Celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

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Return of the Jedi was meant to be the end of an era. For the most stubborn of the Star Wars fans, it is the end, as some want to pretend the prequels never happened. It is the conclusion to Luke’s journey and the closing of an epic tale.

This is my favorite movie in the entire saga, yes, including the prequels. While I admire the risk taken by revealing that Darth Vader is in fact Anakin Skywaler, to me Jedi is better because it is the next step. Having a big reveal is one thing. What is an even bigger risk is going forward with that reveal and letting it alter the course of the story.

There are drastic changes as a result of the story. Lando Carlrissian, a former friend of Han Solo, has now joined the Rebellion. Apparently in the time between Jedi and Empire, Lando wanted to make amends for sacrificing Solo for the sake of allowing Cloud City to remain neutral. Seeing his friend encased in carbonite causes him to realize he cannot sit idly by and hope that someday the Empire will be overthrown.  He spent the last half of the movie helping Leia to escape Cloud City. He takes the next step in his atonement and joins the rebellion.

Han Solo is no longer neutral either. There were hints early on that Solo wanted to join the rebellion like the rest of the heroes. However, he couldn’t as long as Jabba the Hutt was alive and threatening his life. He’d be endangering his friends because every bounty hunter would be gunning for him. But when Leia murders Jabba, that threat is lifted and now Solo can be the hero he was meant to be.

Yoda is now close to death when Luke meets him once more. The once courageous and eccentric mentor is now no longer needed and he faces death with dignity, as Obi-Wan Kenobi did before him. But before he passes away, he tells Luke the truth. Obi-Wan explains that they did not keep the truth from Luke because they felt he could not handle it, but because they didn’t want him to make the same mistake Anakin did. Even if he is doing a good thing by confronting Vader, if he lets his emotions cloud his judgement, it will be all the more easier for the Emperor to manipulate him. And he almost succeeds.

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Film Freak: Fantastic Planet

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I’m a lover of animation and surrealism, and I learned of one of the best examples of both from a friend, Fantastic Planet. (or as it’s titled in its original language, La Planéte Sauvage, literally “The Wild Planet) It was released in 1973 and is based on the is based on the 1957 novel Oms en série by Stefan Wul.

The animation is reminiscent of the kind used in Monty Python’s Flying Circus. It’s nice to look at. There is some nudity here and there, so I wouldn’t recommend it for children. Plus, it’s pretty disturbing.

The story takes place on an alien world. The opening scene right away shows us how nightmarish this world is. A woman is seen running and carrying her baby. She is stopped by giant blue hands. One picks her up and she drops the child. She is dropped to her death, and then we meet the aliens, the Draags. These are blue-skinned aliens who live in prosperity. The humans–which they call Oms–have it worse. They are kept as pets and some of the Draags regard them as vermin. They look at the humans like a scientist would look at a mouse. A curiosity for experiment and entertainment for children, but not much else.

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Celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back

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For many Star Wars fans, The Empire Strikes Back is the definitive movie of the franchise. Although the franchise debuted in 1977, Star Wars really feels more like a byproduct of the 80’s than the 70’s. That’s how ahead of its time the original movie was. It not only secured the franchise as a permanent part of our culture, but also secured George Lucas’s place as a filmmaker. For better or worse, Star Wars defined him. Even when he tried to do a different movie later in the 80’s, Willow, it paled in comparison to Star Wars. Yes, he also helped make the Indiana Jones franchise. but that was a collaboration with Steven Spielberg. Star Wars was the more definitive movie.

Although I enjoy the series as a whole, Empire is not my favorite of the series. Which one is? You’ll find that out next time. That doesn’t mean I don’t like the movie, far from it. I just don’t enjoy it as much as everyone else does.

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Celebrating 40 Years of Star Wars: A New Hope

new-hopeThis year marks the 40th anniversary of the Star Wars franchise. It’s been through a lot of changes, some good and bad. I’ve decided to look at both the original and the Disney versions as a way of showing how much it’s changed, and whether or not the Disney version is good or not. Let’s start where it all began.

George Lucas has been getting a lot of flack since the prequels. Frankly, I think it needs to be toned down. The man was a genius, even if all his ideas didn’t pan out. To me, Star Wars was at its best when it wasn’t the top of the mountain that it is today. That might be its biggest problem: it can’t die no matter what happens.

It’s hard to believe, but Lucas had a lot of trouble getting A New Hope off the ground. His first movie, THX 1138, was a huge flop. (To be honest, I’ve never even seen it.) But one thing helped immensely: American Graffiti. American Graffiti was an unexpected hit. It resonated with audiences both young and old and presented an America people missed. It was a new hope for an America that was still dealing with the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Lucas was good friends with Francis Ford Coppola, who at the time was making Apocalypse Now, the epic commentary on the Vietnam War inspired by Joseph Conrad’s “Heart of Darkness”. He actually wanted Lucas to help out, and Lucas was interested, but he still had visions to turn The Star Wars (which was the working title for A New Hope) into something great. And the popularity of American Graffiti was enough to encourage him to take this chance. But Lucas was also nervous. Star Wars was expensive to make. He needed to film it outside of America for the Tatooine scenes (which were filmed in Tunisia). That, and the effects seemed like they might stop the film from making even enough money to recover from the cost of making the film itself. Lucas was even concerned that he had borrowed too much from Akira Kurosawa’s film The Hidden Fortress and even wanted to buy the rights to it just in case he should ever be accused of plagiarizing it. Eventually, he realized there was no need. It was a homage, not a remake.

