The Awakening

Palpable was the excitement of going to see Star Wars Epsiode I: The Phantom Menace in the spring of 1999. I distinctly remember riding in the back seat of my father’s car, driving along the highway towards our local theater. I remember sitting on the end seat, next to him, and my brother on the other side of my father as the lights of the theater dimmed and the opening crawl floated up the screen. Despite my high excitement, disappointment followed. I was twelve years old then, and had grown up watching the original Star Wars trilogy so many times that my first experience with Star Wars had long been forgotten. It seems I had always loved watching Star Wars.

It is now nearly the end of 2015, and with it a new era has been born. Unless you’ve been hiding out on Dagobah with a broken holonet receiver, you know that the sequel trilogy has been launched with Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens. I’ve seen it twice now, once in regular old two dimensions, and once in IMAX 3D. If you want to stop reading now to avoid spoilers on the story, I will simply say this: it was better than the prequels and a true Star Wars film full of the space adventure and fantasy we’ve come to love from that galaxy far, far away…

tfa_poster_wide_header-1536x864-959818851016

What has made the Star Wars universe great and has allowed it to endure for generations are the iconic, memorable characters. From the beginning of The Force Awakens, we receive terrific new characters that I believe will live on in the zeitgeist of the world consciousness just as have the original characters from the original Star Wars.

Right away we are introduced to the first non-human character that will drive a large portion of the film as a Macguffin and that is the orange and white ball droid BB-8. Early on in the marketing and releases about The Force Awakens we saw BB-8 and I must admit I was less than impressed. I thought the robot was overly cute, and was attached to my nostalgia for R2-D2 and C-3P0. But from those first few moments on screen, BB-8 captured my attention in exactly the same way Artoo and Threepio did in the beginning of Star Wars. Moments later we meet Po Dameron, the heroic and dashing X-wing pilot and Kylo Ren, the angry, yet strangely compelling new Dark Lord. At this point, I got caught up in the story and the film, and wondered where these characters would take me. Again, early on, as these characters were revealed, I thought that Kylo Ren in particular was trying too hard to be the new Darth Vader, but seeing him on the big screen, as the story unfolded, I saw an angry, hurting young man trying desperately to live up to a legacy he admired, albeit for all the wrong reasons. As the film progressed we were introduced to the main characters, Rey and Finn the defecting stormtrooper. Rey is a simple human living in the literal shadow of a decades old galactic war, scavenging for survival and awaiting her future. Finn is rejecting the only life he has ever known and seeking a way to freedom. Both meet up, and the adventure really gets going as they steal a familiar piece of space garbage and outrace the new Empire: the First Order. Reintroducing the Millennium Falcon and previous owners Han Solo and Chewbacca was less a slavish devotion to past glories, but an acknowledgement of the age of the universe and the passage of time. Things move on from our lives and sometimes old friends return in unexpected ways. Later we meet Leia Organa, less princess and more general, and even she feels like a totally new character. She is no longer young and feisty, but now strong and resolute with the burning fervor of conviction and experience. I loved the thousand year old Maz and her little cantina on a backwater world, her unexpected wisdom and yet shadowy side as someone who hung out with the dregs and downcast. She was the dark mirror to Yoda, ancient and wise and somehow a young outlaw on the back edge of the galaxy. All of these new characters immediately became as interesting and compelling to me as the droid duo, Luke Skywalker, Ben Kenobi and Yoda, and Han Solo from Star Wars. I desperately wanted to know their stories and follow them on their adventures.

Secondly, the locations hearkened back, in a good way, to the the original trilogy. There was the desolate desert world of Jakku, the ice planet/superweapon of Starkiller Base, the forest world of Takodana, all mirroring Tatooine, Hoth, and Endor. This became a theme to the Force Awakens: revealing the new through the lens of the old. There was the Millennium Falcon given new life as the fastest hunk of junk in the galaxy racing along the Jakku dunes and derelict Star Destroyers and the new planet destroying super weapon. Far from drudgingly repeating the past, the new Star Wars gave me quick tutorial in what I already loved, setting me up for something that I will never have imagined in Episodes VIII and IX.

