Mutant. And Proud

X-Men: First Class

The start of the prequel-ish series and brings in James McAvoy (I adore him in Becoming Jane and he’s Tumnus the Faun in The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe) to play Charles Xavier and Michael Fassbender (he’s the reason I went to watch the Jane Eyre movie that came out around the same time and led me to actually reading the book [that sometimes works]) to play Erik Lensherr.  Oliver Platt (Porthos in the 90’s Three Musketeers) is simply “Man in Black Suit,” though Kevin Bacon (star of Footloose) brings dimension to Sebastian Shaw.  Jennifer Lawrence (this came out a year before the first Hunger Games film, where her fame skyrocketed.  She has since won a Golden Globe for American Hustle and an Oscar for Silver Linings Playbook [no, I have not watched those, but I love her in this role]) is Raven, while Nicholas Hoult (now you see him all the time for ads for The Great, and he’s remarkable in Tolkien) is Hank McCoy, and Lucas Till (the new MacGyver) is Alex Summers.  A few older adults are familiar; Rade Serbedzija (Prince Kragin in the first Downton Abbey movie and Gregorvitch in Deathly Hallows, and Emile de Becque in the TV movie of South Pacific with Glenn Close) is the Russian general, Glenn Morshower (he shows up in a bunch of TV shows, usually as someone in charge) is General Hendry, and the senior William Stryker is played by Don Creech (yep, that’s Mr. Sweeney from Nickelodeon’s Ned’s Declassified School Survival Guide).

The film begins the same as the first X-Men film, in Poland in 1944.  But this time, we see someone watching young Erik Lensherr pull down the gates.  This man is known as Klaus Schmidt and he’s very interested in discovering Erik’s abilities.  The Nazis are only partially correct in their idea of genes unlocking a new age, but Schmidt is focused on latent abilities.  He offers Erik chocolate to move a metal coin.  When that fails, he brings in Erik’s mother and threatens to shoot her after the count of three, unless Erik can move the coin.  Sadly, the teenager cannot move the coin, and Schmidt shoots Mrs. Lensherr.  Erik goes on a rampage, destroying everything else metal in the room, to Schmidt’s great delight.  As a “reward,” he gives Erik the coin at the end, noting that he can unlock the boy’s gift with rage and pain (that does not bode well).  At the same time, in Westchester, New York, a young Charles Xavier discovers a young Raven in his kitchen.  At first, she morphs into Mrs. Xavier, but Charles quickly realizes she’s a fake since his mother has never stepped foot in the kitchen and has never offered to make him hot chocolate.  But when Charles realizes it’s another mutant, he’s excited, as is Raven.

Eighteen years later, in Geneva, Switzerland, Erik tracks down a former Nazi banker to make him give up the location of Klaus Schmidt.  He’s sent to Argentina, where he notices a photo of Schmidt aboard a ship based out of Miami.  Erik kills the men, after remarking that he is Frankenstein’s monster, and he’s looking for his creator [this sequence highlights Michael Fassbender’s talent with languages].  At the same time, Charles is finishing his degree at Oxford University and hitting on girls in pubs, while his “sister” Raven watches on.  While Charles praises pretty girls for their “mutations,” such as two-colored eyes and brown hair, Raven has to hide her true form in order to fit in.  She mocks a girl for saying “mutant and proud,” but the relationship between Charles and Raven is very sweet: Charles is very much a brother by saying that the overall concept of his sister dating is that “any man would be lucky to have you,” while the actual thought is, “you’re my sister, I don’t think of you that way.”  And he genuinely fears Raven slipping up and what the consequences would be.  [And excellent editing, playing Charles’ thesis over the scene where Erik walks into the bank, stating “the mutated human species meant the extinction of its less-evolved kin.”]

In the States, CIA agent Moira McTaggert is investigating the Hellfire Club in Las Vegas, discovering several officials and important people are all meeting, including General Hendry, so she sneaks in.  And overhears Shaw pressuring the general to put nuclear missiles in Turkey, extremely close to Russia and almost certainly a declaration of war.  But some of his mutant companions help sway the general.  When her report is not believed, she sets out to find an expert in genetic mutation.  Which leads her to Charles, who initially tries to flirt with her, until he discovers that there is something more interesting going on.  So, Charles and Raven accompany Moira back to the CIA headquarters, where Charles gives his presentation, but isn’t taken seriously, until he uses his abilities.  Of course, they think he’s a spy, until Raven transforms into Styrker.  They’re still not trusted, so the man in the back ground [Oliver Platt] offers to house them in his facility, since it’s secure and off-premises.  Then a lead comes in about Shaw’s whereabouts, and Charles persuades Moira to take him.

Erik has caught up to Shaw (who is in fact Klaus Schmidt) after Shaw has killed Hendry by demonstrating his mutant power: he absorbs energy and can redistribute it, which also keeps him young.  Erik is knocked off the boat by Shaw’s associates, then uses the anchor to begin tearing the ship apart.  Emma Frost and Shaw escape into their submarine, which Erik attempts to stop using his powers.  But the U.S. Coast Guard is also on the scene, with Charles on board.  Charles senses Erik in the water, after mentally running into Emma, who is also a telepath.  Charles urges Erik to stop and let the sub go; he’ll drown.  When the man doesn’t listen to him, Charles jumps into the water himself and calms the man down.  “You’re not alone.”

Charles brings Erik back to the “Covert CIA Research Base,” where they investigate the application of paranormal powers in a military setting.  Or as Charles jokingly calls them, the “mutant division.”  They meet young Hank McCoy, who on top of being extremely intelligent, has abnormal feet.  Charles accidentally outed Hank, but Raven is pleased to meet the young man.  It’s someone else who has a physical mutation.  Hank has developed a supersonic plane [looks an awful lot like the SR-71 Blackbird], (which appears in the other X-Men films).  When the two teens talk afterwards, Hank wants some of Raven’s blood in order to develop a serum that will mask their physical mutations, but not their actual powers.  Erik walks by in time to stop a kiss, but also points out they shouldn’t have to hide.  Erik is still bent on revenge, but Charles stops him before he leaves.  Charles wants to help Erik, and stresses that Erik has a chance to be a part of something bigger.  Erik in fact, stays, but they find out that the missiles have been placed in Turkey and Shaw is on his way to Russia.  He also has a helmet that blocks a telepath’s ability to read his mind.

It’s time for Charles and Erik to gather mutants of their own.  Hank developed a transmitter, he calls Cerebro, that can amplify Charles’ brainwaves and abilities, so Charles can locate other mutants.  Hank suggests shaving Charles so the helmet would fit closer, to which Charles definitively says “don’t touch my hair.”  They first find a club dancer whose tattoos are actually wings; then there’s a cab driver, then Alex Summers who is in solitary confinement.  Next, there’s a teenaged boy on a date, but he can drive fish away.  They find Wolverine in a bar, but all he says is “go fuck yourself,” and they leave.  The teens get to know one another and show off their powers and decide on nicknames.  The club dancer is Angel, the cab driver is Darwin, because he adapts to survive.  Raven becomes Mystique and the red-headed boy is Sean and he goes by Banshee because of his sonic blast.  Alex becomes Havok due to his laser blasts.  Erik and Charles are trying to plan their next step and are disappointed to find the kids having a party and goofing off (and destroying part of the building).  Raven does manage to tell them their nicknames; Charles is Professor X and Erik is Magneto.  The adults head off for Russia to hopefully head Shaw off, but he doesn’t show, Emma is leading the meeting with the Russian general.  Erik is determined to take her instead, so Charles chases after him.  Erik wraps Emma in metal hard enough to crack her diamond form, which allows Charles to read her mind for Shaw’s plan: place U.S. missiles in Turkey, place Russian missiles in Cuba and then make a nuclear war happen.  “Radiation gave birth to mutants; what will kill the humans will only make us stronger,” and Shaw can take over the world.

