I think The Last Jedi is my favorite Star Wars film. It’s hard to say, these movies need so much time and will be seen over and over again. I’m unwittingly comparing it in my head to my more recent viewings of the original trilogy and not the dazzling first ones but I have to trust it will hold up. The Last Jedi is ambitious, and thought-provoking and fun in a way that none of the “core” Star Wars filmsever have been. This is the kind of movie someone would make if they spent their childhood loving the material but realized as an adult that it depicted a world that would never function. Rian Johnson makes a more functional galaxy with more authentic characters and he’s made the best big-budget science fiction movie in some time.
It’s tough to write this review after having seen the battle lines being drawn across the Internet over the movie. People are polarized and it’s pushing opinions to the far reaches. I believe Kylo Ren is the most interesting character in all eight Star Wars movies but that might be an overreaction. I know that his internal struggle and strife is the only time the dark side has seemed like a real thing people would be interested in. This is a movie that took the laughably bad Anakin Skywalker arc from the prequel trilogy and made those feeling feel real. Here I can find the nuance and conflict that we had to paste on to the prequels with speculation and supplemental material but all here in one go. I would say that this is probably how people thought about Darth Vader after watching Empire Strikes Back but I’ve seen that movie, there are only a handful of meaningful head tilts signaling anything at all. For the first time I feel like I’m not being asked to fill in big gaps of narrative or run to read some tangential novel released years later.
I’ve heard people say that none of the characters changed or grew in this movie and I simply can’t agree with that at all. If after the events of this movie Poe isn’t doing some big time soul searching, this whole trilogy is a massive failure. Granted we don’t see him become less of a reckless hotshot but it’s certainly what I expect to happen. You can grow and change and not have it be immediately visible. Finn, the person who lived to be a soldier, starts to see the galaxy that isn’t in a state of constant war and starts to see the context. His relationship with Rose is engaging and exciting. I enjoy the look at military heroism and idealism as Rose moves from idolizing Finn for his supposed deeds in the first film and then seeing that he’s a flawed person and kind of lapping him by the end of the film. I need more of those characters pushing and pulling on each other. Maybe even smooching but I do not want to wade in to the intricacy of Star Wars shipping politics.
If we want to accept the premise that the entire Star Wars series is the story of the Skywalker family (and I’m not sure I do want that, but here we are) this was another smashing success for me. Mark Hamill has spent most of his career at this point as a voice actor, and it was so apparent in his performance here. There are lines and readings where you can still here the kid annoyed at his uncle because he wanted to go get power converters. But there’s also the person who has had to live the last thirty years in a galaxy that he didn’t change nearly as much as he thought he would. I wish we got a little more Leia but they didn’t know they weren’t going to get another chance with her. It’s a sad thing but it is what it is.
The Last Jedi has the inside track to become my favorite Star Wars movie because it is challenging. It takes a universe that, for all the turmoil depicted around the margins, has been a place of very safe storytelling and shakes it all the way up. It shows us not just the corrupt slug gangsters but the people in glittering casinos making money off of selling fighter ships. It’s willing to show us heroes getting old and instead of being cagey or clever like Obi-Wan or Yoda, becoming kind of hopeless and despondent. It gives us villains that are complicated and conflicted at moments before their sudden but inevitable betrayal. I’ve never felt this excited, this alive, after walking out of a Star Wars film in my lifetime as I did after The Last Jedi.
Spoiler Alert: This column will deal with some plot points in Star Wars Episode VII The Force Awakens. It’s possible that you may not have seen it yet although I think just about anyone who has any real interest in seeing it has seen it. If you are one of those who haven’t seen it and want to avoid plot revelations, avoid this column. Likewise, if you just don’t give a hang about Star Wars, you might want to avoid it as well. It’ll just bore the life out of you. Fan geek stuff. You know.
I’ve seen the new Star Wars film, Episode VII The Force Awakens a couple of times. Twice at least in the IMAX theater and now on Blu-Ray. Basically, I really enjoyed it. It makes up for the prequels and does what I always wanted in the next Star Wars film – it tells me what happened next.
That said, I do have some quibbles. I don’t mind, as some fans do, that the movie seems to replicate plot points from the first SW film, a.k.a. Episode IV. They had the Death Star, Episode VII has the Starkiller Base. The planet Alderaan gets blowed up real good in Episode IV; the planetary system that included Coruscant got blowed up real good in Episode VII (which, by the way, I think was a mistake). Both films have the mentor figure killed off by the villain dressed in black who wears a helmet. Skywalker males are whiners in all the trilogies. Anakin was a big time whiner in the prequels, Luke whined at least at the start, and now Kylo Ren whines just before he commits patricide. Leia never whines. Han doesn’t whine. Just the Skywalker boys.