Thirdly, there was plenty of new twists and further revelations of the galaxy far, far away, which is far more vast and old and lived in than I imagined. I loved the brief introduction to other smugglers and outlaws aboard Han’s new freighter, the rathtar beasts Han was transporting, again, hearkening back to Jabba’s den of despicable denizens and the rancor which lurked below. I loved the X-wing/TIE fighter battles, the exchanges of blaster fire, the familiar yet new First Order risen from the ashes of the Empire, Jedi mind tricks, and unexpected stormtrooper humor, no longer clones but real people fighting for a cause they believe in.

I thought the acting in this film was superb, and that is what ultimately won me over to the classic nature of the new Star Wars. Harrison Ford, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Adam Driver all did fantastic work in breathing into their characters the breath of life. I believed all of them. But the real surprise was the reveal of Luke Skywalker at the end. Mark Hamill communicated so much without saying a single word that I was totally blown away. The shot lingered on his face as he turned to see Rey and what her outstretched arm held and I saw sorrow, pain, recognition, remembrance, resolution and so many more emotions in his eyes. He realized the fullness of what his failure to train Ben Solo had wrought on the galaxy, he acknowledged what his absence fostered in current events, he recognized his lightsaber, and with it the pain of his failure and loss against Darth Vader so long ago, and he made the choice to no longer look to the past but to rejoin the present in hope of a better future with Rey and the Resistance.

Finally, the death of Han Solo, which I completely expected to happen given Harrison Ford’s complicated relationship with the character, was still shocking and emotionally gutting. Here was everything that was awesome, funny, and beloved about the original trilogy being brutally murdered by its own offspring, the sequel trilogy, and the message was clear: despite the winks, the references, and the familiar, this is not your father’s Star Wars anymore. This is a new beast altogether and in the future, nothing is certain. Here the brilliance of Lawrence Kasdan’s writing and JJ Abrams’ direction was shown in full: this was the narrative being constructed below the cool space story above.

I know I just said finally, but I must shoutout to the stellar John Williams and his amazing score. If the special effects and characters are the body of Star Wars, Williams’ music is the soul. One of the greatest composers of our time, Williams brings the best of his genius to underscore every beat of the Force Awakens and I will enjoy his new music just as much as I have loved the original soundtracks.

The Force Awakens is not without it’s flaws, but for every seeming plot hole or convenient occurrence, I am reminded of similar aspects to the films I love: Star Wars, the Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. The original trilogy succeeded on the spectacle, heroics, and characters we loved, not from perfect plotting or consistently complete logic. Star Wars is a space opera, a grand fantasy adventure among the stars, and should be loved as such.

Star Wars: Episode III (Rewritten)

Star Wars
Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Opening Crawl

The Clone Wars have almost been won, and Darth Grievous has retreated to hide in the outer rim of the galaxy.

Exhausted from many battles and losses, Kenobi and Skywalker have returned home to Tatooine, where they are living in peace.

That peace is shattered when Yoda and Palpatine call on the legendary Jedi to seek out and destroy Darth Grievous once and for all…

Synopsis

While on Tatooine, Kenobi has retreated to a life of solitude and meditation. Skywalker has married a local woman and is living with her brother, Owen Lars and his wife Beru Whitesun working as moisture farmer. One day, while meditating, Kenobi receives a transmission from Yoda. Darth Grievous has been located on Mustafar. It is Kenobi’s duty, and final task before becoming a Jedi Master, to seek out and destroy the Sith once and for all. Meanwhile, back on Coruscant,  Senator from Alderaan, Bail Organa, hears troubling rumors of Palpatine’s political power and a coming reorganization of the galactic government.

Kenobi travels to the Lars homestead on the other end of the Jundland Wastes and finds Skywalker celebrating his wife’s imminent birthing day. Skywalker tells Kenobi he has given up the Jedi way, being haunted by the ravages of war in visions, but that he wants his son to have his old lightsaber when he is old enough. Kenobi tells Skywalker that Yoda has one final task for the Jedi: seeking out Darth Grievous. Skywalker is reluctant to jump back into war, and his brother-in-law Lars doesn’t think he should get involved in Kenobi’s quest. In the end, Kenobi convinces Skywalker to accompany him. Skywalker bids farewell to his wife, and the old warriors book passage to Coruscant from Mos Eisley.

Once on Coruscant, they meet up with Yoda, who gives them all the information he has, and they cross paths with their old friend Organa and his junior senator, the former Queen Amidala. They hear of President Palpatine’s plans to reorganize the Galactic Republic into a Galactic Empire. Yoda is particularly troubled by this news. With no time to do anything about it, Kenobi and Skywalker leave with an army of clones and conscripts for the Mustafar system to strike at Darth Grievous while Yoda plans to confront the would-be Emperor.