Shaw, in the meantime, has discovered that Erik and Charles are recruiting, so he heads for Virginia to find them.  His minions accompany him and start ripping the agents apart.  The agents attempt to protect the kids, even though some of them were teasing them not too long ago.  Until the last guy is very eager to hand the mutant teenagers over to the psychopath.  Shaw only wants to make an offer to the kids, saying that the humans will eventually rise against the mutants and they need to pick their sides now: either wait to be enslaved, or rise up to rule.  Angel willingly goes with Shaw.  Darwin starts to go with Shaw, then signals for Alex to let loose a laser, hoping to take out the bad guy.  Unfortunately, they did not realize that Shaw would absorb the power, then feed it to Darwin.  Shaw, Angel, and his minions leave.  When Erik and Charles return, Charles initially wants to send the kids home, but they point out it’s too late for that.  Erik convinces Charles to train the teenagers.  And Charles knows where.

At the mansion, Charles teaches each teenager that they need to control their powers, not let their powers control them (we see this lesson repeated in the previous trilogy).  Seeing Sean learn to fly is humorous, just the way he falls into the bush, and then Erik simply pushing him when Charles tries to let him out of trying.  It’s Erik who points out to Raven that she is splitting half of her attention in order to look normal.  She wants society to accept her, but she won’t accept herself.  And Charles and Erik work together, Charles showing Erik that he doesn’t need to use anger to fuel his power; that true focus lies between rage and serenity.  Charles feels the good in Erik.  Hank finishes the serum and shows Raven, but she’s realized the truth in Erik’s words and it doesn’t help that Hank calls the serum a cure.  She’s finally mutant and proud.  When Hank tries the serum, it initially works, but then goes the wrong way.  Meanwhile, Erik and Charles are playing chess and discussing the mutant issue, fundamentally on opposing sides, but for the moment acting like gentlemen.  Raven sneaks into Erik’s room to wait for him and even tries her older form, but he doesn’t say “perfection,” until she’s in her natural blue form.  She confronts Charles afterwards and he struggles to see her point.

The team heads out to try to put an end to the Cuban Missile Crisis, using the plane that Hank developed.  He’s now blue and furry, thanks to his serum, but he’s now become Beast.  When they reach the embargo line, Charles makes the Russians fire on their own ship, so the Americans won’t have to fire and then start the war.  They figure Shaw is nearby, perhaps underwater, so they use Sean as sonar (and he stays away from Erik, so he won’t get pushed out).  Shaw is indeed on site and plans to become the weapon, draining the nuclear reactor of his sub.  But Erik manages to lift the sub out of the water and crash it on the beach.  The plan crashes shortly after.  Erik heads for the sub, and Beast, Havok, and Banshee take on Angel, Riptide, and Azazel.  Erik realizes that smashing the mirrored walls of the reactor will allow Charles telepathy to work, so he can freeze Shaw.  Shaw attempts to win Erik over to his side, and Erik admits that Shaw made him into a weapon.  Then Erik puts on the helmet so Charles can’t stop him from using the coin to pierce Shaw’s head in final retaliation for killing his mother.  [Excellent editing, following the path of the coin and overlaying Charles’ face occasionally, indicating that he feels what Erik is doing.]

Stryker is causing problems and orders both sides to hit the mutants on the beach.  This just adds fuel to Erik’s argument that the humans are against the mutants and they all need to band together.  Charles still holds hope that there are some good humans out there.  Erik manages to stop the missiles and turns them back to the ships, but Charles tackles him, breaking his concentration so the missiles start exploding in midair.  The two men wrestle, then Moira starts shooting at Erik.  He deflects the bullets, but one lands in Charles’ back.  Erik retaliates by cradling his friend and strangling Moira.  Charles points out this was Erik’s doing.  He releases Moira, but pleads with Charles that he needs the man by his side; they’re brothers, they want the same thing.  No, my friend, we do not (and we’re hit by James/Charles’ piercing blue eyes).  Erik leaves Charles, makes one last plead to gain allies.  Raven steps towards him, though she detours to her brother, who gives her permission.  “Mutant and proud,” are her parting words.  The rest of the team swarm their leader and Charles can only say he can’t feel his legs.

They’re back at the mansion, formalizing plans to make it a school.  And Charles has to protect the anonymity of his students, so with a kiss, he wipes Moira’s memory.  Erik breaks Emma Frost out of prison, now wearing the repainted helmet and a cape and going by Magneto.

This has become my favorite X-Men film, because it’s a story that can really stand on its own.  They make it fit well into the Cuban Missile Crisis, so we wonder, could this really have happened?  There’s also more energy to the movie.  It’s nice to see older Charles and Erik get along on occasion, but it’s even better to see how they started.  Yes, some continuity snarls show up, but since none of the movies were exactly planned out years in advance to fit together, it still works.  And I probably allow much more leeway since I have never read the comics.  It’s also not as dark as many of the previous movies were.  Several mistakes were made by characters in complete innocence.  The soundtrack also heightens the energy of the film, with the electric guitar and steady pace.

And yes, I totally subscribe to the theory that Charles and Erik are a couple. And utterly adore the new fact that Charles and Raven are siblings. These people need more hugs!

Fanfiction Recommendations:

I love blueink3’s Rumor Has It, which picks up where this film left off and adds an unknown child of Charles’ to the mix.

Up Next: Days of Future Past

“Okay. People are dead now.”

X-Men Origins: Wolverine

A prequel to the trilogy with a lot of familiar faces.  Danny Huston (we just saw him as Ludendorff in Wonder Woman and briefly as King Richard the Lionheart in Robin Hood) is Stryker and say hello to Dominic Monaghan (he will always be Merry) as Chris Bradley.  And there’s Kevin Durand (Little John in the same Robin Hood movie) as Fred Dukes.  Liev Schreiber (he was in Kate and Leopold with Hugh Jackman in 2001) is Victor Creed and Ryan Reynolds (he’s been opposite Sandra Bullock in The Proposal and is famous as Deadpool now…and that’s a confusing bit I will attempt to explain later) is Wade Wilson.

Wolverine’s origins actually begin in the mid 1800’s in Canada’s Northwest Territories.  James is an adolescent with a friend/half-brother Victor.  There is an altercation downstairs between James’ mother and another man, with James’ father investigating and getting killed.  It is quickly revealed that the other man is James’ actual father and Victor’s father as well and since they share the same mother, they’re full-blooded brothers.  James also has bone claws that extend from his hands, revealed when he attacks the other man for killing his “father.”  He and Victor run away and brief scenes show that they fight together in wars throughout the next century, including the American Civil War, both World Wars, and ending up in Vietnam.  Victor takes things too far and James (going by his surname of Logan by this time) jumps in to protect his brother; for their actions, they face a firing squad, but bullets do not harm the brothers.  That’s when Stryker shows up and offers the men the chance to join a special team, that enjoys “special privileges.”

The special team is a black ops team that touches down in Africa to confront a businessman (played by Hakeem Kae-Kazim, who has voiced Krogan in Race to the Edge, as well as has appeared in the rebooted MacGyver series, NCIS: Los Angeles, Black Sails, Jomo in The Librarian: Return to King Solomon Mines [the second film] and Jocard in Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End) about a meteorite fragment he has on his desk.  Logan is displeased at Stryker’s willingness to kill an entire village to gain the location, and leaves.  Victor stays, once again enjoying killing.

