Jumanji 2: The Next Level

What’s the best thing to do to a movie that did relatively well? Make a sequel!

This writer dies a little inside when this happens. When you have a good story there are specific elements that have to be in place to make that magic happen. It’s a combination of character, location, and problem that makes the story come alive and makes an audience excited to watch.

I’ve harped on this a few times before (ahem, Frozen 2, I’m looking at you). When a story has a satisfying ending and everyone is happy, it leaves little room to add more to it. The big bad has been defeated and there’s literally nothing else to do that makes sense. This is true for this sequel. They ended the first movie in the Jumanji series with the characters destroying the game console, literally breaking the chance of anyone to ever be trapped in the game ever again.

Which is why writing this sequel would be a challenge. We reenter the story when the characters who were originally high school students are now in college. With that single choice, all the problems our teenagers had are now being faced by adults and that change in attitude shifts the meaning of everything.

My Review

I only half liked the movie and that’s because the three main actors are are some of my favorites. Jack Black, Dwayne Johnson, and Karen Gillan can come to dinner anytime and I would be ecstatic.

The movie itself suffers from script writers literally inventing problems just to be able to create a new movie. With our main characters now older it introduces a whole host of adult problems. No longer is the biggest problem about embracing who you are and rocking your best self, now it’s more about not being afraid to maintain a long distance relationship and with the inclusion of some new characters, worrying about bad decisions made years ago.

This is where I think the largest misstep happened. The main character Alex has a crazy grandpa who is staying at his house as he recovers from hip surgery. He and his old friend turned enemy get sucked into the game. It was supposed to be funny, but like I said, this movie was geared toward a teenage audience and spending a huge amount of time dealing with older people acting in an over the top stereotypical elderly way really got on my nerves. Maybe that’s because I’m not a teen, not sure. All I know is the ideas and imagination of the first movie came across as truly fresh and funny and in the end I liked it.

For Jumanji 2, yes there was a good message at the end. All the characters got their happy ever afters, again. But to get there they had to go through a lot of the same stuff as the first movie, but this time with the grandparents in tow. It led to lots of awkward that was hard to find funny. My kids were amused by it, but clearly didn’t like it as much as the first one by far.

Did I mention they snuck Awkwafina in there?

Recommendations

If you loved the Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle and you want to recapture that magic for another movie, The Next Level will get you 60% of the way there. There is the same body switching hijinks and the same puzzle solving mentality that came with the first movie enough so that it’s an okay watch.

If you were hoping for something that elevates the “Welcome to the Jungle” experience, you will probably be disappointed. Most of the story is the same problems as the original but compounded by needing to explain it to these older characters who just can’t get a clue no matter how hard it’s thrown at them.

I give it Jumanji: the Next Level 3/5, a solid Meh.

Cats 2019: Just, why?

Back when I was a teenager and at the time deeply involved in modern dance, I went to see Cats on Broadway. It was quite the experience. I didn’t know what to expect but was excited because it was one of the musicals where I’d grown up listening to the music.

Even with all that, it was weird. I loved watching the talent of the dancers and the sheer athleticism it took to do the unique cat-like choreography. Hearing the music from a live performance carries it’s own special kind of energy. With all that there’s plenty to enjoy even if the story itself doesn’t seem to work.

Most people don’t know that Cats: The Musical was originally a collection of poems published in 1939 called “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats” by T. S. Eliot. In it, and to no surprise, each poem talks about different cats and their names. In 1954 six of these poems were set to be performed with a speaker and orchestral accompaniment in a work called “Practical Cats”. They were later adapted into the musical using several of Eliots unpublished works. Interesting note, Grizabella, the cat chosen to be the jellical cat and the one who sings Memory, wasn’t in the original Practical Cats book and was also pulled from the unpublished works.

When Cats left Broadway, movie producers saw this as an opportunity. It had earned 3.5 billion in the US over the course of its 18 year run, there had to be enough people interested it seeing it blown into a silver screen masterpiece. There needed to be changes to create a better storyline and the inclusion of several big names to spice up the appeal and thus the Tom Hooper Cats disaster was born.