Some of the similarities annoy me. Why is it, when the Jedi suffer a set-back, they go off somewhere to pout… excuse me, “meditate”… while the galaxy falls apart? Yoda and Obi-Wan could have found and rallied the remaining Jedi (or created new ones) to go after Darth Vader and Darth Sidious. But no. The remaining Jedi lie in hiding while terrible things happen to the galaxy and the planet Alderaan gets blowed up real good while the remaining Jedi pout. I mean meditate. In the new film, it’s a big plot point that the galaxy is waiting for Luke to come back and save it. The bad guys are hunting for his location so they can kill him and wipe out any possibility of the Jedi really returning. That’s a given. Where’s Luke? Off pouting. I mean meditating. And the flaming Coruscant system gets blowed up real good.
I suppose it could be argued that Luke, after his first attempt to make more Jedi goes spectacularly bad, decides to go look for the first Jedi Temple since he doesn’t really know what he’s doing. However, that’s speculating without any real proof.
In the earlier Star Wars films, it is said that Darth Vader, a.k.a. Anakin Skywalker, still had some good in him. I’ve argued this before: I don’t see it. He killed children, he betrayed the Jedi Order, he helped hunt down remaining Jedi, he was complicit in the destruction of the planet Alderaan but it’s okay because, at the end, he turns on the evil Emperor because the latter is electrocuting Vader’s son.
Now, in the latest film, the new Man In Black, Kylo Ren, a.k.a. the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa, kills people, wrecks Luke’s nascent new Jedi Club, orders the destruction of a village, is complicit in the destruction of a whole planetary system and he commits patricide. Yes, this a-hole kills off his Dad, Han Solo, who is one of the favorite characters in Star Wars, who is trying to help him at the time. Kylo does lots of other nasty stuff but we know he will be around for the next film and probably the one after that. If the other films follow the pattern of the earlier films, we may see a desire to redeem the little bugger as Vader was redeemed.
Let me repeat. Kylo (Ben Solo) Ren commits patricide. Throughout history in Western Civilization, that is considered an unspeakable crime, an unforgivable sin. I loved Han Solo and, before he buys it in this film, we’re given some great moments that reminds us all why he’s such a favorite character. And his little snot of a son kills him.
I suppose in the next film or so we’ll get some of Ren’s backstory and maybe understand him better. As it is, I feel no sympathy, no empathy for him. I don’t think he is redeemable any more than I think Vader/Anakin was redeemed. IMO, he needs to die as soon as the plot can arrange it.
However, as I said before, these are quibbles. I don’t want to give the impression that I didn’t like the new Star Wars because I enjoyed it immensely. I found it satisfying and a great return to a galaxy far, far away. I think the female lead, Daisy Ridley playing Rey, is a wonderful addition to the saga. At recent conventions I’ve attended, I’ve seen a lot of young girls cos-playing Rey and I think that’s great. It invigorates Star Wars with new energy.
Not so long ago in a movie theater not too far away. . .
(WARNING! Danger, Will Robinson! Spoilers spoilers spoilers!
If you have not seen SW VII and you don’t want to know what happen , avoid this article. In order to discuss it, plot details will get revealed. You’ve been warned.)
Okay, so I’m late to the party. Again. I finally went to see Star Wars: Episode VII The Force Awakens this last week after about a gazillion other folks had seen it (it has grossed over a billion dollars worldwide).
I’m not an average SW fan. I’d labored in Uncle George’s sandbox for about a decade, writing Star Wars comics for Dark Horse. So I know the territory pretty well. As I’ve noted elsewhere, I was a fan from before the first movie came out, as I’d read the novel of the movie. So my credentials are pretty good.
I really enjoyed myself. Episode VII now joins Episodes IV and V as my favorites. I am sorry to say that my prediction on these pages from a few weeks ago turned out to be true. This is one time Han definitely should have shot first.
There are those (especially fans) who have quibbles and some of them are fair. There are re-cycled elements to the plot, most especially a planet killing (in this case, planetary system killing) weapon like the Death Star. This time it’s called Starkiller Base. You kinda wish the bad guys would think up some other threat. It makes them Vader One Notes.