Six years later, Logan is enjoying the simple life in the Canadian Rockies with his girlfriend.  Kayla Silverfox [who looks like Jennifer Lawrence a bit] is a schoolteacher and Logan is a lumberjack.  We cut briefly to a fair in Springfield, Ohio, where Bradley is working.  Until he is visited and killed by Victor.  Afterwards, Stryker pays a visit to Logan, asking for his help.  “Your country needs you!”  Logan points out, “I’m Canadian.”  That evening, Kayla tells Logan a Trickster story about the moon’s lover, Kuekuatshue (which means “the wolverine”). 

Of course, the next day, Victor tracks down Kayla.  Logan senses it and runs to the woods, finding Kayla’s bloody body.  He hunts down Victor, but takes a lot of hits in his rage.  Stryker finds Logan at the hospital and promises him revenge, but first, he must endure pain in order to become indestructible.  Logan agrees, warning Stryker that afterward, he will be out for blood and no code of conduct nor law will stop him.  The procedure (at a familiar looking facility) involves the metal they found in Africa; adamantium [which is harder than vibranium, but not harder than Captain America’s shield according to the comics], which will be grafted to his skeleton.  Logan wants new dog tags that say Wolverine since he plans to become to animal in order to get his revenge.  There are visiting generals observing the creation of Weapon X; as in the Roman numeral for ten.  There is a moment where the procedure appears to have killed Logan, but the heart monitor starts up again.  Then Stryker tells one of his agents to erase Logan’s memories, which Logan hears.  He emerges from the pool furious and escapes, butt naked.  Stryker now tells his agent to cut off Logan’s head.

Logan manages to find a kind elderly couple to stay with for an evening.  But he’s found and they’re kill.  He rides their motorcycle out and takes down armored trucks and a helicopter (the fireballs are rather impressive).  Stryker is still trying to play both sides; give Logan his revenge, but keep him as a weapon.  Logan isn’t having that anymore.  Stryker is informed that the only thing that can kill Logan now is an adamantium bullet to the skull.  Logan goes to some of his old teammates to get information on what exactly Stryker is planning.  He finds out that Stryker was having the team hunt down mutants and he’s still doing that with Victor, and we see Victor go after Scott Summers at school.  Turns out, Stryker is collecting mutant powers in order to combine them into the perfect weapon.  They’re held on an island that only one mutant ever escaped from, Remy LeBeau, known as Gambit.  So Logan heads to New Orleans to find him.  But there is a miscommunication between Remy and Logan and Remy throws him out of the casino, then interrupts Logan and Victor’s fight

Back at the island, the general shuts down Stryker’s project, citing a conflict of interests in regard to Stryker’s son being a mutant.  Stryker kills the general and proceeds with creating Weapon XI.  Turns out, said island is actually Three Mile Island, the nuclear power plant in central Pennsylvania…where better to operate in secrecy?  Remy drops Logan off and Logan confronts Stryker only to find out that Kayla is actually alive, and a mutant and planted in order to keep an idea on him.  She is able to influence people by touching them (she did that by deescalating a fight between Logan and another man earlier).  Logan is furious and walks out.  Victor goes to Stryker, because he wanted a fight.  So Victor goes after Kayla; her scream calls Logan back and he dukes it out with Victor.  He knocks his brother out, but doesn’t kill them, instead rescuing the trapped mutant children with Kayla, including her younger sister who has diamond skin.  Kayla sends the kids on their own, staying to watch Logan take on Weapon XI, who is Wade with a lot of new powers, and a sewn-shut mouth (because that man would not shut up, not while he was awake and Stryker had commented earlier that he’d be the perfect soldier if he didn’t have that mouth).  Victor joins in on the fun and fights back-to-back with his brother again; “nobody kills you but me.”  Logan manages to decapitate Wade, but still walks away from his brother.

Logan finds Kayla wounded and they try to leave, but Stryker arrives with a gun with adamantium bullets.  He downs Logan and puts two bullets in his skull; which doesn’t kill him, but does erase his memories.  Kayla keeps from being shot by grasping Stryker’s leg and ordering him to turn and walk away.  Remy has come back and after seeing Xavier take the children, discovers Logan, with no memory (at least he’s smart enough to realize that two bullets to the skull of someone who is indestructible is not good and yeah, probably causes memory problems).  Logan discovers Kayla, but has no recollection of who she is, then tells Remy he will find his own way.  Which brings us to how the first X-Men movie started; how Logan had no memory of how he became the Wolverine.

Oh, and Wade survived.  Which brings us to the conundrum of Deadpool’s place in Marvel.  I will be honest; I’ve only watched the first Deadpool movie once and not really my cup of team, but I believe that a few X-Men do show up and I recall Deadpool calling out Wolverine (or that was Ryan Reynolds calling out Hugh Jackman).  The Deadpool character is part of the Marvel universe (but not the huge cinematic universe that Disney owns now) and I read somewhere that technically, Deadpool does exist in some way in the whole wibbly-wobbly timey-wimey timeline that Days of the Future Past created.  However, it does appear that Ryan Reynolds enjoys playing Deadpool.

In a similar vein of honesty, this used to be my favorite X-Men movie and why I began liking Hugh Jackman as an actor.  And it fits fairly well with the previous trilogy of films, though we do have a question now about Sabertooth, because Victor Creed is supposed to be Sabertooth, but in the first film, he does not have any brotherly tendencies towards Logan.  Bit confusing if you stop and think about it.  But things do get out of whack with the prequel films; however, I like those movies a little more in general; I think the stories are more nuanced, but we’ll get into that with the next batch of films.  Overall, this is a straight-up action film, which we expect from Wolverine.  He is caring, but doesn’t focus on the warm and fuzzy notions.  And from the bits I’ve seen of later Logan-centric films, this doesn’t wallow in angst, which is appreciated.

Next Time: X-Men First Class

The Professor’s Lessons Continue

X-Men: The Last Stand

The third in the original trilogy of X-Men films.  There are a few new faces in the crowd, including Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Hank McCoy and Ellen/Elliot Page as Kitty Pryde.  But the film starts with a flashback to twenty years prior, where Erik and Charles meet the Greys, proving that the two men were indeed friends and began searching for mutants together, though their outlooks already differ.  Charles comments on his feeling of the misuse of power to Erik and they try to present a united front for Mr. and Mrs. Grey.  They ask to speak to Jean privately and Charles warns her that she has more power than she can imagine, but she should control it lest it controls her.  Jump to the “not too distant future” and Ororo and Logan are teamed up with some of the older teenagers, fighting against giant robots.  It’s only a simulation to get them to work as a team, which Logan is not keen on.  But he’s only a sub, because Scott hasn’t been the same since Jean’s death.  So when Scott starts hearing her voice again, he heads out alone to Alkali Lake to investigate.

Meanwhile, there is a meeting with the Department of Mutant Affairs, a relatively new department put in place by a sympathetic president, headed by Dr. McCoy.  They hope they are a step closer to re-capturing Magneto because they have managed to capture Mystique/ Raven Darkholme.  Dr. McCoy theorizes that yes, Magneto will come for her.  But there is more troubling news; a “cure” for mutants has been discovered.  It is an antibody, naturally produced by a mutant boy that permanently suppresses the X gene.  When McCoy visits the boy, his blue fur fades away, revealing a human hand.  News spreads and some mutants are for the cure, like Rogue, and many are against.  Magneto speaks to a group, warmongering that the government will force the cure upon mutants.  He recruits more mutants to his Brotherhood, claiming that the other option is genocide.