Meet Victoria, the newest cat to enter the Cats pantheon of odd characters

What they did right

While most will criticize the CGI used to make people look like actual cats, they did a remarkable job making cat/human hybrids. The ears, whiskers, and tails all acted like they would on a real cat. The real problem wasn’t the CGI itself, but the very real issue of creating something that hits all the uncomfortable notes of the uncanny valley. A super realistic cat/human hybrid is creepy.

They used ballerinas and professional dancers to do all the heavy lifting, and thank heavens! Cats is known for its complicated and energetic choreographed numbers and the film lived up to that expectation. I would watch it just for the dancing and dump the rest.

The locations, even if they mostly were CGI were interesting and appropriate. This is more of a challenge than you’d think. Every thing would have to be created in a different scale to reinforce the idea that these people are supposed to be cats.

Hey look, they created a character so Taylor Swift could play too. How nice.

What they did wrong

They made the movie believing it would be successful. They spent over $100 million and recent numbers say they only grossed $76 million.

Okay, that’s harsh. The Broadway musical did well because people knew what it was going in and there’s something special about a live performance that movies can’t live up to. Trying to make it fit the masses and hope for the same success was asking too much.

Huge mistake #1 – They made the cathumans too realistic to the point they were uncomfortable to watch. There was a thin layer of CGI fur that was all that separated my eyes from what looked like a bunch of naked people running around and singing. Like I said, uncomfortable. The stage musical can get away with it because the dancers are clearly wearing unitards.

Huge mistake #2 – They tried to make it a more compelling story by adding extra elements to help explain what was going on that didn’t really work. It doesn’t matter how you try to explain it, the “story” of Cats will never be a compelling one because 90% of the screentime is spent in all the introductions. There’s no time to build up what any of the important stuff is or why it matters.

Huge mistake #3 – They put human faces on cockroaches and mice. Not even joking. And worse, some of the cockroaches get eaten by cathumans. So gross. And, we just won’t mention the whole part with Rebel Wilson in all her nearly naked cat furriness. I’m scarred for life.

I wasn’t lying. It’s not pretty.

My recommendations

If you loved the stage musical of Cats and want to revisit those moments, you might like the movie. But be warned, they changed the tune of several of the songs. All of the good songs are still there, but a few of the minor ones got a significant face lift. Also, if you enjoy good choreography and watching great dancing, then you’ll at least enjoy those moments. However, there aren’t enough of them to justify wading through the whole movie.

If you’re uncomfortable with the idea of Cathumans, or seeing far too much of Rebel Wilson. or if you really need your movies to have a story and a point, then you better skip this one.

I give the 2019 Cats a 2/5

Watching the Extended LOTR with Kids – all Twelve Hours

Being stuck at home has very few perks, being able to watch the entire extended Lord of the Rings movies with the whole family ended up being one of them. My kiddos hadn’t seen any of them before. Until recently the youngest was too young to understand or be okay with the action scenes. It might have been desperation talking, but we deemed it the perfect time to add a whole new universe to their ever growing list of sci-fi/fantasy experiences.

Normally when we suggest doing a family movie night, the suggestion is met with a mixed bag of whining and gnashing of teeth. One of the three will be cool with it and the other two, depending on how teenagery they feel about the whole thing, will try to respectfully (or not so respectfully, depending on how the current Fortnight match is going) decline.

This time ALL THREE wanted to watch, and not just the first movie, or the first part of the first movie. No, they all wanted to watch all three movies. That’s a whopping 12 hours of family togetherness. Win.

I’m not sure if it was stir crazies caused by day after day of being stuck at home with a dwindling list of things that sound remotely interesting to do, or if Lord of the Rings holds some mystical appeal that attracts our nerdiness like a magnet, but I’m grateful. For eight nights over the course of two weeks, we snuggled up on the couches, popped popcorn, and watched the epic unfold.