Speaking of – the main baddie is dressed in black with a black armored mask and uses the Dark Side, pretty much like Darth Vader and is, in fact, Vader’s grandson. (See? I warned you there would be spoilers.) He appears to be conflicted (as Vader supposedly was) and there “is still good in him” but does some pretty rotten things, as Vader did, and I’m not certain I think he’s worth redeeming. He orders an entire village killed. He’s an accomplice in killing off an entire planetary system. He kills his dad, for crying out loud! (And once again, Star Wars has characters with daddy issues.)
Luke Skywalker has gone missing and everyone seems to be looking for him. He was training a bunch of new Jedi but one went bad and killed the others and Luke went off into self-exile. Why do the Jedi keep on doing that? Something goes wrong and they go off to pout somewhere. Yoda did it. Obi-Wan did it (he was supposedly watching over Luke but he also was in self-imposed exile).
There is a father-son confrontation on a metal crosswalk that doesn’t end well. Spaceships still travel at the speed of plot. The climax includes an X-wing attack on a small target to destroy the Big Bad Weapon as time is running out for the good guys.
I understand the desire to use former plot elements; this is re-starting the franchise and calling back to the first film (now called Episode IV). That’s what ignited our love for Star Wars in the first place. Having a story that reminds us of all that is not necessarily a bad idea. And it executed real well. Great visuals and, for a change, a really good script with sharp dialogue.
Above all, there were plenty of new things as well, key among them were the younger cast members. Don’t get me wrong – I just about cheered every time the older ones showed up. “Chewie. . .we’re home.” just about killed me. Heck, just seeing the Millennium Falcon for the first time was great. What was key is that the new Luke Skywalker figure is female – Rey, played by newcomer Daisy Ridley. Yes, yes, yes – Leia was always a hero, but not like this. This is a Force using, lightsaber swinging hero and it’s a she. That is huge, IMO. And I think it’s going to have a powerful impact on young girls seeing the movie.
And the other new central hero, Finn (played by John Boyega) is black. Star Wars, in the past, has had trouble working in minorities, for whatever reason. This puts them front and center. Also, I don’t recall a character like Finn before in SW; he’s a turncoat stormtrooper who can’t be the bastard that he’s ordered to be. He rebels, he defects, and – yeah – he also swings a lightsaber.
Our third new hero, Poe Dameron, is the hottest pilot in the Resistance and is played by a Latino, Guatemalan born Oscar Isaac. Yes, Jimmy Smits is Latino and played Bail Organa (Leia’s adoptive father) in the prequel trilogy so Isaac is not the first Latino to play a major role in Star Wars but Poe Dameron is a hot shot X-Wing pilot and that’s just sexy.
The latest Star Wars reflects the changing face of the United States and that makes it feel far more contemporary. It speaks to now while retaining what we’ve loved about Star Wars. And it’s just great fun. I’ll be eagerly waiting Episode VIII and, in the meantime, will go back again to see Episode VII many times. It’s taken a couple decades but there is a Star Wars worth viewing again.
Which came first, the movie or the toy? Okay, I kid, but seriously – was there ever a more perfectly marketable movie character than that fat little orange-and-white droid, BB-8? From his appearance in the first trailer, everyone seemed to fall in love with the little guy (me included). And then we learned that not only could we have one for our very own (and love him and hug him and pet himand call him George), but he wasn’t going to be just a collectible figure – he was going to be a rolling, beeping, interactive little friend just like in the movie. What could be better?
Well, a life-sized, autonomous BB-8; but until science attains the achievement of creating gen-u-ine droid companions for all of us, this is the next best thing. First of all, this little robotic guy was just designed to tug at our human heartstrings. With his rounded shape and head that are an almost cartoon-like cross between human and droid (less machine-shaped than R2-D2, but also less human-like than C-3PO), expressive sounds, quick movements, and loyal dog-like personality, he’s simply a sweetheart of a droid – exactly the loyal little pet-companion we’d all like. Second, Sphero’s product brings the movie character to life in a fun, interactive way, while still leaving room through its interface for updating and adding features via the BB-8 app (in fact, between my first and second test runs, they added four more personality interactions). Pretty cool!