With his new crew, Magneto is able to find Mystique, along with a few more newcomers.  The Juggernaut is played by Vinnie Jones (he has been in episodes of NCIS: LA and MacGyver and was Labarge in The Musketeers and Gareth in Galavant), and they gain a man who can duplicate himself.  But when they try to get away, one of the guards was not completely unconscious and fires off a shot of the cure towards Magneto.  Mystique stands in the way and turns human.  Then Erik leaves her because she is “not one of us anymore.”

At Alkali Lake, Jean is still alive, though she doesn’t know how.  And she can control Scott’s laser eyes; she wants to see them.  They kiss, but something is wrong.  Back in New York, Charles senses something and sends Ororo and Logan to investigate.  When they arrive at the lake, stones are floating, as are Scott’s glasses.  Logan finds Jean, still alive, but no sign of Scott.  Back at the mansion, Charles reveals to Logan that because of Jean’s immense power, Charles put in physic barriers to help her control her power, meaning she developed dual personalities: Jean and Phoenix.  Now, with what happened at the lake, Phoenix may be getting free.  Logan now distrusts Charles, so when Jean awakes, he makes out with her, though he too sense something is off.  This is not the Jean he knows.  She becomes confused when Logan asks “where’s Scott?”  She pleads “kill me before I kill someone else,” but Logan doesn’t. 

She returns to her old home, where Charles and Erik meet up again.  Erik is determined to recruit Jean to his side and points out that Charles never let her fully be herself and tried to control her.  Charles insists he is helping her.  Jean’s powers flair and while the two mutant groups face off against each other, Charles turns to dust.  Erik is horrified and tries to tell Jean to stop, but he is comfortable with taking Jean with him at the end.  Logan and Ororo are left to mourn.  Bobby comforts Kitty after the funeral [because that’s what this movie really needed was a teenage love triangle] and Rogue decides to leave.  Logan lets her, though cautioning her that she should go because it’s her decision, not because of some boy.  But Rogue has always wanted to be able to touch people again after her mutation developed.

In the Brotherhood camp, the other members don’t trust Jean, and former student Johnny spouts he would have gladly killed the Professor, if given the chance.  Erik retorts “Charles Xavier did more for mutant than you’ll ever know.  My single greatest regret is that he had to die for our dream to live.”

Events only escalate.  Magneto sends Pyro to torch a cure facility, bumping into Bobby looking for Rogue.  Magento also issues a threat to humanity, so in retaliation the Army is deployed, making sure to use no metal.  McCoy returns to the school, that Ororo keeps open.  Logan begins to hear Jean and goes looking for her, overhearing Magneto’s rallying cry to the Brotherhood.  Their plan is to go to Alcatraz Island, where the boy forming the cure is kept and burn it to the ground.  With information from Mystique, the President hopes to entrap Magneto, but when the raid goes down, all the mutants they saw turn out to be just the replicating man.  The X-Men form up and go to Alcatraz to face off against the Brotherhood.  Magneto is fine with letting the meaningless hoards of his troops go first and be shot with the cure by the Army.  He holds his more powerful allies in reserve, sending a few of the newcomers to take care of the kid.  Kitty heads in to save the kid, distracting the Juggernaut.  Pyro and Bobby get the rematch they’ve been waiting for, with Bobby ultimately freezing Johnny.  Logan works with the team and distracts Magneto while Hank comes from behind and jabs Magneto with the cure.

When we think that the X-Men have won, reinforcements arrive and Jean’s powers obliterate them.  Erik murmurs “what have I done?” as he escapes.  The rest of the X-Men get the remaining people off the island and Logan faces off against Jean.  His healing ability gives him the time to get close, though it is painful.  His claws are out and Phoenix growls “you would die for them?”  “No, for you,” Logan admits.  Jean comes through for a moment, pleading again “save me.”  “I love you,” Logan declares as he runs Phoenix through.

The world attempts to return to normal, rebuilding the Golden Gate Bridge that Magneto destroyed.  Xavier’s school re-opens, with headstones for Jean, Scott, and the Professor.  Hank McCoy is the new representative for the whole United States to the United Nations.  In the theatrical version, Rogue did take the cure so she can touch people (I prefer the alternative scene where she didn’t take it, because she realizes it is important to be a mutant, whether she can kiss her boyfriend or not).  At the end, Erik is disguised as an old man in a park, attempting to move chess pieces like he used there.  There is also a scene amidst the credits where the coma man that was part of an ethics question earlier wakes up with Charles’ voice.

We’ll notice more once we get to the prequel trilogy that some of the backstories no longer line up.  But Erik’s comment about Charles is the nicest thing he’s said in this trilogy and you want to see a glimmer of humanity in Erik.  Then we recall he didn’t do that much to keep Jean from destroying Charles and his friend’s death does leave an opening for his own agenda to make traction.  And his decision to let Phoenix free comes back to bite him in the butt later, so maybe Charles wasn’t in the wrong.

The romantic relationships still fall flat to me.  [Though the thought did pop into my head during the scene between Logan and Jean/Phoenix in the mansion: “it’s the return of Onatopp”].  And I do want to know, did Jean really kill Scott, or if Charles can come back, can Scott?  Is the cure a permanent thing, considering that Erik must feel something to think he can try to move the chess pieces.  And how is he not in custody?  Many questions, with no answers, the least of which, the actual ethical question of Charles taking over a coma patient.

My final thoughts?  I love the gravitas that Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart bring to Magneto and Charles Xavier; they’re wonderful together.  The story itself was lacking, I feel.  I’m looking forward to diving into the prequel-ish trilogy, but first:

Up Next: X-Men Origins: Wolverine

“Logan, my tolerance for your smoking in the mansion notwithstanding, continue smoking that in here and you’ll spend the rest of your days under the belief that you’re a six-year-old girl.”

X2: X-Men United

The leads from the first film are back and joined by Brian Cox (Agamemnon in Troy, Argyle Wallace in Braveheart, and Killearn in Rob Roy) as Colonel William Stryker and Alan Cumming (Boris in Goldeneye) as Kurt Wagner.  And once again the film opens with an introduction about mutation and the comment from Professor Xavier that “sharing the world has never been humanity’s defining attribute” [and who else thinks this is something Captain Picard would tell another being?]  After that, the action kicks off with a mutant who can pop around in a cloud of blue smoke attacks the president, but once he’s shot, he leaves behind a knife with a banner reading “Mutant Freedom Now” on it.  Logan has made it to Alkali Lake in Canada, but it’s deserted.  He does spy a white wolf, which can hold various symbolism, including a search for truth I believe.

Back in civilization, Jean, Storm, and Scott are leading a field trip and a trio of teenagers, John, Bobby, and Rogue, get in a bit of trouble.  Jean is also experiencing some problems with her powers; they’ve been off in a way since Liberty Island.  Her dreams have been worse and she feels something terrible is going to happen.  Professor Xavier has to freeze the food court and reprimand John for showing off in front of humans.  But then the news story comes in about the attack on the President, so they quickly leave.  Colonel Stryker visits the President to request authorization for a special operation, namely to “investigate” Xavier’s school for children.  He has access to Eric Lensherr, which Senator Kelly is very interested in (reminder, that is Mystique in disguise).  The President agrees that Stryker may “enter, detain, and question,” but he doesn’t want to see a dead mutant kid on the news.  Kelly warns Stryker about turning this into some kind of war.  (We can tell there is something suspicious going on.)