For a movie that’s turning twenty in 2021, the story and the cinematography has stood the test of time remarkably well. It was amazing when it came out, it’s amazing now.

As a lifelong fantasy fan, having my kids enjoy something that I love is a dream come true. We played spot the Peter Jackson and discussed Andy Serkis’s evolution from minor role, to major character. We cheered the good guys winning and hid under blankets when Shelob crawled out of her spidery hole. We all cringed when Aragorn starts singing and hooted when he and Arwen smooched on screen. There might have even been a few tears shed as Eowyn witnesses the dying breath of King Theodred.

While I can’t plan on this amount of sheer movie attractiveness ever happening again, I can rest assured that hubby and I have done our part in teaching the kiddos their geek legacy.

Favorite moments from the films include Gandalf smacking his head inside Bilbo’s home at Bag End, Gandalf decking a throughly panicked Denethor with his staff, watching my 8-year-old crouch on the end of the couch just like Gollum, and Samwise carrying Frodo up the mountain.

Next on the list: The extended Hobbit movies. We’ve got a whole box of microwave popcorn and apparently endless opportunities for family togetherness – let’s do this thing!

What are you all watching with your families? I’d love to hear about it!


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Breathing New Life into The Little Prince

There is a tiny book that has made a lot of impact in my life and that is The Little Prince, by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. Back in what seems like forever ago, also known as 2015, Netflix took on the extraordinary challenge to create a feature length film of the book. At first, I was sincerely worried. Would they be able to capture the same light-hearted innocence? Would they hint at the deeper life lessons hidden inside?

Turns out they did, and they did a stunning job of it. The movie makes me cry every time I watch it. It’s one of the few movies that even knowing that I’ll cry, that I still will watch regularly. I’ve seen it *gasp* more than Titanic. Hard to believe, but true.

The book all by itself is full of wonderful flights of the imagination and comes packaged in a lovely narrative frame using an older narrator, the Aviator to guide us through the pages. Taking inspiration from that literary framing, the movie took the idea one step further by framing it again from the perspective of a little girl who gets told the story when she needed it most.

It was a risk that I feel payed off. Not only did it give the watcher the opportunity to see the story through the eyes of a child, but it showed how that child changed. This little girl is the opposite of both the aviator and the Little Prince. Daughter of a hard working accountant, she was given no room for creativity in her life. She is destined to go to the prestigious Wentworth Academy and to do so must spend each waking minute hard at work studying and writing papers.

To emphasize the difference between the girls life and that of the story of the Little Prince, her scenes are rendered in clean computer animation which feels symbolic of the clean orderly straightforward life she is living in. The only break from the orderliness is the home of her neighbor, a raggity collection of angles and ideas that have all hunkered together into a modpodged whole.

When we watch the Little Prince scenes, they are created in breathtaking stop motion – all done with gorgeous paper crafting. It is as if the story itself has risen from the scraps of paper and colored pencil in which the Aviator has written it. If you still haven’t made up your mind to watch this movie, do it just to see how pretty it all is. You won’t regret it. It is truly art in motion.

The girl needs someone to show her what it means to be a child. If you recall, one of the biggest complaints that the character of the Aviator makes is that adults forget everything important when they grow up. They forget how to play and have fun and start believing all life is is work and being paid and in turn paying bills.

The story of the Little Prince is revealed to us one piece as a time as it is shared by the girl’s eccentric neighbor, a quirky elderly gentleman who once was the Aviator. He’s childlike in his fascinations with color and story and is always working on something wild and wonderful. It is him, not the story that get’s the little girl to finally pay attention to why wonder and play is so important.

Some would argue that they took a few too many liberties when it came to the movie’s ending. At the beginning, I was one of them. Instead of ending the story with the end of the book, they extended the story and showed what happened to the Little Prince when he became and adult and forgot everything important. It takes a journey of the girl to save him and remind him of what was truly important, his planet, asteroid B612 and his rose.

By saving him, the girl in turn saves herself from growing up too fast. She proves that she can enjoy the best of both worlds and be responsible as well as fun loving. She even shows her mother, who has the best of intentions but not perhaps the best tools, how to enjoy the little things.

