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Genre-Defining: An Interview with Shane Abbess by Kent Hill

Continue reading Genre-Defining: An Interview with Shane Abbess by Kent Hill

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It’s time to see The Last Jedi . . . again: A Review by Kent Hill

I am stunned. I am still. I am at a loss for words. I have just come from seeing The Last Jedi, and really all can muster is . . . it is a miracle.

I am going to try and avoid spoilers but I may fail, so, if you haven’t seen the movie stop reading now.

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A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was young and Star Wars was new. I don’t think I came out of that dark room in which I saw the first film, and the person that did – he certainly wasn’t the same kid who walked in. A long time have I watched, looking away, to the future, to the horizon, watching, what we who were there from the beginning will come to remember as, the saga of the Skywalkers.

I had read other reviews, seen teasers and trailers. The clever thing is though . . . this movie doesn’t go the way you think. Throw all the theories out of the window, forget all you know – or think you know. Breathe, just breathe. Now, sit back and watch The Last Jedi.

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We begin in a fury, in the heat of battle. Good versus evil, a staple of the Star Wars movies. Then it goes wrong and the good guys will lose. Because, as you’ll discover, this time round, it isn’t about winning and losing. It’s about existing. It’s a beautiful sentiment at the heart of this picture. Saving, indeed savoring, the things we love the most.

After all, what have we all been doing since 1977. Savoring this thing we love right? Mr. Johnson captured that so well. In fact, when it was all over, Bill Pullman’s line from Independence Day popped into my head, “He did it – the sonofabitch did it.”

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Abrams had the easy assignment if you think about it. He had to wake the force up. That’s not hard when you’ve got legions of fans awaiting to listen. The hard task is the difficult second album – trying like hell to be the one that strikes back. And, for my money, for this trilogy, for this time round – this is the new Empire Strikes Back. It can’t be the original – nothing will top that, but TLJ stands shoulder to shoulder with it.

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I think I have remarked a number of times to friends and family about what I thought the first words might have been out of Luke’s mouth back where Mr. Abrams left us in 2015. What he does retort with is better than a line or a speech, and it’s one of many moments of levity that the movie needed. I heard the voice of Irvin Kershner in my mind, talking about injecting humor into Empire. He was right then, as Mr. Johnson was right now. It is all about balance – the dark rises and the light to meet it.

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Two reviews I read prior to going in brought up two interesting points. One which I thought was kinda confirmed, whilst the other was dispelled. The first was that TLJ was almost like Empire in reverse. I found this to be, for me, delightfully true, and I’m surprised at how well that formula worked. Where Abrams was criticized for leaning to heavily on the crutch of A New Hope, Johnson seems to have avoided the problem by simply changing direction, which he does quite often. Be prepared.

Abrams surprisingly followed this theory to success with the first of the new Star Trek films, however grossly ignoring it for his own sequel. But it is well, not only if he stepped away from the director’s chair for fear of this, but that fresh eyes often make all the difference. I enjoyed Looper, but when they said that guy is going to not only write but direct Episode VIII, I was like half interested, half fearful.

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But we shouldn’t fear, should we. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.

Another element I like about TLJ is the fact that, more so than The Force Awakens, this felt like not only handing over the torch, but just throwing it away. I love how in the backgrounds of these movies we see the remnants of Star Wars past. From Rey’s junkyard home, to Luke’s X-Wing beneath the waters surrounding his fortress of solitude – even in Rogue One there is that giant fallen statue of a Jedi; the only true way to keep something going in this life is to keep it fresh and expose it to constant reinvention.

There’s lots of fun new creatures. LOVE THOSE PORGS! There’s some fun new locales. Mr. Williams musical voice sings a few new tunes and lovingly reminds us of a few old ones. The action is breathless, the reversals effective and plentiful. There are great revelations and many new questions.

Oh Look. You see what’s happened? I started off wanting to write a review and here I now find the need to be silent again. There is nothing I can tell you that you should ultimately listen to, except this: I have never seen a more beautiful journey that does as each new day does for us all; beginning and ending, staring off to the horizon, watching the rising and or setting of that bright sphere at the center of our galaxy.

When I was younger than I am now, I felt like Luke Skywalker, gazing off into those twin suns and longing for the next day, for the journey ahead. It is fitting then that TLJ comes now, and I am a much older man. You’ll know the moment when it comes. The twin suns will set and maybe, just maybe, your heart will swell as mine does even now, and I am at a loss for words. TLJ has touched me in a way I’ve not experienced in the cinema for a while now – and I am the better for it.

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So if you have seen the movie, I hope you enjoyed it – were thrilled by it. For those of you for whom this is their first Star Wars experience, rejoice, there’s more out there to discover – more still to come. For those who haven’t seen it – man, get away from this screen and get down to your local theatre real quick – what’s the matter with you?

It is fitting that the last line belongs to a certain character, and speaking of said line, it echoes my sentiments exactly:

In The Last Jedi, “We have everything we need – right here.”

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ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY – A Review by Frank Mengarelli

ROGUE ONE is the most surreal theatre experience of my life. Yes, it is a STAR WARS movie that’s very much akin to the seven previous films, yet it is completely different than anything we’ve seen before. In a very odd and perplexing way, ROGUE ONE may just be the best STAR WARS film ever made.

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Set months prior to the events in A NEW HOPE, we’re shown a world that we’ve never seen. The Rebellion is split in fractions, they aren’t painted with heroism, a lot of them are killers without morals all doing this for the greater good of the galaxy.

The call backs not only from the original trilogy but particularly the prequels perfectly thread the needle of anchoring this film in a familiar galaxy but with unfamiliar worlds and characters. The CGI resurrection of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin is a flawless effects achievement, and brings a weight of establishment and riches to the film.

The new characters are a perfect addition to the STAR WARS’ cinematic canon. Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker are all wonderful, with Ben Mendelsohn stealing every scene he’s even. Even if he’s matched up against the CGI’d Cushing or Darth Vader, he is the standout.

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Bravo to Disney for making a very dark and dreary film. They haven’t done this before. They simultaneously made a film about the horrific personal repercussions of war while organically sliding it into George Lucas’ cinematic timeline. Disney had everything riding on this picture; THE FORCE AWAKENS was easy. They had the original cast, a continuation of the saga story on their side, but with ROGUE ONE they created someone new and fresh inside of a franchise that honestly didn’t need it to continue forward in public consciousness.

The new score from Michael Giacchino is absolutely wonderful. He does complete justice staying true to John Williams, yet he takes major liberties with some tracks we are already familiar with. Gregg Fraser’s cinematography is perfection. This is the best looking STAR WARS film to date, without a doubt. The aesthetic will please diehard original trilogy fans because we’re back to the utter dilapidation of the Galactic Empire.

Gareth Edwards, Kathleen Kennedy, and Tony Gilroy all deserve acclaim and recognition for the film that they have created. But without the brilliant mind of George Lucas, we would never have gotten this film. For all the undo and faux outrage Lucas constantly receives, none of this would have been made possible without him.

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What makes ROGUE ONE so very special isn’t just the Easter Egg’s, the callbacks, references to BLUE VELVET and APOCALYPSE NOW, and the cameos, it’s a film that is about hope in its purist form. It is about heroes. It is about championing what you believe in regardless of the odds and sacrifices made. And for a lot of us, this is the exact film we needed at this particular moment.