Logan returns to the mansion and gets left to watch the children while Jean and Storm track down the mutant who attacked the President [there is an error in editing; Jean comments to Logan they’re going to Boston before Xavier uses Cerebro to find the mutant.]  Scott and the Professor are going to visit Eric.  Charles realizes that Stryker has been using Eric against his will for information against Charles; gas is pumped in and the two older mutants collapse.  Stryker’s assistant takes care of Scott.  Jean and Storm are able to find the mutant, a teleporter named Kurt Wagner, known in the Munich circus as the Incredible Nightcrawler.  He remembers the attack, but like he was watching himself and couldn’t stop it.  The back of his neck is scarred (like Magneto’s).  Mystique shifts into Stryker’s assistant in order to find out information on the prison where Eric is kept; she also discovers plans for a second Cerebro at a classified location. 

Meanwhile, Rogue is very happy to see Logan back at the school and introduces him to Bobby, her boyfriend (and isn’t that a whole load of awkward).  Logan wakes in the middle of the night, at the same time that black ops men break into the school and shoot stun darts at the children.  Some are able to get away, led by a kid that can cover himself in metal.  John and Bobby go back for Rogue while Logan takes out the men.  Logan instructs the big kid to watch after the other children.  Rogue convinces Bobby to go back for Logan, who is now distracted by Stryker; he remembers this man for some reason and Stryker seems to know things about him.  Bobby erects an ice wall between Logan and Stryker.  Logan tells Rogue, “Go I’ll be fine.”  “But we won’t,” she responds.  So Logan takes the three teens.  They head to Boston, where he knows Jean will be.  Bobby suggests they go to his parents’ house for clothes and he has to reveal that he’s actually a mutant.  His younger brother is upset and his mother asks him to try to “not be a mutant” [cringe].

Stryker has kidnapped Charles and Scott and is using his own mutant son to control Charles, having him send illusions into Charles’ head.  Charles protests Stryker’s use of his son, but Stryker also won’t admit that the young man is his son whom he’s holding prisoner.  His true son died; this is simply mutant number 143.  He will admit that mutants serve a purpose, as long as they can be controlled.  Charles also realizes that it was Stryker who arranged the attack on the President.  Create a situation where his expertise will be required and manipulate the situation to get what he wants.  He needed a reason to attack the school and get the specifications of Cerebro.  After the attack, the President gave him permission.  And breed enough fear against mutants, his method of controlling them will be desired.  Mystique charms a man and drugs him in order to gain access to Eric’s prison; by injecting him with lead that Magneto pulls out of him and creates pellets to free himself.

Jean is able to contact Logan, but Bobby’s brother called the cops.  Logan tries to calmly talk his way out, but with his claws out, he’s shot for his trouble.  John, who controls fire, shoots fireballs at the cops, until Rogue uses her power to stop him and put the fires out.  Jean and Storm pick up the teens and Logan.  Then two other jets come up on the mutants’ jet and Storm has to distract them.  They take a hit and Rogue is sucked out of the plane, though Kurt rescues her.  Magneto helps land the plane and both groups have to work together to free Charles.  Stryker’s son, James, is putting the illusion in Charles’ head that he has to use Cerebro to locate all the mutants.  But the danger is, if Charles concentrates on all the mutants too long, he can kill them.  Which is what Stryker wants.  Jean is able to read Kurt’s mind to discover that the secret base is underneath Alkali Lake.

They send Mystique in as Wolverine since Stryker is less likely to kill him on sight, but Mystique will be able to man the control center.  She gets in, but Stryker recognizes that she is not the true Wolverine, thought she is still able to complete her part of the mission.  She lets the others in.  Storm and Kurt will free the other children the men captured, while Jean goes with Magneto and Mystique for Charles.  Wolverine sneaks out to go after Stryker.  Jean runs into Scott, who is being mind-controlled, so Magneto and Mystique go on to Cerebro on their own.  Wolverine finds the lab from his nightmares and faces off against Stryker’s assistant, who is also a mutant with adamantium nails and a healing ability like Wolverine’s.  He manages to win by injecting her with more adamantium.  Then he goes after Stryker and is ready to kill him, despite Stryker’s insistence that he will tell Logan everything.  Except he finds out that the dam is going to flood their escape route and goes back in to save his new friends.

A blast from Scott knocks both him and Jean out and when he wakes, he’s back to normal and Jean’s injured her leg.  Kurt and Storm manage to get the children and Mystique and Magneto do find Cerebro.  “From here it doesn’t look like they’re playing by your rules.  Maybe it’s time to play by theirs.”  Instead of simply pulling Charles out, Magneto has James tell Charles there is a change of plans.  Kill all the humans now.  Storm has Kurt teleport her inside since Magneto and Mystique have left.  She freezes the inside so James has to stop his control.  Kurt gets Storm and Charles out and they are all almost to the spillway when Logan closes the door, right in time to keep them from being flooded.  He leads them out, but Stryker’s helicopter is gone, courtesy of Magneto and Mystique.  They’ve also gained a follower in John, who goes by Pyro.  Magneto told him on the way in that his power makes him a god among insects.  Stryker is still alive and once again tries to convince Logan he’s only an animal and who else can give him the truth?  Well, Logan will take his chances with the mutants.  Stryker shouts after him “one day someone will finish what I’ve started!”

Rogue and Bobby have brought the jet around to rescue everyone, but it won’t start again.  Jean senses that the dam is about to give, so she limps out of the plane.  She starts it and gets it in the air and won’t let the ramp back down for Scott to come after her.  She also manages to keep the water away from the jet and uses the Professor to say good-bye to Scott.  Then the jet is in the air and she drowns in the water.  All Logan can say is “she’s gone,” and Scott finally breaks down.  But they’re not finished yet.  The Professor freezes a press conference in the Oval Office and points out the truth of Stryker to the President and urges him to work together for a better future rather than repeating the mistakes of the past.  Back at the mansion, Charles tries to comfort Logan and Scott, but they don’t seem terribly convinced.  He then goes on to start a lesson with the students on T.H. White’s Once and Future King, which Eric was reading earlier in jail.

The pairings and relationships in this movie…to start, it seems like Rogue may view Logan more as a surrogate father-type figure, since she’s dating Bobby and Bobby seems like a nice guy.  He’s not trying to push Rogue, but he would enjoy a kiss once in a while.  And it evens works for a second, until it lasts too long.  And Logan probably views Rogue in a protective sense, but he doesn’t grill Bobby.  As for Logan and Jean; that is a ship that never should have set sail.  While Logan’s reaction to her death tugs at the heartstrings, I definitely side with the notion that she should be with Scott; she has a history with him and an understanding.  And yes, the two men are united for a moment in their grief for the loss of Jean, but even with Logan telling Scott that Jean chose Scott, I don’t see these two becoming friends.  Then there’s Mystique obvious interest in Wolverine which could be interesting in one respect, though creepy how she switched through the various ladies (one of whom may have been Rogue and yeah, definite creepy factor there).

There are hints of Jean’s growing power throughout the film and that is an epic display at the end, lifting the jet and holding back the dam at the same time.  And we are left with the notion at the end that all may not be what it seems.  But Magneto may be right, that there is a war coming and these are the warning shots.