In the end, the 2015 Netflix production of the Little Prince is both charming and profound, It’s a wonderful reminder of the things that are truly important.


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DragonHeart (1996) – No Good Trope Goes Untwisted

If there is one thing we can agree on, it’s that most fantasy books and movies tend to lean on a series of expected tropes. The 1996 DragonHeart movie tries so hard to twist many of these tropes that the outcome is, well different.

Hi everyone! As a survival tactic, I’ve turned to some of my old favorite fantasy movies, and this one has stood the test of time better than others. Even better, they’ve made a handful of sequels that are begging to be explored. Fun fact: this is one of the few movies accidentally acquired because I rented the DVD then turned it into the wrong Hollywood Video. Does that date me, yes it does.

Evil Overlord

Perhaps the biggest trope that gets twisted in this movie is that of the evil overlord found in King Einon. He’s greedy and kills indiscriminately and doesn’t hold to the vows he’s taken. Where this gets twisted is that he has half of a good dragon’s heart so lots of story twisting has to happen for this villain to get what he deserves.

The Good Bad Dragon

Dragons in most fantasy are either all bad or all good. They are only around to either roast precious damsels and hoard gold or dispense much needed help to the main character. DragonHeart has a bit of both. All the villagers seem to agree that dragons are always bad and out to heat and eat their livestock. However, the nobility have insider info on the dragons where they are good and can be appealed to for favors. Our noble-ish night Bowen skirts that line by using the good nature of the dragon to blackmail poor villagers.

Willful Ignorance

There has to be some suspension of disbelief in all fantasy storytelling or the audience wouldn’t listen at all. We are willing to accept the existence of dragons in order to enjoy a good tale. Most stories have a few times where the main character refuses to believe an obvious truth because we like the whole twisty-ness of it all. In DragonHeart, Bowen has been searching the entire British Isles to kill off all of the dragons. When he gets to the last one and has to make a deal, he doesn’t realize this is the same dragon that he feels betrayed him. It’s not until it’s relevant to the story that the dragon reveals himself.

The Noble Sacrifice (Um, Spoiler Alert…)

This one happens all the time. Someone super important to the story has to sacrifice their life in order to make victory possible. In DragonHeart this gets super literal. The bad king, Einon, can’t die unless the dragon dies because he has half the dragon’s heart. They literally have to kill the dragon to emerge from the battle victorious. It’s bittersweet and noble (and such a stupid waste of perfectly good dragon!).

The Charming Rogue gone Good

Our dear knight is a good guy at heart who has bad things happen to him so he feels justified doing less than noble things to get by. Think Han Solo. He’s a good guy but also needs money and happens to have a few tricks up his sleeve. Bowen is charming and everything a gal could want in a rogue, but ultimately has to save the day by doing the last thing he’d ever want, kill a friend – in this case the dragon.

My review of DragonHeart

DragonHeart is entertaining even after all these years. The CGI is great considering the year this movie was released and the story is interesting and has some nice twists. There are a few things that will always bother me. Namely, the script is super kludgy and obvious – no subtlety here. Also, I wouldn’t have picked Dennis Quaid for a Medieval period piece, like at all.

It was fun to see actors like Jason Isaacs and David Thewlis when they are practically teenagers, especially since they both were in important rolls in Harry Potter.

For it being family friendly, I’d say it’s fine for the majority of families. There is violence stereotypical to standard Medieval fantasy (not Game of Thrones, mind you. More like Conan the Barbarian), mild depictions of injury and blood, no offensive language, and one cringey moment of bedroom innuendo that doesn’t result in anything.

For sentimentality’s sake I give DragonHeart 4/5 stars


If you like Dragon stories, check out these two anthologies!

Jodi L Milner is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.

