My thoughts on Star Wars 7

This was originally posted on Spriggan’s Den on 26th December 2015.

As part of our now regular christmas tradition of seeing a movie with the family the day after christmas, we’ve been to watching the new Star Wars movie today. There’s a big and pretty nice theater just a few hundred meters down the road from my parent’s house and this time of the year there’s always something we all want to watch. I had decided pretty early on that I am not going to see the movie on my own, but if my family wants to see it I’d been happy to go along with it. I’ll keept this review down to specific details that have already been revealed by the trailers and so on, so it’s not entirely spoiler free, but I won’t be talking about anything that gets revealed only in the movie itself.

I’ve seen the movie in 3D and didn’t enjoy that. I think the projector was slightly misaligned but aside from a faint “shadow” to both sides of objects with a high contrast to the background I don’t think that was much of a problem. Nobody else complained about that. I think this was the third or fourth movie I’ve seen in 3D and it just seems to not be working for me. I see the depth effect and colors look crisp, but I take a while to get focused on the image and for large parts of the movie the cuts are just so fast that it’s already by the next image once I’ve found my orientation. And any time there’s some shit flying in the foreground it completely messes up my vision as well. The combined effect was that everything appeared extremely jittery and out of focus the whole time so that after 20 minutes or so I just watched it without glasses. That meant the whole movie was blurry, but that’s something I could live with in exchange for not straining my eyes for over two hours. Not sure if it’s all me, or the projector, or if they used 3D poorly in the movie. But I never enjoyed it in some of the Hobbit movies either. Please get over this fad soon and show movies normally again.

I also saw it in German. The voice acting was fine, but since English is mostly a highly simplified version of old North German it is almost always possible to translate dialogue in a way that achieves almost perfect lip synching. Unfortunately the result is a highly simplified version of modern Standard German, that sounds completely unnatural and incredibly stilted. And when you’re passably fluent in English, you probably could reconstruct the exact original English script from just hearing the German lines. It’s word by word translation and that always sounds shit.

Now to the movie itself. My overall impression is that this is “a new Star Wars”. It is very much really Star Wars and not something else with the name tagged on (yes, I hate Nu Trek), but it’s not more of the “old Star Wars”. It’s Star Wars, but a different Star Wars. Though the last 15 had already been a different Star Wars than my Star Wars. And now we have another one. I am not thrilled about that, but I think that’s okay and it would have been unreasonable to expect something else.

What also quite surprised me is that I liked the new heroes. Ray and Fin are good characters. I always wanted to see more of them. At no moment did I think “Could we please and this scene with Anakin and Padme and get back to the good part with Obi-Wan some more?” If anything, I’d actually have enjoyed having a bit more of them instead of Han and Leia. The same can not be said for the villains. There is a new Vader type guy, a new Tarkin type guy, and a new Emperor type guy and they are all really weak, bland, and too cliched. Yes, Star Wars always made extreme use of archetypes, but the classic movies used them very effectively. Here they are just cliches. There’s also a stormtrooper commander who is clearly set up to be a major villain but who ends up completely underused. Couldn’t we have had her as the big bad for the movie? That would have been nice.

And speaking of New Vader, New Tarkin, and New Emperor. I think you could recreate the entire movie using only shots from the classic movies and maybe just 20% new footage. And it’s not subtle nods, it’s one to one copied images and things. There’s a planet that looks 100% like Tatooine, but is actually called something else. New Tatooine. Later they come to the New Cantina which has the New Band and they meet a New Yoda character. And of course there’s always the New R2-D2 and the protagonist is obviously New Luke. George Lucas was given a lot of shit for putting way too many classic movie references into the clone wars movies, but at least he tried to be subtle. This movie constantly seems like it want to pause and ask “Do you get it?! This image/scene/character is a copy of something from the old movie.” And that’s a major annoyance.

But that’s an annoyance you might be able to overlook. But the worst offense of the movie is that the script is just total shit. I think someone had a pretty good idea for the story, but when someone tried to create a series of scenes that could show the story they just completely fucked it up. The introduction of the background is done pretty badly. There’s no longer the Rebellion against the Empire, but instead there is the First Order that wants to destroy the Republic and is fighting the Resistance. Maybe the translation fucked up, but I don’t know whether the Republic and the Resistance are the same group or not. And the First Order looks completely like the Empire so that I am not sure if it’s perhaps just the same Empire with a new name on the doorbell. And who is this New Emperor anyway. He’s just there with no indication at all how he came to succeed the old one. If it’s the same Empire. Maybe it’s a new group that just uses matching uniforms and ships. I don’t know, the movie didn’t say. The New Vader completely sucks because we’re never given any reason to believe that he is a threat. New Tarkin never does anything. Character’s are acting like they really need to do something, but I never get any reason why that would be important. There is one quite surprising moment later in the movie, but that lasted only for about 2 seconds until I remembered that this all was meant to mirror another moment from another movie that was much better.

I actually wasn’t sure if the big battle at the end was the big showdown until it was already over. It felt much more like filler that is meant to get the characters somewhere to do something there. But no. The big explosion looks so elaborate, this was probably meant to have been the big showdown. While I said the movie feels like Star Wars, that’s mostly about the visuals. But where it really fails is in recreating the amazement and wonder of the classic movies. Or even the clone war movies. It’s mostly a bit bland and doesn’t really feel like the galaxy far, far away.

That you could remake almost the entire movie with clips from the classic movies is bad, but could be overlooked if you really want to. But the script is so godawful that the entire pacing and tension of the movie is just plain shit. The music was adequate. But for something like Star Wars, adequate constitutes a failure. However, I did like the new protagonists. While I don’t feel like seeing this movie a second time, I do really want to see the next one. Just to see more of those two and if their stories go anywhere.