Up Next: X-Men: The Last Stand

The First Step Into a Larger World

X-Men

The first of a whole series of films made, including a prequel set.  It has a stellar cast, helmed by Patrick Stewart (Captain Jean Luc Picard of Star Trek: Next Generation, John Gaunt in Hollow Crown, he voiced the Pharoah in Prince of Egypt, he appeared as King Richard at the end of Robin Hood: Men in Tights and an overall acting career that dates back to the sixties) as Professor Charles Xavier and Ian McKellen (Gandalf in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies [the director, Bryan Singer, even adjusted the filming schedule so Ian could travel to New Zealand], Cogsworth in the live action Beauty and the Beast, Sir Leigh Teabing in The Da Vinci Code, and a career as long-spanning as Stewart) as Eric Lensherr/Magneto [the two actors are friends in real life and it’s adorable].  This was Hugh Jackman’s first major role (he had done a recorded stage production of Oklahoma before this and was known elsewhere for his singing, but most American audiences knew him from X-Men first) as Wolverine (he goes on to star in Australia, Kate and Leopold, Van Helsing, The Greatest Showman, and Les Misérables, and is now on Broadway in The Music Man).  Halle Berry (Jinx Johnson opposite Pierce Brosnan in Die Another Day, the titular Catwoman in the 2004 film, and she won the Oscar in Monster’s Ball) is Storm, James Marsden (Prince Edward in Enchanted, he appears in Hairspray and 27 Dresses as well) is Cyclops, while Famke Janssen (Xenia Onatopp in GoldenEye, so that’s two Bond women in this movie) is Jean Grey.  You kind of can’t tell, but that’s Rebecca Romijn (Eve Baird in the Librarians series) as Mystique and Ray Park (you can’t recognize him in his other role either, but he’s Darth Maul in Phantom Menace) as Toad.

The film opens with narration on mutation and evolution, explaining that in this universe, mutants are the evolution of humans.  Then we’re in 1944 Poland, at a concentration camp as evidenced by the yellow stars the prisoners are wearing.  A family is torn apart and the mother cries for her son; he reaches out to her, despite guards holding on to him and pulls the metal gate back before he’s knocked out.  Time jump to the “not too distant future” in Mississippi.  A teenage couple is discussing the girl’s desire to go on an adventure.  When she kisses the boy, he becomes paralyzed and non-responsive.  She screams at her parents “don’t touch me.”  Meanwhile, there is a Senate hearing going on about a mutant registration act, headed by a Senator Kelly, who views all mutants as dangerous while Dr. Jean Grey is trying to explain that they are still people and often their mutations are brought on at puberty by heightened emotions.  After the hearing, two older gentlemen have their own conversation.  Charles is in favor of hope, while Eric views humans as lesser beings; “we are the future,” he tells Charles and warns him not to get in his way.

The teen girl has made her way to Canada where she enters a bar with a cage fight going on and meets “the Wolverine,” a champion fighter.  She warns him afterwards of a man threatening him, but Wolverine has claws that extend from his hands, so he’s got it covered.  Later, Wolverine, whose real name is Logan, discovers the girl as a stowaway and his heart is kind enough to not simply leave her on the side of the road.  Her name is Marie, but she goes by “Rogue” now.  They get in an accident and Logan is thrown from the truck.  He faces off with another mutant, while Marie is stuck in the truck, about to go up in flames (thanks to Logan’s cigar).  They are saved by two other mutants, one who controls the snow storm and one with laser eyes.

When Logan wakes up, his first instinct is to escape, though there is a voice following him and leading him to…Professor Charles Xavier.  And his school for the gifted, a cover for mutants.  His primary instructors are Storm, Cyclops (real name is Scott), and Jean Grey.  Marie is attending classes and hopes to fit in with the other wayward students.  Charles explains about their counterparts, led by Magneto, who foresees a war involving mutants.  Magneto was an old friend of Charles’, when he went by the name Eric Lensherr.  Charles also knows that Logan has lost his memory of his life before the incident that gave him an adamantium skeleton.  He makes a deal with Logan; give Charles forty-eight hours to discover Magneto’s plan and then Charles will use his skill at mind reading to help Logan discover his past.

In the meantime, Magneto has Mystique kidnap Senator Kelly and he uses a machine to expose the Senator to radiation.  Kelly ends up a mutant (whose body can now squeeze through bars), just like the Brotherhood of Mutants.  Afterall, humans fear what they don’t understand, so Magento is changing their minds about mutants.  Back at the school, Marie visits Logan when he has nightmares [why, not explained, and someone really ought to be asking that question]; he’s startled awake and accidentally stabs Marie.  Before she collapses, she touches Logan and heals herself, but knocks Logan out.  Charles explains once Logan wakes, that Rogue’s gift drains the life force of someone, and in the case of mutants, borrows their powers for a time.  Outside, Rogue’s new friend Bobby tells her to leave.  Except it’s not really Bobby; the yellow eyes give her away as Mystique.  Charles introduces Logan to Cerebro, the machine he uses to find other mutants, since their brainwaves are different.  He sends Cyclops and Storm after Marie, but Logan also goes.  Then Mystique gains access to Cerebro and plugs in a poison.

Logan is the one to track Marie to the train and comforts her.  He suggests she gives the school another chance because the Professor is one of the few people who understand what is going on and may be able to help her.  Logan also promises to take care of her, managing to give her a hug without skin contact.  But Magneto and his goons find them, Sabretooth and Toad taking on Cyclops and Storm while Magneto tears apart the train and throws Logan back so he can take Marie.

Logan intends to go back out to find Rogue, while Storm urges him to fight with her and Scott.  That’s when Senator Kelly shows up at the school, begging for help.  Charles reads his mind and finally realizes what Eric’s plan is.  To use his machine to turn the world leaders gathering at a U.N. Summit on Ellis Island into mutants so that the mutant cause becomes their cause.  And since the machine weakens him, he’ll use Marie’s power to transfer his power through her to power the machine.  However, a side effect of the machine causes Kelly to dissolve into water.  Charles attempts to use Cerebro, but is poisoned.  So the four adults have to work together to take on Magneto and his Brotherhood and rescue Marie.  Logan makes a crack about their suits and Cyclops comes back with a joke about wearing yellow spandex (apparently what they wore in the comics).

It’s an interesting fight since Mystique can transform into anyone on the team, so at one point we have two Wolverines fighting each other.  Storm eventually electrocutes Toad, Scott saves Jean, and when Logan returns, Scott knows it’s the real him because he calls him a name.  But Magneto pins the team and raises the machine.  Logan eventually stabs himself with his claws to get free, then takes on Sabretooth.  He helps the others get free and has them raise him up to Marie.  Cyclops gets a shot at Magneto, distracting him enough for Logan to slice the controls.  Marie now has a white streak in her hair and isn’t breathing at first.  Logan takes off his glove and attempts to siphon his power.  There’s a delayed reaction and Marie starts breathing, but Logan’s wounds begin bleeding.

Charles recovers and gives Logan a clue that there is an abandoned facility at Alkali Lake in Canada that may hold some answers.  Mystique survived and is posing as Senator Kelly so now he’s changing his view on the mutant registration law.  And Charles visits Eric in a plastic prison to play chess.  Eric asks his old friend if he stays awake at night, worried that someone may come for his children?  Charles responds: “I feel a great swell of pit for the poor soul who comes to that school looking for trouble.”  They’re still on opposite sides of the war, but they’re still old friends.