Aladdin 2019, Hello Bollywood

Am I the last one to jump on this bandwagon? Yep. Am I going to use my usual excuse of literally not seeing the movie until last week again? Absolutely. After the whole fiasco with the live action Lion King, 2019, I had my doubts about watching another live action Disney. Hearing rumors of Will Smith being digitally painted blue didn’t help either.

But … I was pleasantly surprised. They took the original story from the 1992 Disney Aladdin, and breathed some new life into it, all without falling into the pitfall we call the uncanny valley. If they had decided to make Abu the monkey talk, then we would have had real problems.

What they did right

Any story that transports the viewer into a new time and place will have an inherent sense of wonder about it, and Aladdin is full of wonder. They created a gorgeous palace and city that felt full of history and culture. The costuming stayed true to the feel of the original animation, but was brought to life in a way that was both beautiful, colorful, and detailed.

Any story set in a foreign land that’s loosely based on a real one needs to be sensitive to offensive stereotypes and unfair comparisons. The very first Aladdin had a handful of these missteps that were corrected in a way that didn’t feel gimmicky. For instance, they swapped out the whole Aladdin runs through a harem bit. The harem is now clearly a school for girls.

Lastly, they framed the story in a new way that added a nice little twist at the end that I thought was charming. One of the biggest questions that the first movie struggled to resolved was ‘What happens to a genie when he is no longer a genie?” In the 1992 movie, Genie stayed magical and didn’t turn into a human. This didn’t seem right. So, the 2019 turned Genie human instead. Works for me.

What they got wrong

I know that CGI is a super fun toy and it lets movie makers create whatever they can dream up (and afford). But – for a critical audience, the best CGI is when you can’t tell there’s been any at all. Poor Abu got CGI slaughtered a few times. Nothing serious, just you could tell where real monkey ended and robomonkey began.

The use of fast and slow motion. This was a directorial choice. Guy Ritchie thought the chase through the market scene that happens when Aladdin runs parkour through Agrabah singing “One Jump” would be cooler if they altered the filming speeds. Dramatic moments were subtly slowed down and action sequences sped up. For me, it made it more silly than necessary.

Ugh, let’s talk about the awkwardness, shall we? Aladdin’s character is known as being a smooth talking, smooth moving street kid. The second he has to pretend he is a prince, all that smoothness flip flops into some amazingly awkwardness that had me hiding under a blanket. It was like 1997 all over again. I get why the awkwardness was important, Aladdin’s big message is that you have to be true to yourself. Whenever he wasn’t true to himself, he turned into a big lump of social disaster. A little awkward is great, funny even, but when it gets to cringe level, tone it down.

And Cue Bollywood!

As promised, let’s talk about how a film that’s meant to have very Arabic origins ended up just like a Bollywood style film. For reference, here’s some of the keystone needs of a Bollywood film:

“Standard features of Bollywood films continued to be formulaic story lines, expertly choreographed fight scenes, spectacular song-and-dance routines, emotion-charged melodrama, and larger-than-life heroes.”

https://www.britannica.com/topic/Bollywood-film-industry-India

Of the five criteria, Aladdin 2019 solidly hits at least three. The first and most obvious are the spectacular song-and-dance routines. The two that stand out are the parade welcoming Prince Ali Ababwa into Agrabah and then the wedding dance at the end of the movie. Both rely on large casts, bright costumes, tightly choreographed dances, and a catchy song.

The next of the three is the emotionally charged melodrama. Yep, we got that. Aladdin is playing a high stakes game with a princess, a sultan, and a nasty advisor. Melodrama is baked right in. Did I mention the tiger?

The last of the three is the formulaic story line. There are three wishes, we know what needs to happen, who needs to do what, and why it’s important. There’s an obvious enemy in Jafar. There’s an emotional problem where Aladdin needs to be true to himself. And there’s the secondary story line where the supporting cast may or may not fall in love. (No spoilers!)

All in all

I said it before, I’ll say it again. I thought it was a great movie. Fun to watch with the kids. Visually impressive. Good music. Entertaining story. It’s a great family movie night pick, or even a sing-a-long. My kids liked it, which is saying a lot.

