This is the big reveal that throws the entire storyline akimbo and "gives" us the prequel trilogy. Thanks!)

Darth Vader actually says "No, I am your father", not the oft misquoted "Luke, I am your father."

Having to choose between certain death and a paternal reunion, Luke falls into the void, landing inside a chute, which he slides through to the outskirts of Cloud City. Since the city is floating, Luke has to cling for life in outer space. He calls out loud for Obi-Wan and Leia.  
Leia hears Luke’s voice and insists on going back to save her friend.

Darth Vader returns to his Stardestroyer and orders the Millennium Falcon captured. Speaking telepathically to Luke, Darth tells him that their union is “destiny.” The Stardestroyer manages to get the Millennium Falcon in its tractor beam at the same moment R2-D2 fixes the spaceship’s hyper drive and the ship blasts into light speed, avoiding capture.

Luke is given a new hand while Lando and Chewbacca leave to save Han.

At a Rebel station, Luke is outfitted with a new hand. Lando and Chewbacca, in the Millennium Falcon, set out to save Han as the film ends.

The anticipation for a new Star Wars film assured that this movie, despite its higher budget, would be a success. The film was a huge success, making over $538 million worldwide since in its initial theatrical release. While there were some negative reviews, The Empire Strikes Back is considered more adult than Star Wars and the best film in the series.

Despite that, The Empire Strikes Back got the same re-do that the original Star Wars received in 1997, when a glitzier Special Edition was rolled out with enhanced special effects. I haven’t seen it, so I won’t comment about it, but like Star Wars, the film that was released in the theaters is “lost” in that the right holder has refused for nearly 20 years to release it in any form.

Not that the special effects couldn’t have used some work. Considered ahead of its time, they are and were then, sort of hit and miss. When anyone is riding a Tauntaun, it is obviously stop motion and really no better than Ray Harryhausen had been doing since the 1940s. You never really buy into the idea that someone is really riding the beast. And the close ups of the Tauntaun aren’t really convincing either.

While I am not an engineer it is also clear to me that Lucas or whoever is responsible for designing mechanical objects in these films isn't either. Take for example, the Imperial Walkers, which is essentially a tank, but rather than treads, it struts around on spindly mechanical legs. It may be awesome to look at, but it is an impractical design. You would suspect that even long, long ago, people capable of intergalactic flight would have come up with something better to propel vehicles than walk them.

Science is also fiction in this film as well. It seems odd to me that Tauntauns would live on Hoth, but haven't evolved so they can deal with the extremely cold weather of the planet. Isn’t that something evolution is supposed to take care of? And the sequence with the giant worm inside the asteroid: While Han and crew don oxygen masks, they traipse around in their “street” clothes, so to speak, in what would be a zero-gravity environment, not to mention extremely cold, etc. This isn’t a planet with an atmosphere, but rather a large rock.

And how would a giant worm get inside an asteroid in the first place? Unless it eats rocks, there is no food or water source. Picky, picky I hear you say, but I have a hard time believing this wasn’t thought about before the film was made. This isn’t the world in which Buck Rogers or Flash Gordon was made. By the time The Empire Strikes Back was released, we’d been to the moon and had learned a lot more about space and that sort of treatment doesn’t really fly anymore.

Most of the original cast returns, minus Peter Cushing, whose character, though killed in the original film, seems to have been a mistake. Once again, as in Revenge of the Sith, Vader reports directly to the evil Emperor, making The Grand Moff retconned as superfluous to the overall story.

Billy Dee Williams is the most notable new cast member. Williams was one of the better known Black actors in the 1970s, appearing in Lady Sings the Blues (1972) and Mahogany (1975), both opposite singer trying to become actress, Diana Ross. After Mahogany, Williams played the title roles in The Bingo Long Traveling All-Stars & Motor Kings (1976) and the TV movie Scott Joplin (1977). He would go on to play Lando Calrissian in Return of the Jedi (1983) and The Lego Movie (2014). A story like this needs new characters added as the story progresses and Lando is a good addition to the cast.

I know he wasn’t supposed to, but there are times when Yoda really does look like a hand puppet; an elaborate puppet, but still nothing more. These were simpler times and in the later trilogy he would be computer animated. Frank Oz, who voices him, had been a mainstay with Jim Henson's Muppets for a number of years. Yoda maybe the best remembered new character introduced in the film.

The big moment of the movie is when Darth Vader reveals to Luke that’s he’s really his father. It’s the statement that forever changes the Star Wars saga and is responsible for three mediocre films to tell a backstory that we didn’t really need. Now that it’s been established through three films leading up to Star Wars and confirmed in The Empire Strikes Back, I’m left with a couple of questions.

Why doesn’t Darth Vader also reveal to Leia that he’s her father, too? The two seem to have at least an ongoing awareness of each other before Star Wars starts. You’d think that their relationship would have come up at some point before.

And why don’t the droids he built as a boy, R2-D2 and C-3PO, recognize Darth Vader as their creator or call him Anakin, since they would have known him by that name? We know their memories weren’t wiped clean.

Despite these minor complaints (you can find them in most films), The Empire Strikes Back is a more complex film than Star Wars. In the predecessor, it is pretty obvious who the good guys are (The Rebels) and who the bad guys are (The Empire). In Star Wars, the only gray character is Han and it’s not because he’s a smuggler, these guys are usually heroes in these kinds of stories (see Firefly as an example). It’s because he shoots Greedo, perhaps, before Greedo would have shot him. In the old west, and those seem to be the rules we’re operating under here, it’s okay to shoot a man/creature dead after he’s shot at you; that’s self-defense not murder.

In The Empire Strikes Back, it’s all about living in the gray. As an example, Lando may have turned in Han to Darth Vader, but it was because he had Cloud City to protect. After that, he comes to the rescue of Leia and the others and goes out to save his friend from certain death.

Luke seems to be surrounded by liars and deceit his whole life. Princess Leia seems drawn to Han, but she also almost purposefully leads poor Luke on. Obi-Wan and Uncle Owen have also been lying to him about his father. Is he the savior of the Universe or is that really left to someone else? What’s a young man from Tatooine to think?

Everyone’s motives are shady, Darth Vader’s included. Despite the Emperor’s order to kill young Skywalker, Vader doesn’t want to. He has split loyalties. On the one hand, he’s the Emperor’s minion; on the other, blood is thicker than water, except of course where Princess Leia is concerned.

More complex characters, and more complex situations, makes this a deeper film. If you liked/loved the original Star Wars, you will most likely enjoy this one as much. There is something about the original film, though, that is hard to beat.

But at this point in the original trilogy, the trajectory is definitely pointing up, which leads us to Return of the Jedi (1983)