I have to admit, after watching the later X-Men and other superhero movies, this one feels a bit slow.  I understand that it sets up a lot of what takes place in later movies, but I had trouble getting back into the film after several years.  Of course, Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen are excellent.  I think Hugh Jackman’s performance gets better over time in the movies.  Jean is a bit flat and Cyclops and Storm are almost relegated to sidekicks.  As for the “love triangle” between Logan, Jean, and Scott; there is absolutely no chemistry between any of them and the only reason Logan is at all interested in Jean is because she’s pretty.  They have no interaction before he’s interested.  I do appreciate how they all work together at the fight at the Statue of Liberty at the end.  Also, looking back at the relationship between Rogue and Wolverine, it doesn’t sit quite right.  You can clearly tell that Rogue has a crush on Wolverine, but due to the age difference and the fact that they had only just met, it’s a bit awkward.  Now, it is sweet that Wolverine is concerned about Rogue and even persuades her to return to the school and promises to take care of her.

Up Next: X2: X-Men United

“They fly now?!” “They fly now.”

The Rise of Skywalker

Richard Grant (he’s been in Downton Abbey and Doctor Who) joins in as General Pryde.  Billy Dee Williams is back as Lando Calrissian!  Yes, that is Dominic Monaghan (Charlie in LOST and Merry in Lord of the Rings [I forgot he was in this and looked and told the screen “Hi Merry!”]) as Beaumont.  Denis Lawson makes an appearance as Wedge Antilles once again and even John Williams, the composer, cameos in the festival.  And yes, Ian McDiarmid is back as Emperor Palpatine.

We open finding out there are mysterious broadcasts of the Emperor making their way into the galaxy.  Leia sends Poe and Finn to gather intelligence.  Kylo Ren also searches for the Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power.  We find him slaughtering a group in order to obtain a Sith wayfinder (I thought it was a Holocron because I know those exist).  It leads him to a Sith Temple and Palpatine.  Kylo voices his vow to kill the former Emperor [while the young man is determined to follow in Darth Vader’s path, he still has several reasons to be rid of Darth Sidious; I’m sure some part of him recalls stories his parents and uncle told him that boil down to “this man should not be allowed to live.”].  But Palpatine explains that he is the mastermind behind everything.  He created Snoke; he’s been every voice inside Kylo’s head.  (So just like Anakin, Palpatine brought about the turning of a Skywalker.)  He reiterates: “The Dark Side of the Forces is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be unnatural.”  Like, creepy cloning.  The Sith Lord promises to give everything to Kylo; they’ll make a new Empire (which is the last thing we want to hear).  He raises a massive fleet of ships that have been worked on in secret and the Imperial March plays again.  But first, Kylo must “kill the girl,” and end the Jedi.  Only then will he become what Vader could not and rule as the new Emperor (and no one believes that.  He promised that to Vader…again, Sidious has a habit of breaking his promises once someone new comes along).  And the big question of the hour, who is Rey?

Poe and Finn discover that there is a spy within the First Order, who passes information through a middle man.  Have to say, it’s nice to see Finn, Poe, and Chewie working as a team on the Millennium Falcon.  Poe’s even got crazy moves to pull, like lightspeed skipping.  Meanwhile, Leia is training Rey.  Rey’s attempting to contact previous Jedi, whispering “be with me.”  They don’t answer.  And the connection between Rey and Kylo still exists and may be influencing Rey.  She has visions during her training run and doesn’t possess the quiet calm of a true master.  But she vows to Leia, “I will earn your brother’s saber, one day.”  For now, she banters with Poe about the Falcon being on fire (this bit is fun).  Poe argues that they need Rey out fighting, not training.  But he does confirm that Palpatine is alive and is coming for the rest of the galaxy.  They need to find Exogol, the hidden world of the Sith.

Rey recalls that Luke had been attempting that before he went into hiding.  He left notes, including about a Sith wayfinder.  Finn and Poe insist on going with Rey.  There is a touching farewell between Leia and Rey; hugging and Leia whispering to Rey “never be afraid of who you are.”  [Leia was achieved in this film with unused footage from Force Awakens and her role had to be downsized due to the passing of Carrie Fisher.]  Our heroes land on another desert planet and run into an old friend; Lando.  He rescues them when the First Order gets on their trail.  They’re tracking an old Jedi hunter and Rey vaguely recognizes the ship.  A serious of mishaps lead them to a Sith dagger, inscribed with the location of the wayfinder.  3PO can read the dagger, but it’s against his programming to speak the language of the Sith.  Chewie is sadly captured and Rey faces off against Kylo, who is still speaking to Rey, asking her to turn to the Dark Side.  Palpatine wants to kill her.  They fight over the transport carrying Chewie and Kylo pushes Rey.  She inadvertently uses lighting and blows up the carrier.  Poe, Finn, and Rey do manage to escape and Rey begins to fear where her path is leading.  She admits to Finn she had a vision of herself and Kylo both on the throne of the Sith.

Lucky for us, there was another transport and Chewbacca is alive!  Unfortunately, he’s now a prisoner aboard Pryde’s ship and they have possession of the Falcon.  Our trio of heroes take 3PO to bypass his memory so they can get the directions (and Poe’s backstory gets changed).  The downside is, it would cause a complete memory wipe, so 3PO takes one last look at his friends.  They get their information and yep, 3PO is back to introducing himself.  And Rey senses Chewie is alive!  So they mount a rescue mission.  Rey goes after the dagger and finds it in Kylo’s quarters.  There is a face off between them (through the Force since Kylo is on the planet).  Finn and Poe manage to free Chewie, then they’re captured.  They are in turn freed by the First Order spy, General Hux.  He’s not in it for the Resistance; he just doesn’t want Kylo to win.  Hux doesn’t last long after that; Pryde figures it out and shoots him.  But the Falcon manages to escape, Rey jumping aboard at the last second, still resisting Kylo.  He has managed to pass along useful information; Palpatine wants Rey dead because she is a threat to his power.  She has his power; she is his granddaughter.  Between Rey and Kylo, they make a dyad in the Force.  Kylo figures together they could kill Palpatine and rule the galaxy.  Rey is disinclined to acquiesce to his request.

The path to Exogol starts in the Endor system, with the crash site of the second Death Star.  Rey’s very determined to destroy Palpatine and plows ahead alone.  Finn discovers there are other stormtrooper defectors and they all rush after Rey.  [I do wonder what it would have been like if Luke had discovered the wreckage, considering all that had happened.]  She manages to find the second wayfinder, but receives a vision of herself as a Sith, with a double-edged lightsaber.  That leads her to Kylo.  He points out how the Dark Side is calling to her; neither of them can return to Leia now.  He crushes the wayfinder, so the only way to Exogol is with him.  They duel; it’s an angry duel, with little of the finesse the prequels or original trilogy carried.  This is about stunts and new moves.  Rey is tired, which Leia must sense, so she reaches out to her son, causing a moment of distraction for him.  Rey capitalizes on it and stabs Kylo.  And instantly regrets it.  This is not the way of the Jedi; she’s giving in to her anger and hate, like a Sith.  She heals him (which uses a bit of her own life…just like magic, these deeds have a price).  Afterward, she can sense that Leia has passed.  Rey admits that she wanted to take his hand, but as Ben.  Instead, she takes his ship.

Finn, Poe, and Chewie return to their base and are informed that Leia has passed.  Gosh, you want to cry alongside Chewie with his howl of grief.  Back on the destroyed Death Star, Han appears to Kylo.  “Hey kid.”  Father and son have another conversation, Han telling him to come home.  While Leia may be gone, what she fought for is not gone.  Ben repeats “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.”  A mirror of their last encounter, Han reaches out for his son and Ben holds out his lightsaber.  “Dad,” he pleads.  Then tosses the lightsaber away.  When he turns back around, Han is gone.