I give the 2019 Aladdin 4 out of 5 stars, solidly good.


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Confession: I did not watch the 2020 Oscars

This isn’t a political statement, I’m not claiming wrongdoing from any side. If anything, this year’s Academy Awards had lots going for it. I just wasn’t one of the lots. In past years, the bleak months leading up to the Oscars are the perfect time to watch as many of the nominated movies as hubby and I are interested in. This year we managed to watch a handful of the nominees, by accident.

Cue drumroll. The ones we ended up seeing were Lion King (2019), Frozen II, How to Train your Dragon: The Hidden World, Klaus, Avengers: Endgame, and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. Notice a theme here? We’re all about family friendly movies.

Watching the Oscars when you haven’t seen any of the best picture nominations is like watching the Superbowl when you haven’t seen any of the playoffs. There isn’t that emotional intensity of understanding the struggle. You don’t have any idea how hard people worked to get nominated. You simply don’t know enough of the story to know who to root for.

Add to that what’s been an insanity making busy schedule with large events every weekend for what feels like months, for us it wasn’t worth it. We taught the kids how to play poker instead.

Here’s three cheers to those who missed it, you are in good company. As for me, I plan on watching the following nominees/award winners over the course of the coming year:

  • Parasite
  • Jojo Rabbit
  • Toy Story 4
  • Maleficent: Mistress of Evil
  • Knives Out

Let me know if there’s an amazing movie that needs to be added to my list and why you liked it!

Psst! Klaus was one of my personal favorites this year, charming all around – and on Netflix. Go see it!

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Does The Lion King 2019 flirt with the Uncanny Valley?

Let me start out by saying that as a teen, I was obsessed with the 1994 Lion King. Everything thing about it was amazing. In fact, one of the very first CDs I ever bought was the Lion King soundtrack. It’s one of those movies I watched enough times that I can still quote the whole thing.

That said, I was not thrilled that they chose to do a live action version. The 1994 Lion King became a huge part of 90s pop culture. There is so much to live up to that if they fell short anywhere, they would disappoint millions. Including me. I’m a pretty tough customer.

Simba and Zazu (voiced by none other than the ever-amusing John Oliver)

Why we might have an uncanny valley problem

The uncanny valley is a phenomenon found when we try to recreate realistic humans artificially. We usually see this in CGI movies and robots. The idea is that the closer you get to recreating a lifelike human, the creepier it is until you nail it perfectly.

I’ve blogged about this before when I talked about the train wreck that is the live action Grinch movie (which is a super amusing post, if I say so myself) and again when I discuss the concept of the uncanny valley over on my writing blog. That post is far more academic and has graphs. Fascinating stuff.

With animals, the creepiness factor is different, but there is still a general unease when something is off. Finding Nemo cartoonized the characters to be cute and expressive and it totally worked. This new Lion King made the animals photo perfect. In fact, they used live action shots with real animals as much as possible, only adding in the mouth movements when they needed to talk.

For me, this flirted with the uncanny valley. Real animals don’t talk and it’s weird to see them do so in a way that’s super realistic.

Don’t get me wrong, the execution is flawless. The 2019 movie is still a beautiful story of loss and redemption. The music is still the breathtaking tracks from the original movie and has only been adapted slightly to fit this film. And because I loved the first one so much, I started disliking the new one because of the differences and limitations of using live action with CGI.

The Lion King is an emotional story. The characters need to be able to express those feelings. In a cartoon, the animator can exaggerate the facial expressions so that it’s clear what the characters are feeling. In live action using animals we lose all of that and have to infer what they might be feeling using context and body language only. This took away from the experience.

Scrawny Scar and his band of hyenas, ready to drop a hit single

Other significant changes

There were also a few updates to make the movie more politically correct, like removing the Nazi-like imagery from Scar’s big musical number “Be Prepared” and actually having Rafiki speak in Xhosa instead of whatever nonsense words he uses in the 1994 version. I agree with these changes as it shows sensitivity to today’s audience.