Generals Kenobi and Skywalker arrive at Mustafar and the final battle of the Clone Wars begins. While troops fight an orbital battle, the Jedi invade the stronghold of Grievous. Along the way, Skywalker’s emotional control begins to wane. He is striking out more in anger than from peace, and is letting his aggression lead the way in the fight. Kenobi sees this, and is concerned, but is caught up in battle himself. They fight their way to an inner sanctum where they find the Sith Lord waiting for them.

They inform their enemy that he is under arrest and advise him to order his troops to stand down. Grievous refuses, and sensing Skywalker’s lack of control and inner turmoil, goads the younger Jedi into attacking. During the battle, the Sith constantly entices the young Skywalker to give in to his desires for revenge, his hate of the Sith, and his anger at being forced into war again and embrace the Dark Side of the Force. Kenobi helps in the battle but is constantly trying to counter the Sith, not only in blows, but in ideology. Skywalker wants a quick resolution to the fight and increasingly becomes frustrated that Kenobi seems to want to take the Sith alive. Unable to take it any longer, Skywalker embraces his rage. He knocks Kenobi aside, and engages Grievous on his own. Becoming stronger by the second in the Force, seemingly, he soon overwhelms the Sith general. He disarms him, wounds him, and stands over him. He is about to kill Grievous when Kenobi blocks his lightsaber slash. Anakin, blinded by anger, engages Kenobi. Kenobi tries to appeal to the good in Skywalker and get him to back down, while the wounded Sith appeals to his dark side. Torn between two ideals, two ends to the same goal, and a mentor and a dark advisor, Skywalker becomes increasingly lost. He and Kenobi fight a long, exhausting duel. In the end, Skywalker is gaining the upper hand and now the Sith is enticing him to kill Kenobi. At the final moment, Skywalker slips and falls into a molten pit. Unable to help, Kenobi watches his friend burn. Unable to watch any longer, he retreats from the area, leaving the wounded Sith Lord in the custody of the newly arrived troops. Just after he leaves, Skywalker, using the Force and sheer will, claws his way out of the molten pit. Skywalker’s last act before losing consciousness is to obliterate the Sith Lord in a blast of dark energy. The troops transmit news of the Sith Lord’s demise to the government.

Kenobi arrives on Tatooine and gives the bad news of Anakin’s death to Skywalker’s family. The news shocks her into labor and Beru helps Anakin’s wife deliver a surprise set of twins.

On Coruscant, Palpatine, hearing of the end of the Clone Wars, seizes power as Emperor and reorganizes the Republic into the Galactic Empire. Yoda immediately confronts him, but the Emperor reveals himself as a Sith Master and in a surprise attack nearly kills Yoda. He is about to finish the job when he is interrupted by a cadre of Senators who are outraged about the newly formed Empire, led by Senator Organa. Yoda escapes while the Senators plead with the Emperor to relinquish power to the elected populace. Palpatine rebuffs the Senators and sends them away.

Yoda, hiding out with Senator Organa, contacts Kenobi and reveals the truth of the Sith. Realizing that Anakin’s Force powerful children could be a threat to the Emperor and in danger from him, they decide to hide them. Organa marries Amidala, and they new royal couple adopts Leia as a refugee child. Luke remains on Tatooine as the adopted child of Owen and Beru Lars. Kenobi retreats into the Tatooine desert to live as hermit and protector of young Luke Skywalker.

Yoda flees into exile on Dagobah. Meanwhile, an emergency medical team, and the rest of the Jedi’s army, returns to a hero’s welcome on Coruscant. Anakin Skywalker’s grievous wounds are treated, and his body rebuilt into a fearsome black suit of armor. He is unveiled as Darth Vader, ender of the Clone Wars and hero of the Empire.

End Credits

Star Wars: Episode II (Rewritten)

Star Wars
Episode II: The Clone Wars

Opening Crawl

War! Disaffected systems within the Republic have joined the greedy commerce guilds to form the Confederacy of Separatists in an all out attack on the Republic led by the Sith Lord Darth Grievous.

The Jedi have come forward to lead the Clone Army of the Republic in defending the defenseless, seeking to end the threat of the Sith and the war.