I first encountered Sphero’s BB-8 in person at Dragon Con, where one of Peter Mayhew’s reps was playing around with Mayhew’s BB-8 during a room party; and as soon as I saw him, I understood what all the fuss was about (and decided I must have one). Like many people, I got to test-drive my BB-8 before Star Wars: The Force Awakens even came out (in the ultimate example of marketing leading a movie, we got to learn his character via the toy before even really meeting him on the big screen). But unlike some, I just got my little BB-8 a few days ago (and saw the movie last night). So I got to have fun with mini BB-8 just days before seeing his origin.
After playing around with my new toy, here’s what I’ve learned:
BB-8 is not too hard to use, once you’ve figured out the wordless instructions he comes with. Getting to that point can be a little difficult – despite the simple pictograms that seem like they should be easy to figure out, I also had to troll around a bit on Sphero’s online FAQ before I got the hang of a few things. However, they do have both the FAQ and a video to help get people started; and once the features are figured out, they’re super easy to remember from use to use. It would have been nice to have it all right there; but then, in this day and age, it’s not surprising they’ve decided to put most of the more in-depth stuff online. In the end, it’s not such a bad system – since the FAQ answers most of the questions I wanted to know, once I found the FAQ it was more like a treasure hunt than an exercise in frustration.
The design and functionality of the droid seem really solid. The charging station is easy to use and also looks really cool (I’m considering giving it a place of honor on my desk at work, although I kind of fear some covetous person will try to reenact the movie by attempting to steal him away because he’s just so cute). The fully charged BB-8 can be played with for an hour before needing a recharge. The droid itself, which has already knocked into a bunch of my walls while “learning its environment,” seems pretty durable (and is supposed to be water resistant, although I’m wary of testing that). The Bluetooth communication range (once you’ve got it connected) is pretty far (for instance, I left him on “Patrol” and he went all the way around the corner and into my bedroom, probably at least 20 feet away through a concrete wall). He also has a speed adjustment, which makes him controllable on both smooth floors and carpets without causing him to, for instance, spin out of control by going too fast on a smooth floor.
There are a lot of cool features to this droid. You can “drive” him yourself via a directional joystick on the app that is really easy to use (and even drive in “reverse” so it looks like he’s running away backwards). You can give him (to date) twelve commands that will cause him to e.g. shake his head yes or no, go into panic mode, go in a straight line back and forth, or make a figure eight or a square. You can leave him on “Patrol” and he will just mosey around on his own (I left mine on Patrol for at least 20 minutes and he was still going when I stopped him). You can also give him voice commands such as, “Run away!” and your little droid will speed away. One caveat I will note regarding the voice commands: they are fairly reliable, but occasionally the app (and I’ve tested it on both the iPhone and Droid Maxx) doesn’t pick up your command, and notes it as an “unknown command.” Further, the “Come in, BB-8” command has not yet worked for me on either phone. However, generally speaking, they’re fun. And finally, you can record and view messages as holograms that look like they are emanating from the BB-8 when viewed through your phone camera screen (and it looks coooool).
You can totally troll your tiny hamster with a BB-8, or use BB-8’s interactive features to make silly videos. It’s pretty hilarious to play around with him in general, and despite being a little machine plus a clever bit of programming, he really takes on a personality through the controls, autonomous movements and noises he (or rather, the app) makes – the first time I tried the “It’s a trap!” command, for instance, my little droid immediately went and hid under the bed. Bless.
Although of course there are a limited number of things he can do thus far, the BB-8 is fascinating to play with because of the control you have, and still fun even after you’ve learned his basic tricks (and I can imagine he will be a hit at my New Year’s party or other places where people who haven’t seen one yet can play with him). Plus, Sphero said they’d be adding more functionalities, and so far, it looks like that’s holding true!
Of course, I’m always an advocate for more and better features, and since they plan to add to the droid’s functionality, here are some things I’d like to see:
Additional voice commands, and possibly customizable voice commands;
Additional movement buttons like the four new ones they just added;
The ability to save holographic messages to your phone and send them to others;
New holographic messages from The Force Awakens;
The ability to run the BB-8 while also using your camera for, e.g., Vine or other social media;
A “return to base” command that brings BB-8 back to his owner’s cell phone without the need to manually drive him.
While learning about my new droid, I also got to talk with the folks at Sphero about him; and while Sphero is being pretty tight-lipped about future features (darn it! I’m curious!), they did answer a few of my BB-8 questions. Here’s what they said:
Can you give us a brief history of the Sphero BB-8? How did it come to be as a product concept, and what went into its creation? How did Sphero’s background as a company and its past creations play into making this little guy a reality?
