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Star Wars: The Last Jedi – Once was Enough

Finally saw Star Wars: The Last Jedi today. Although I have been an ardent Star Wars fan and collector for decades, I have come to abhor crowds in my middle age and decided to wait a few weeks to catch a matinee. The Last Jedi Poster
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While I now understand why many in fandom would be disturbed by certain aspects of the story, I see no reason for the outrage and divisiveness that The Last Jedi has triggered.
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Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill were wonderful. I like Laura Dern, but she reminds me of a soccer mom and I didn’t completely buy into her character of Admiral Holdo.
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I was relieved that they dialed back the petulant, callow juvenile that was Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in The Force Awakens. His repeated temper tantrums and outbursts made him a weak and laughable villain in that film, hardly the intimidating Sith Lord he aspired to be. In the The Last Jedi, Kylo begins that way, but quickly learns to govern his anger during his dealings with Rey (the effervescent Daisy Ridley).
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Rose Tico, portrayed by Kelly Marie Tran, was an immediately likable character with heart and determination. Shame they wasted her potential, as well as that of Finn (John Boyega) and DJ (Benicio del Toro). More on that below.
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It seemed like they were trying to make Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) fill the void left by Han Solo. The brash man of action. It did not entirely succeed. His insubordination went too far. It wasn’t until the end when he realized that cowboy heroism was not going to win the battle. Otherwise, Poe was also a figure of courage and heart like Rose.
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Now we come to the heart of the story. Luke Skywalker (Hamill) is now a different man who seems to have turned his back on the Jedi after years of training and dedication, and after telling Emperor Palpatine decades before, “I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”
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In The Last Jedi, we have a disheartened, bitter—and fearful—Jedi master who wants nothing more than to die alone because he failed as a teacher. Obi-Wan also failed (and lived as a recluse as a result), but rather than turn his back when called upon, Obi-Wan immediately answered the call, knowing all too well that it would be his end. Here, Luke does just the opposite. He tells Rey to leave him alone and repeatedly refuses to return to the fight. It takes R2-D2 to break Luke’s resolve by showing him the old hologram of Princess Leia pleading to Obi-Wan for help. That was excellent nostalgia, but should not have been necessary.  Were this my story to tell, I would not have taken Luke in this direction… but this was not my story.
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It also seemed the goal of this film to tear down much of the esteem and awe granted to the Jedi in previous films and to tarnish their legacy. Yoda so blithely destroys the ancient Jedi texts and makes a flippant comment about them not being page turners. If they’re so irrelevant, then why were they preserved for so long? Why even include them in the story? That entire sequence seemed pointless. It served no purpose in the plot.
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Rather, I was taken by Luke’s lightsaber breaking in half during the Force struggle between Kylo and Rey. That was a brilliant foreshadowing of Luke’s death (and foreshadowing is a familiar tool in the writer’s toolbox).
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The lightsaber, once Anakin Skywalker’s, had been with Luke since it was given to him by Obi-Wan in A New Hope and was familiar to the audience. It meant more to us than a set of books that we never heard about or saw before until this film.
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Also, Rey barely had any training compared to Luke, yet Yoda feels that she knows all she needs to. Really? It’s that simple? We were given the impression that it took a bit more. Apparently not. Is she a Jedi Knight or a Master now? Do those ranks even exist anymore?
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And here we go again with young Jedi willingly surrendering to Sith Lord because young Jedi feels the conflict within said Sith Lord and thinks Sith Lord can be turned to the Light. So Young Jedi willingly surrenders to Terrible Baddies. Together, young Jedi and Sith Lord take the elevator up to face the Evil Uberlord (previously Emperor Palpatine, now Supreme Leader Snoke). Evil Uberlord takes possession of young Jedi’s lightsaber and taunts/threatens young Jedi. Young Jedi tries to cut down Evil Uberlord, but is prevented from doing so until, in the end, Evil Uberlord’s own Sith pupil kills him. Oh, and the Evil Uberlord’s personal guards wear monotone red outfits. Even that detail is unoriginal.
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Yeah, we saw this before. Rian Johnson just put his own spin on it. I fully support paying homage (as with the old hologram of Leia), but while The Force Awakens ripped off A New Hope, The Last Jedi pilfered that throne room sequence straight from Return of the Jedi.  As for Snoke himself, he has no backstory and no depth whatsoever. He is a shallow duplicate of Palpatine, at times regurgitating the former Emperor’s lines verbatim.
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As for the rest, the First Order’s General Hux (Domhnall Gleeson) is far too young, stupid, and incompetent to lead and his dialogue was frequently sophomoric. While Chewbacca, C-3PO, and R2-D2 had a few humorous and/or poignant moments in the film, they were mostly relegated to the background. The entire sequence at the casino was a waste. It added nothing to the story, and while Benicio del Toro is cool, he ultimately served no purpose? By the time Finn and Rose crashed into the old Rebel base, I felt their entire subplot was fluff. They did nothing for the story at all.
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Overall, I consider The Last Jedi to be adequate, but not as inspired as it’s purported to be by many in fandom. Seeing it once was enough, which is precisely how I felt about The Force Awakens.
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Rogue One, on the other hand, was excellent. I watched that again about three weeks ago and enjoyed just as much as the first time I saw it last year. Just didn’t want you to think I was an old, cantankerous purist hating on the new Star Wars films.
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It’s only the prequel trilogy I can’t stand, and I’m far from alone in that.
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ADDENDUM: A friend of mine brought up a few excellent points in an email exchange earlier this evening…
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Whatever happened to the Knights of Ren as seen in The Force Awakens?