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Memory Lane: Top 10 Best Disney Movies

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I’ve been a Disney fan for as long as I can remember. While I didn’t enjoy ever single animated movie, they were still good memories, and I still think of all the studios, Disney still has the best record. So for this week’s edition of Aspie Catholic, I’m counting down my favorite Disney movies. Some criteria first:

  1. I consider Pixar a separate entity. Originally, Disney merely distributed the movies. The same goes for Studio Ghibli movies, especially since not all Ghibli movies are distributed by Disney (Grave of the Fireflies and From Up On Poppy Hill for instance)
  2. No direct-to-video movies.
  3. I wanted to only talk about movies I grew up watching over and over. So I’m stopping with The Lion King. Anything made after that isn’t eligible, as I was an adult by that point.

So let’s begin.

lion-king

#10. The Lion King–This movie is often considered the beginning of a new renaissance for Disney, but in reality it’s not. Computer animation was started before this with The Great Mouse Detective,and using pop music started with Oliver and Company. This was more the result of good storytelling and marketing. It was the right place and time, while the others flopped due to poor timing. Besides that, Lion King is a magnificent movie, even if it’s borrowing from Shakespeare and Japanese animation.

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#9. Robin Hood began a trend in Disney that continued with Mickey’s Christmas Carol and their version of the Three Musketeers starring Mickey, Donald, and Goofy–Making anthromorphic characters out of popular folklore. It was at a bad time for Disney, when they were recycling animation. But let’s not quibble over that. It’s still a good movie.

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#8. 101 Dalmatians has been turned into a franchise thanks to its needless live-action version, but I like the original cartoon best. Cruella De Ville is one of my favorite Disney villains because of how over-the-top she is. Yes, Disney had scary villains like Scar and Maleficent, but sometimes their less frightening ones were still entertaining.

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#7. Fox and the Hound was a great parable about racism cleverly disguised as a cute story. It’s a powerful story about how what we’re taught by society can destroy opportunities for true friendships.

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#6. The Little Mermaid was a beautiful rendition of the classic Hans Christian Andersen story. It was the start of Disney’s relationship with Alan Menken and Tim Rice, leading to other great scores in movies such as Aladdin and Lion King (Elton John recorded his versions separately. They were never used in the actual movie). Ursula is another one of the greatest Disney villains. Ariel was also the start of a new kind of Disney heroine–one who takes a more active role in the story than characters like Cinderella and Aurora from Sleeping Beauty.

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Film Freak: The Killing Joke

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One of my all-time favorite Joker stories is The Killing Joke. The story was controversial because it brutally changed the status quo: Batgirl (Barbara Gordon) was now paralyzed from the legs down. Because of this, she would later become the hacker Oracle. It also recounted the Joker’s origin, building on how he started out as The Red Hood. I personally believe this story helped Batgirl become a better character, more than just a female, younger version of Batman.

I was excited when I learned that an animated feature was being made. When I learned that Mark Hammil, Tara Strong, and Kevin Conroy were reprising their roles as The Joker, Batgirl, and Batman, I was even happier. The movie even became DC’s first animated feature to have an R-rating. That’s really the only way the story can be done. This is the Joker proving that everyone is as twisted and sadistic as him. He believes all everyone needs to push them over the brink is a “bad day”. And this is him giving Commissioner Gordon and Batman that “bad day”.

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Film Freak: Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country

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Twenty-five years ago, Star Trek wasn’t just in theaters, it was on TV too. The Next Generation was a hit, and a spin-off called Deep Space 9 was also produced, the first to be done without any involvement from Gene Roddenberry. Star Trek V was by almost all accounts a terrible movie, but this was the anniversary. Something special had to be done. Paramount was poised to start a new series of movies, this time focusing on The Next Generation. To begin, the torch had to be passed, and we needed a proper movie to make it work. Once more onto the breach, to quote Shakespeare. In fact, Shakespeare is appropriate, as the subtitle is also a Shakespeare play reference. Did I mention there’s a scene where the Klingons quote Shakespeare as well?

This movie brought everything full circle. As in Wrath of Khan, the crew is once again feeling their age. Sulu is now the captain of the Excelsior. Kirk is expected to give up his grudge against the Klingons, a grudge fueled by the death of his son in Search for Spock. Kirk has discovered that two Klingon dignitaries have been killed, and he is the prime suspect. With the murder of his son, Kirk has a proper motive.

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