Darth Grievous, in a stunning raid on Coruscant, has kidnapped President Palpatine. The Jedi, and their clone soldiers, scramble to retrieve him before all hope is lost…

Synopsis

Darth Grievous is trying to make his escape with President Palpatine through the city streets of Coruscant from the Senate building into space. In hot pursuit are Jedi Knights Obi-Wan Kenobi and Anakin Skywalker.  A speeder to speeder chase becomes a ship to ship chase when escapee and pursuers confiscate atmospheric craft and head into the space battle above. After both crash land aboard Grievous’s Super Star Destroyer, Grievous realizes the gambit is up, and while Anakin and Obi-Wan rescue Palpatine, Grievous sets the SSD to self destruct and escapes in the confusion. Kenobi and Skywalker make it off in a shuttle just as the ship explodes.

Back on Coruscant, the Jedi realize the war has begun in earnest as reports of attacks in multiple systems come into the war headquarters. A year passes.

Anakin and Obi-Wan are holed up on Selucemi, holding siege to a city they believe hides Darth Grievous. While the rain falls and skirmishes take lives of Jedi and Clones alike, Kenobi tries to train Anakin in the finer points of the Force. Back on Coruscant a concerned Yoda notices that Palpatine is using the war to amass more power than he should have and is quietly eliminating opposition. On Selucemi, a captured Confederate spy reveals that Grievous is not there, but is in fact on a planet called Geonosis. Kenobi takes Anakin and a squadron of clones to Geonosis.

Anti-aircraft fire shoots down their craft near a seemingly abandoned arena on Geonosis. Hiking through the desert for a few days exhausts their supplies, but the Jedi make it to the arena only to be ambushed by Grievous. Barely managing to hold their own against the Sith Lord, they are relieved when their clone forces show up to reinforce them. Grievous leaves while setting loose three ferocious beasts on the Jedi and their troops. Most of the clones are slaughtered and Anakin and Kenobi barely survive. While fighting, Anakin’s barely restrained emotions fray and he nearly gives into the Dark Side. His blast of dark energy levels the arena, but he almost immediately regrets his outburst as he breaks down over the death of his comrades. Meanwhile on Coruscant, Yoda confronts Palpatine about how he is running the government in a time of war. Palpatine seems to acquiesce but Yoda remains unconvinced of his sincerity.

Three years pass, and now Anakin is in charge of his own group of clones, a starfighter squadron above the Wookiee home world Kashyyyk. Kenobi is on the planet’s surface. Together they try to repel a sudden invasion by the Confederacy. During the space battle, Anakin is shot down and crash lands in the forest. On the beachhead, overwhelming assault forces push Kenobi back into the forest. The planet is nearly lost. Back on Coruscant, Palpatine confronts the massive loss of personnel by passing a law forcing conscripts into the armed forces. Clones can not be replaced as fast as the droid armies can. A conscript army leaves for Kashyyyk.

The conscript army finds a ravished Kashyyyk. The droid army left a smoking forest behind as they fled a week ago. Medical teams rescue Kenobi and Anakin from the forest. Aboard a medical frigate, Anakin’s wounded arm is amputated and replaced with a mechanical substitute. Both he and Kenobi are devastated by the war.

End Credits

Star Wars: Episode I (Rewritten)

Star Wars
Episode I: The Oncoming Storm

Opening Crawl

It is a dark time for the galaxy. Ambition and greed have started to corrupt the once great Galactic Republic.
The massive organs of commerce, after enacting harsh trade tariffs, have begun to enforce penalties on the defenseless planet of Alderaan with their remorseless droid armies.
Bail Organa, Senator of Alderaan, seeks to escape to the capital of the Republic so that he can plead with the newly elected President for help in this crisis…

 

Synopsis

Senator Bail Organa, seeing the imminent invasion of his home planet Alderaan by the Trade Federation is underway, and under orders from his Queen, the young Amidala, to seek help, manufactures an escape. While being pursued in a vicious space battle, his ship, the Tantive IV is damaged. He diverts to the small, outlying Tatooine system for repairs before continuing on to the galactic capital of Coruscant.

Meanwhile, the mysterious half droid, half man General Grievous leads an invasion of Alderaan. His mechanical limbs and tattooed face give him a fearsome appearance. The pitiful local resistance is swept away as Alderaan has no planetary defenses.