Co-founders of Sphero, Adam Wilson and Ian Bernstein along with Paul Berbarian (CEO, Sphero) went through the Disney Techstars accelerator program in the summer/fall of 2014. During this program, Bob Iger (CEO, The Walt Disney Company) became a mentor of the trio where he learned more about the original Sphero rolling ball that the company had already created and sold.
As Bob learned more about Sphero’s expertise, he showed the team a secret photo on his phone from the filming of Star Wars: The Force Awakens. He had asked Paul, Ian and Adam if they could make a consumer version of the droid character, BB-8. Adam and Ian saw the opportunity at hand and had a proto-type to Iger within 24 hours. The rest was history.
Any fun behind-the-scenes anecdotes about the BB-8’s development, or its interaction with, e.g., the Star Wars movie creators and actors?
Daisy Ridley and John Boyega attended a “midnight madness” event in London on “Force Friday,” September 4, 2015 when all Star Wars consumer products became available. At this event, Daisy Ridley signed one of the BB-8 by Sphero products for the Sphero team.
Peter Mayhew (who plays Chewbacca) sent his own BB-8 by Sphero product to the Sphero corporate office to have the team who helped create the product, sign it.
There are a few tech specs, features and controls I wasn’t completely clear on even after reading the product info and FAQ. Here are a few areas where I’d like more info:
The product information indicates that we will be able to send the “holographic messages” but I was unable to discover how to do so. Is this feature active / on the way? How does it work?
At this time, holographic messages cannot be sent to one another. They are recorded within the app and can be viewed through the app in which they are recorded until deleted.
I know the BB-8 is supposed to learn and adapt to its environment and user, and develop a “personality.” How does it do that, and what indicators will a user see when it starts to do that?
His adaptive personality comes to life through animations and through other actions (for example, he turns red and appears flustered when he runs into another object)
Does the BB-8 really “map” its environment (e.g. obstacles, etc.), and does it remember it beyond the current session? When does it map – only in Patrol mode, or other times?
While BB-8 by Sphero does not utilize true mapping technology, he remembers where he goes (it’s outlined in the app when in patrol mode)
The head and antenna are super-cute, but I can see the potential for antenna damage or losing the head (mine already got stuck under a couch while on Patrol, but I rescued it). Will there be spare heads available to purchase?
Yes. Separate heads for BB-8 by Sphero will be sold separately in 2016 at our partner retailers.
Will it damage the BB-8/battery at all if it’s left docked and charging whenever it’s not in use? How long is the battery expected to last, and will there be a way to replace batteries?
Sphero offers a 1 year warranty against manufacturer defect, but the battery is expected to last long after one year.
I saw in the user information that the body of the BB-8 is waterproof. This is my first Sphero product – do they perform in water (e.g. float or run underwater, respond to controls) and would it damage the product to try that out? (And would it work with the head, which is only water resistant, on top, or not?).
BB-8 has a waterproof body and water resistant head.
(Hmm, guess I’ll have to risk testing that one for myself?)
In related things, Sphero’s FAQ says, “The product experience will continue to be updated throughout its lifespan.” That’s great, because with a high-ticket item like this, the fact that there will be additional features added over time makes it more worth the price and people more likely to buy. What does that entail, or can you give us any sneak peeks into upcoming additions?
We are not able to share any sneak peeks at this time. But we promise to keep the content fresh.
And as for Star Wars: The Force Awakens itself, I’m still digesting the movie from a late viewing last night. But in brief: I thoroughly enjoyed it (and not just for BB-8), and it managed to throw a few surprises my way, as well. At the same time, it’s fascinating to see how much it echoes the first trilogy and manages to be exactly what Star Wars fans would expect while still feeling fresh. Through design (oh, those scrolling intros and old-school transitions!), camera work, and soundtrack, the aesthetics of the old and new movies match despite the long time gap between their creations. And throughout the movie, there are near matches to plot, setting, and character beats that were present in the first trilogy.
And yet, while watching the movie, it (mostly) didn’t feel too self-referential or re-hashed. And although the movie followed many tropes both generally and in line with what the first trilogy had done, it did also manage to buck a few expectations, which is always welcome. All-in-all, an enjoyable movie experience that fits well within the franchise, but is different enough to keep you thinking about it for a bit.
Which I will do, as I continue to roll around with my BB-8, the coolest movie tie-in merchandise I’ve owned to date. I recommend you get one too. And until next time, Servo Lectio!