Why all the mystery surrounding Rey’s parents if they were nothing but junk dealers?

Why bother showing Luke’s X-Wing submerged beneath the water as if foreshadowing and then never follow through?

Why not allow a classic character like Admiral Ackbar crash the Rebel cruiser into the First Order ship instead of unknown Admiral Holdo? Let Ackbar go out a hero.

When confronting Kylo Ren, why would Luke bother to say: “If you strike me down, I will always be with you.”? Luke was not even physically present! He was merely projecting his image across the cosmos to trick Kylo so there was no way for Luke’s nephew to strike him down. Again, it’s a nice homage to Obi-Wan’s words to Darth Vader in A New Hope, but it no made sense this time around.

After Action Report: Chiller Theatre

The interminable rain did nothing to dampen our spirits at the semi-annual Chiller Theatre convention in Parsippany, NJ today. I drove to the con with long time friend, Kevin Miles.

As usual, nearly 100 celebrities turned out, but there were only three on my list and one (Ed Begley, Jr.) cancelled just two days prior. Still, my main reason for attending was Michael Des Barres, perhaps best known as Murdoc, the charismatic, eccentric assassin on the original MacGyver, and Lou Diamond Phillips who requires no introduction, but is currently starring in the hit  TV series Longmire.

I also managed to snag up two more Star Wars figures I’d been looking to add to my collection. We finished the day with lunch at the Clinton Station Diner on the way home.

Phil with Lou Diamond Phillips at Chiller Theatre

Phil with Michael Des Barres at Chiller Theatre

Richard Dean Anderson and Michael Des Barres

Star Wars Black Box Lando Calrissian and Jedi Master Luke Skywalker

After Action Report: Philly Non-Sport Card Show

Some excellent finds at the Philly Non-Sports Card Show at the Merchants Square Mall in Allentown today. Two ADPAC Star Wars stickers from 1977 as found in General Mills cereals in Canada at the time, a three-sticker strip from Superman III as found in boxes of Ziploc bags in 1982, and a new 12×18 poster from Topps of the bounty hunters from Star Wars.

Always great to see super talented artist pal Laura Inglis whose art graces the covers of my novels Testing the Prisoner and By Your Side. Laura also recently completed the cover art for my upcoming novella, Like Mother, Like Daughters.

Star Wars Bounty Hunter Poster by Topps Trading Cards

Star Wars ADPAC Stickers

Superman III Ziploc Stickers

Delaware – The Coastest with the Mostest!

My wife and I spent another fantastic vacation in Rehoboth Beach, DE with several wonderful friends. The latter half of the week delivered sweltering temperatures ranging from 96F to 100F, but that didn’t stop up from having a marvelous time!

It was a busy and fast seven days I could absolutely use another week at the beach just to finish the book I’m reading and get some writing in, but I’ll jump back into writing once I’m home. It was quite a tempest of activity including daily morning walks along the beach and boardwalk, catching SpiderMan: Homecoming at the Midway Theatre, parasailing in Dewey Beach with my friend Renee, shopping and lunch in Bethany Beach and Fenwick Island, a trip to Cape Henlopen State Park, shopping at Heritage Antiques in Route 1 and in historic downtown Lewes, and of course, ice cream from various shops including the Royal Treat and King’s Homemade Ice Cream.

Finally, no trip to Rehoboth/Bethany would be complete without visiting our favorite toy shop, Yesterday’s Fun—both in Rehoboth and in Bethany.