But there were also a few script adaptations where key scenes were either shortened, lengthened, or removed. That insightful part where Rafiki smacks Simba in the head and then says he shouldn’t worry about it because it’s in the past – gone. The funny bit where Timon is confused about how Nala wants to eat Pumba while still being friends with Simba – gone.

That lovely five-second bit where Simba flops down and sends a swirl of seeds into the air which Rafiki then finds? They turned that into a three-minute montage where we follow a tuft of lion hair that at one point gets eaten by a giraffe, gets pooped out, and then is transported by dung beetle. Really guys?

Also, the casting. While they kept James Earl Jones as Mufasa, which was an essential choice, they didn’t keep my personal favorite casting, Jeremy Irons as Scar. I get that this might have been a move to make the cast more appropriate for a story set in Africa – but Jeremy Irons performance was amazing and I missed it.

Mufasa! Oooh, that gives me chills. Say it again.

Summing up

I wanted to love the new Lion King like I loved the old one. The story was there, the magnitude of the African landscape was stunning, the voice performances were on point. But, it didn’t hold up to the original. Instead of enjoying it, I kept trying to figure out what they changed and why it felt different. For new audiences, like my kids, this will be their Lion King and they might come to love it like I loved the original.

What are your thoughts? Have you seen it?


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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, a Romeo and Juliet story?

Two households, both alike in dignity, In the Galaxy, where we lay our scene, From ancient grudge break to new mutiny, Where civil blood makes civil hands unclean.

I couldn’t help it. With the whole ending sequence the way it turned out to be I had to explore this idea that Rise of the Skywalker might be, in fact, a retelling of Romeo and Juliet. Star Wars is space fantasy at it’s most dramatic, so it totally fits here on my blog.

I’ll say this early on, this time I will be sharing spoilers so read at your own risk.

The obvious parallels

There are two forces in Star Wars, the way of the Jedi and the Dark side. As a generality, the Dark side has teamed up with the first order and has been a controlling force behind all their goals of expansion and dominion. The Jedi have always sided with the Rebellion, trying to keep a balance in the Galaxy and to shield innocent planets against unfair rule and taxation.

Montagues and Capulets = Palpatines and Skywalkers

In Rise of Skywalker, these two forces are embodied in two characters, who are the last surviving members of two powerful households and also the last reservoirs of power for both the Dark side and the Jedi. In the course of this movie, Rey learns that she is in fact a Palpatine. Kylo Ren is the son of Han Solo and Leia Organa – who as we remember was Luke Skywalker’s sister, making Kylo a Skywalker.

Let’s not forget a vital piece of information. Emperor Palpatine (despite being apparently vaporized during Return of the Jedi) wasn’t, in fact, dead. He’s still powerful and is still calling the shots behind the scenes in the First Order. He is the Montague. As the head of the more powerful house, he is irritated that the lesser house of Skywalker is alive and causing problems.

Kylo and Rey are compelled to be together

If there is to be a true comparison to Romeo and Juliet, there has to be some form of doomed relationship. Enter Kylo and Rey. If you classify obsession as a form of romance, then yes, Kylo is obsessed with Rey. He’s so obsessed, that he can form a force-fueled connection to her where they can interact with each other. Rey feels the connection to him as well but she fears what it means. This doesn’t stop her from ultimately going off on her own to face him.

Can we talk about the death scene?

The thing that makes Romeo and Juliet memorable and tragic is in the climax where a misunderstanding leads to the death of both of them. In the end of Rise of Skywalker, we see something achingly similar. Emperor Palpatine, now a stick puppet of his former self, wants to convert Kylo and Rey to the dark side and continue on his legacy. Throughout his life, he’s tried multiple times to get whoever has the strongest power in the force to strike him down and complete their journey to the dark side. Here it’s no different.

Rey faces him and refuses to strike him down. Knowing that she will never bend, regardless of what he does, he changes tactics like he did with Luke in Return of the Jedi and instead tries to kill her. This results in him gaining some of her power and making it possible for him to regain his former glory without dying. Kylo rushes in, fights briefly and bravely, and is swiftly dispatched off the side of a cliff and is presumed dead.