But even considering that, when it comes to my Yay or Nay rating, I have to give this movie a Nay. It’s not an ordeal to sit through (if you can get it in normal and not in 3D) and it does show some promise for future films, but it’s nothing you have to see. The script is so bad you should have no problem at all starting with the next one. There isn’t anything here that you’d need to know for the future. So maybe it’s more like a Meh than a Nay. 2 stars out of 5. C-. 65%. It’s better than Episode 1 and 2, but worse than 4. I don’t know if it’s slightly better than 3 or slightly worse, but everything considered they are probably quite even.

Tales of the Jedi – Review

This was originally posted on Spriggan’s Den on 6th February 2016.

Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi is a comic series that was published by Dark Horse from 1993 to 1998 with a total of 35 issues. This was only two years after the Thrawn Series by Timothy Zahn had kickstarted the Expanded Universe as we know it now, placing it pretty early in the history of Star Wars tales. The series was created by Tom Veitch, who had written the Dark Empire comic series a year earlier (which I consider the greatest travisty of the Star Wars universe after the Holiday Special), but he was joined by Kevin Anderson in 1994, who had just released his Jedi Academy novel series (which also has a pretty poor reputation among fans) and became the sole writer for the series a year later.

The Tales of the Jedi are set 4,000 years before the movies, in a time when the Republic was still smaller, the galaxy less explored, and the Jedi much more numerous. The first three story arcs, written by Veitch, (and giving us the now popular title “Knights of the Old Republic”) follow the adventures of the young Jedi Ulic Qel-Droma and his brother Cay and their fellow knight Tott Doneeta, who are send to the planet Onderon to help the government of the capital city end a war with the tribes living in the surounding jungles. They discover the spirit of the Dark Jedi Freedon Nadd manipulating the events on the planet, facing the three Jedi with a much bigger threat than they anticipated. As the crisis escalates, Ulic’s path crosses with the newly trained Jedi Nomi Sunrider, who has an exceptional talent for the Battle Meditation technique, which allows a single Jedi to coordinate the efforts of an entire army and making her extremely valuable.

Once Kevin Anderson joined as second writer, he introduces Exar Kun, a character from his Jedi Academy novels, whose spirit is trying to turn Luke’s Jedi students on Yavin 4 to the Dark Side. Exar Kun is unhappy with his master not trusting him to learn about the dangerous powers of the Dark Side and so sets out to learn more about them on his own. A path that very much mirrors that of Anakin Skywalker in the movies that were made a few years later. Exar Kun gets corrupted by the still not fully destroyed spirit of Freedon Nadd who leads him to the ancient Sith tombs of Korriban, where he once more unearthes the ancient secrets of the Sith. At the same time Ulic Qel-Droma is trying to infiltrate the leadership of a new Sith cult called the Krath who also have been guided by Freedon Nadd and establishing their own galactic power by allying with the Mandalorians and become a major threat to the Republic. Halfway through the arc, after the Dark Lords of the Sith series, Veitch left as a writer, leaving the field entirely to Anderson with the Sith War series.

A third main arc is set a thousand years earlier and centers on the first clash between the Republic and the Sith Empire under the leadership of Naga Sadow, who uses trickery and conspiracy to first destroy his rivals for control over the empire in The Golden Age of the Sith and then sets his eyes on the Republic in The Fall of the Sith Empire. A final, much shoter arc called Redeption, is set some years after The Sith War, but is mostly a personal story of Nomi Sunrider’s daughter Vima and doesn’t really add much to the historic lore of the Old Republic.

The setting of these comics would later return on the Knights of the Old Republic videogames, which right after the release of the second game got another comic series also, and confusingly, called Knights of the Old Republic. I was interested in those comics and had read the Jedi Academy novels at some point in the late 90s, so I decided to start at the very begining with the Tales of the Jedi series to know more about those references to Exar Kun, Ulic Qel-Droma, and Naga Sadow. When I first read them some three or four years ago, I quite enjoyed them. But having read them again over the last two weeks, my opinion of the series is now very different.

The first arc, written by Veitch, is really pretty bad. The art is very sloppy and ugly, characters are as flat as it can get, and what little traces of a plot there are are almost entirely told by exposition in boxes with the characters not really contributing anything with their own words. The second arc, begun by Veitch and Anderson, is a noticable improvement in that the art now looks only bad and that the plot consists of exposition in speech bubbles instead of boxes. It’s still a bad comic, though. The third arc, now done completely by Anderson alone, first starts surprisingly well with Golden Age of the Sith. The art has now been upgraded to simply ugly, though servicable, and there’s actual plot and Naga Sadow has some real personality as we follow him taking out his rivals and becoming new Dark Lord of the Sith. Sadly that didn’t last and The Fall of the Sith Empire is right back to being a jumbled mess of exposition. The short Redemption at the very end is okay, I guess. I still don’t think it’s any good or very interesting.

So yeah. My final impression of the Tales of the Jedi series is that it’s bad! There are noticable improvements over time, but those are simply from “godawful” to “only bad”. The only reason why I would recommend to anyone to read any of these comics, would be a great interest in the lore of the early days of the Star Wars universe. But even then I would say that only The Golden Age of the Sith and The Fall of the Sith Empire are worth it. If you really want to know about Ulic Qel-Droma and Exar Kun, then you’re much better of at just reading the page on Wookiepedia. There is so little plot and characterization in Veitch’s comics that you really are not missing out anything. It probably is much more exciting to read a detailed summary than to shovel your way through that pile of dung yourself.