Henlopen Lighthouses

Cape Henlopen Beach Cape Henlopen Dunes Cape Henlopen Dunes Cape Henlopen State Park

Fort Miles 8in Gun Fort Miles 16in Gun Fort Miles and Tower 7

Henlopen Lighthouse & Cape May Ferry

Parasailing with Renee Parasailing with ReneeParasailing with Renee Parasailing with Renee

Parasailing with Renee

Imperial Guard action figure Starfish decorationResin Shark and Sailfish Star Wars Bamboo Cups

Deka Return of the Jedi Pitcher Deka Return of the Jedi Pitcher

I also held a book signing at Browseabout Books on Thursday. I only sold one book, but I enjoyed chatting with people, including my friend Mary Ann who was in town on vacation for the week.

Browseabout Author Signing Ad Browseabout Signing-WhiteboardBrowseabout Book Signing Maryann & Phil at Browseabout

 

 

Actor, Writer, Princess, General – Carrie Fisher (1956-2016)

Star Wars caught me at the tender age of six back in 1977 and has never let go. I remain a fan and collector to this day. I had the pleasure of meeting Carrie Fisher, for the first and only time, at a comic con in New York City about 10 years ago. While waiting in her autograph line, a lady ahead of me began a conversation with Ms. Fisher about a recent article that she had written for a travel website (or newspaper, I can’t recall) about her trip to Acapulco.

The conversation went something like this:

“So what did you think of it [the article]?” Ms. Fisher asked.

The woman shrugged. “Well, it wasn’t exactly great literature.”

Ms. Fisher, without looking up from the item she was signing for a fan, responded, “So you’re saying it was shit!”

Of course, everyone in the room broke out into laughter. Such was the acerbic, sometimes trenchant, humor of Carrie Fisher. I, for one, simply thanked her for coming and told her that it was an honor to meet her. She thanked me in return and signed my vintage 12″ boxed Princess Leia figure from Kenner (see below).

As Leia Organa, Ms. Fisher was a hero to me alongside Mark Hamill and Harrison Ford. It was Star Wars that led to me watching reruns of Star Trek when I was a kid and I became hooked on science fiction and space opera, which then inspired me to become a writer and storyteller in my own right.

2016 has been a tumultuous and tragic year, taking from us many talented artists. For me, however, the loss of Carrie Fisher cuts deeper as did the passings, within the last 20 years, of such icons as Gene Roddenberry, DeForest Kelley, Christopher Reeve, and Leonard Nimoy, just to name a few.

I cannot help but to think my own mortality as we watch the performers of my childhood exit the world stage for the final time. I only hope that I can leave behind such enduring legacies. Carrie Fisher was a marvelous, witty writer and an advocate for those suffering from mental illness. May the Force of her personality and strength be with us always.

Carrie Fisher
Carrie Fisher as Princess Leia in The Empire Strikes Back

 

Carrie Fisher as General Leia in The Force Awakens

 

Carrie Fisher Autograph
Vintage Kenner Leia and Luke figures from 1978
Star Wars Cast Members
Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Carrie Fisher, Peter Mayhew

Finally, A New STAR WARS Movie!

Next year will mark the 40th anniversary of Star Wars and I jumped on the Jawa Sandcrawler from day one when I was six years old. As such, I’ve been waiting for a new Star Wars film since 1983’s Return of the Jedi and Rogue One certainly did not disappoint.

I know you want to remind me that there were three prequels between 1999 and 2005, and that last year, The Force Awakens began the much anticipated final trilogy in George Lucas’s ambitious space opera (now owned and operated by Disney).

In my humble opinion, the prequels held none of the charm and magic possessed by Episodes IV through VI. This I blame on the writing and overload of unnecessary special effects and not on the fine cast.

While The Force Awakens graced us with the return of our favorite classic heroes Han Solo, Leia Organa, and (briefly) Luke Skywalker, the film was, for me, utterly forgettable. Although, it was a better J.J. Abrams vehicle than his paltry efforts on the first two films in the Star Trek reboot, which isn’t saying much.

For me, Rogue One simply felt like Star Wars. It resurrected the spirit of the original films, something for which I’d lost all hope while slogging through the prequels. While Rogue One certainly held its own with a solid story and exciting plot—detailing the events leading right up to the Death Star plans falling into the hands of Princess Leia—its consistency with, and nods to, Episodes IV through VI were delightful. No spoilers here, just effusive praise and a hearty congrats to director Gareth Edwards and an excellent cast that includes Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Mads Mikkelsen, Ben Mendelsohn, Genevieve O’Reilly, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, James Earl Jones, and more.

Rogue One Poster

Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso

Mads Mikkelsen as Galen Erso

AT-AT

Stormtrooper Doll

Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera

Genevieve O'Reilly as Mon Mothma