Here’s where our Romeo and Juliet bit comes in. Rey, believing Kylo is dead, knows she must destroy the Emperor and enters into an epic dual with him. With both Skywalker lightsabers, she deflects his lightning and manages to kill both him and herself in the process.

But alas! Kylo survives the fall and returns to the scene too late. Rey is gone. In the same vein as Romeo and Juliet, he tries to reverse the effects of Palpatine’s lightning damage by infusing her with his own force. This is the equivalent of taking the same poison. He is successful in bringing her back and they share a lovely brief moment, before he dies – finally finding redemption.

The rest of the story

While the elements listed above mirror Romeo and Juliet well, the rest of the story most certainly does not. The Rise of Skywalker had a big job to do. There were so many storylines that needed to find a sense of completion that this movie was destined to be complicated. Here’s a list:

  • Defeat Emperor Palpatine, the power behind the first order
  • Resolve the conflict between Kylo and Rey
  • Restore balance to the force
  • Give Luke a chance to redeem himself for becoming a bitter hermit in Last Jedi
  • Show all our favorite characters getting what they deserve.
  • Give Kylo a chance to be forgiven for the pain he caused his parents
  • Restore Rey’s lineage and missing past
  • Have one last epic space battle to end them all
  • Let us say one last goodbye to Leia

Did I miss any? Yea, probably. Like I said, it’s complicated and lots of these resolution points involve dead people. But, they did a brilliant job in weaving all this together without needing a single senate or lengthy (boring) council scene. Kudos to JJ Abrams and his team for making a brilliant end to a powerful story.

As for you dear readers – What did you think about the movie? What parts stood out to you as especially well done or interesting?


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The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Growing up a nerd in the 80s was a unique experience. Of everything weird and wonderful, there were two movies that stood out and still tickle my imagination every time I see any related artwork. Those two movies were Dark Crystal and Labyrinth.

I’m sure you’re all suitably shocked.

When they announced they were taking the rest of the Dark Crystal story and making a Netflix series, I was both excited and concerned. The art of the original movie is what captured it’s fans, and not necessarily the story. In fact, while I loved the art and the mystic other-worldliness of the original film, I never paid any attention to the story until I became an author. How were they going to recapture that magic and balance it out with such a complicated story?

The verdict – with amazing artistic talent and skill. The Age of Resistance is exactly what it needs to be for those who loved the art of the original movie. The producers resisted the temptation to use CGI and opted for traditional puppeting, a decision that was both more costly and challenging, and it resulted in a series that looked and felt as if it stepped out of the original movie.

My other concern was how were they going to stretch the source material into ten hours of film? This is where many new comers to the franchise might start losing interest. Because the world of the Dark Crystal, Thra, is complicated with lots of different cultures and influences, both from within the seven distinct populations of gelflings, and also from the alien Skeksis who have taken up the responsibility of ruling the world, there are parts of the series that have to slow down and explain all of this.

No amount of amazing sets and beautiful creatures can make up for the material being slow and boring at times. I didn’t mind, because I enjoy deep worldbuilding and love examining examples of when it’s been done well. For everyone else, the pace of several episodes is slower than what a standard viewer is used to.

I finished watching the series earlier this week and was very impressed at how good it all turned out to be. For me, it’s a lovely reminder of that magical world that captured my imagination as a child.

Also, the music is incredible. I pulled up the soundtrack to listen to as I worked the other day and was swept away. Managed to write 20% faster than usual to boot!

Recommendations:

I recommend The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance to anyone who liked the original Dark Crystal, or who has a love for epic fantasy story telling styles. This will both amaze and delight you. Also, if you love fantasy art and puppetry, this will rock your world.

I don’t recommend this for those who really haven’t gotten into fantasy as it requires the viewer to take a rather large leap of faith on a premise they might not understand. It’s a bit slow and the payout of the story is long in coming. That said, it is beautifully made.


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