On Tatooine, Organa is finding the junk dealers mostly corrupt as he salvages for parts. A helpful teenage slave named Anakin Skywalker directs him to the local Jedi for help. Organa finds a young Jedi Knight named Obi-Wan Kenobi, who has himself been lead to a strong force presence in the area. Together with Anakin, the Senator and the Jedi hatch a plan to win the money needed betting on the morrow’s podrace. With Anakin piloting, who by now Kenobi has secretly identified as the strong Force presence he was seeking, the podrace is won. With the parts purchased and Organa about to leave, Kenobi incites the Senator to purchase Anakin and take him and the boy to Coruscant so that he can contact the Jedi Council.

Enroute to Coruscant, Kenobi begins lecturing Anakin about the history of the Jedi and Organa receives a burst transmission from Amidala detailing the atrocities of the invasion. Once on Coruscant, Organa seeks an audience with the newly elected President of the Republic while Kenobi and Anakin seek out the Jedi Council.

The Jedi Council, led by Master Yoda, accepts Anakin as their new pupil. He is assigned to Kenobi, at Kenobi’s insistence, as his padawan. Meanwhile, Palpatine hears Organa’s plea and admits something must be done. He orders a special session of the Senate and they vote to send the newly created Clone Army of the Republic to liberate Alderaan. The Jedi Council sends Kenobi and Skywalker, as guardians of peace and justice, to ensure that the Senator remains safe and that conventions of war are followed.

The Clone Army arrives and engages the Trade Federation in battle above the planet Alderaan while a small force penetrates to the planet below. The clones invade the palace and route the poorly fortified battle droids. Kenobi briefly engages General Grievous and realizes Grievous is a Sith Lord when he draws lightsaber against him. Meanwhile Anakin and Organa free Amidala. Kenobi is wounded as Grievous escapes. The droid control ship is destroyed in orbit and Alderaan is won.

End Credits

All I Want for Christmas

All I want for Christmas are a few little things. Feel free to ignore this list and buy me something really cool, or if you are feeling stuck, pick something and stick it under my parent’s tree. Suffice to say, if you don’t know how to get it under my parent’s tree (or contact me), you should probably be buying a gift for someone closer to your home tree. But thanks for the thought.

1. iPad Mini 4 or 2 $399+ or $269+, any capacity, prefer Space Gray, available almost anywhere iPad minis are sold. See http://www.apple.com/ipad-mini-4/

2. LEGO Palace Cinema #10232 $149.99, available on shop.lego.com or maybe your local Lego Store. See http://shop.lego.com/en-US/Palace-Cinema-10232?fromListing=listing

3. LEGO Darth Vader #75111 $29.99, available on shop.lego.com or anywhere Lego is sold (Lego Store, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us). See http://shop.lego.com/en-US/Darth-Vader-75111?fromListing=listing

4. LEGO Clone Commander Cody #75108 $19.99, available on shop.lego.com or anywhere Lego is sold (Lego Store, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us). See http://shop.lego.com/en-US/Clone-Commander-Cody-75108?fromListing=listing

5. LEGO Rey’s Speeder #75099 $19.99, available on shop.lego.com or anywhere Lego is sold (Lego Store, Walmart, Target, Toys R Us). See http://shop.lego.com/en-US/Rey-s-Speeder-75099?fromListing=listing

6. shop.lego.com gift card, any amount, so I can buy my own Lego. See http://shop.lego.com/en-US/Gift-Cards

7. ThinkGeek.com gift card, any amount, so I can buy something geeky. I would have listed a bunch of stuff, but the list is way too long. I’ll be just as happy to pick something myself. See https://www.thinkgeek.com/brain/order/certificate.cgi

8. iTunes gift card, any amount, sold almost anywhere gift cards are sold (Walmart, Target, etc) and online. I have a massive list of music, movies, and TV shows that I want and my preferred outlet for media is iTunes. See http://www.apple.com/shop/accessories/giftcards

9. Clothing – Take me shopping for best fits! – I need a nice sweater or two for church, size is XXL. I love geeky/nerdy/Star Wars apparel, such as socks and T-shirts (XXL).

10. I love the Green Bay Packers, the Cleveland Indians, and Star Wars. So anything related to those three franchises will sure be a hit.

Thank you and Merry Christmas!