Poe struggles to accept the position that Leia left for him.  He doesn’t know how to do what she did.  He’s not ready.  Lando comforts him; none of them were ready.  All they had were each other and that’s how they won.  Rey’s taken Kylo’s ship to Luke’s island to burn.  She throws Luke’s lightsaber, but Luke’s Force ghost catches it.  He was wrong to hide away and it is wrong for Rey to hide now.  They’re just running for their fears.  Rey is afraid of herself.  But Leia always sensed who Rey truly was; she saw past the name of Palpatine and saw Rey’s spirit and heart.  [Leia had her own struggle accepting herself as Vader’s daughter, detailed in Tatooine Ghost.]  There are some things stronger than blood and confronting fear is the destiny of a Jedi.  Luke guides Rey to Leia’s lightsaber, hidden away when she sensed Ben’s fall.  Rey pulls out the wayfinder, but she still needs a ship.  Luke raises his X-Wing from the water (to the same music as Empire).

Rey sends her course to the Resistance so they can follow to Exogol.  (Oh, and R2 restores 3PO’s memories.  Yay, cause that was sad when he didn’t remember.)  Poe and Finn are now generals; they’ll lead the Resistance fleet.  Their plan is to knock out the navigation tower.  Chewie and Lando will take the Falcon and raise hope (and reinforcements).  Poe rallies the fighters:

“Good people will fight if we lead them.  Leia never gave up.  And neither have we.  We’re going to show them we’re not afraid.  What our mothers and fathers fought for, we will not let die.  Not today.  Today, we make our last stand.  For the galaxy.  For Leia.  For everyone we’ve lost.” 

They will take the war to the First Order (cue triumphant theme!)

Rey arrives on Exogol, the Resistance behind her.  They begin their ground assault on the command ship (a bit odd), aided by the other former stormtroopers (turns out, they were children stolen from their homes; one First Order officer referred to it as “harvesting the young.”)  The fleet will fire on the cruisers while they’re stuck in atmosphere for a few minutes.  And these new ships all have the power to blow up a planet, making it even more important to wipe them out.  Rey discovers the Sith throne, and life-supported Palpatine.  He didn’t want to kill Rey, he wanted her to join him.  “Strike me down,” and his spirit will pass into Rey, along with all the spirits of the Sith.  She will be the new Empress.  Rey refuses; she won’t hate.  Palpatine warns that he is her only family and turning will be the only way to save her friends.

Ben arrives (in an old TIE fighter) and faces off against the Knights of Ren.  At first, armed only with a blaster (yeah, that’s Han Solo’s kid).  But when it looks like Rey will strike down the Emperor, she instead passes Luke’s lightsaber (they managed to fix it at some point) to Ben.  Now it’s an even match between him and the Knights.  Rey then pulls out Leia’s saber and takes on the Red Guards.  Ben makes his way to Rey’s side and they face the Emperor.  “Stand together, die together,” he declares and sucks the life out of them, rejuvenating himself since they are more powerful as a dyad.

Just when Poe begins to lose hope that they are outnumbered, Lando arrives with an entire host of ships (apparently, the Ghost from Rebels is in that crowd, as is Tantive IV from the opening of New Hope).  Even Wedge Antilles is back.  But Palpatine is winning against the young couple.  He throws Kylo into a pit, “so falls the last Skywalker” (and getting revenge for Anakin’s final act against him), then shoots electricity into the Resistance, causing their ships to fall.  Rey murmurs “be with me.”  She hears the voices of Jedi past [reprised by their original actors]; Mace Windu, Qui-Gon Jinn, Ashoka, Kanan Jarrus, Anakin Skywalker, Yoda, Obi-Wan Kenobi (both as Ewan McGreggor and Sir Alec Guiness), urging her to rise.  “These are your final steps, Rey,” Obi-Wan starts.  Anakin tells her to bring balance, like he did.  Mace and Yoda both assure her she’s never been alone.  “Every Jedi who has ever lived, lives in you,” Qui-Gon tells her.  Kanan encourages “in the heart of a Jedi, lies their strength.” And Luke gives her the last words of wisdom: “the Force will be with you, always,” like Obi-Wan told him before blowing the Death Star.  [This is the most epic part of the entire movie.]  Rey rises up against Palpatine and calls the first saber to her hand.  She stands against his onslaught of lightning, bringing the second saber to her hand as well.  Palpatine declares “I am all the Sith!”  Rey retorts, “and I am all the Jedi.”  Palpatine disintegrates in his own lightning.  The Resistance can fly again and they hit the fleet hard.  Finn and his buddies knock out the command ship.  Poe goes after them to rescue Finn, but Lando is faster in the Falcon.

Palpatine’s destruction also brings about the destruction of the Sith temple.  Rey collapses and Finn can sense it (it’s been confirmed that Finn is Force-sensitive and that’s what he wanted to tell Rey before they were swallowed in the desert.)  But Ben climbs up and crawls over to Rey.  He takes her in his arms; she’s limp and her eyes are unseeing.  He calms himself and Rey eventually rises again.  She’s surprised and touches his face, calling him Ben.  They share a kiss and Ben even smiles (he looks better when he smiles).  But then Ben falls back.  His body disappears, as does Leia’s back at the base [point of reference, not all Jedi do that.  Qui-Gon didn’t, Dooku didn’t, Vader didn’t.  Probably got something to do with their power in the Force.]  Rey flies away and we once again see celebrations on Endor (complete with Wicket), Coruscant, and Jakku.

Back at the base, everyone is hugging.  Chewie finally gets a medal.  And it is so good to see Rey land Luke’s X-Wing.  The trio share an emotional hug (and it’s wonderful.)  Rey has one last errand; the Falcon flies over Tatooine again.  She finds the old Lars homestead (back where it all started…so heartwarming), wraps up Leia’s and Luke’s sabers and buries them in the sand.  She has a new saber made from her old staff, with a yellow blade.  An old woman passes by and asks Rey “who are you?”  “Rey,” she simply replies.  “Rey who?”  Luke and Leia’s Force ghosts look on as Rey chooses to name herself “Rey Skywalker.”  She’s found her family.  The theme plays and we once again look at twin sunsets.  (And a magnificent finale theme on the soundtrack; you want to cheer when you hear the original theme play again.  I’ll admit The March of the Resistance has grown on me.)  And I certainly hope that Rey is not staying on Tatooine long; she needs to get back to her new family with Finn, Poe, and Chewie.

I liked that Finn and Poe got more main action in this film; they felt like side characters in the last one.  Yes, Rey is the main character, but it would be bland if she’s the only one who does anything.  They all had their own mission in this film and important ones.  Poe and Finn work well together and while they’d prefer to have Rey nearby, they can survive without her.  In regards to shipping…I know there are wars going on amongst fans; I’m fairly open minded.  I did not mind the kiss between Ben and Rey because it was Ben, not Kylo.  Totally appropriate considering he just saved her life.  And if it was Ben, I could see a relationship between Rey and Ben.  It would have been a fun story to see those two grow up together.  I’m also okay with Rey paired with Finn or Poe (or both, or Finn and Poe together because they totally give off those vibes.  And Finn revealing he senses the Force is a much better reveal than him being in love with Rey because that’s a bit too cliched).  The movies are written well enough that there are a lot of options.

My thoughts on Palpatine being the ultimate big bad…it does bring all nine episodes into one arc; he was the big bad of I through VI and with VII, VIII, and IX being a direct continuation of those, it makes some sense.  On the other hand, it feels like a bit of a cop out.  Though I guess it makes more sense than figuring out a whole new villain, since Snoke was killed in Last Jedi.  But it does make one scratch their head because how did he survive the second Death Star?  He got thrown down a reactor (or something) and then the thing blew up.  Is this one a clone?  Was that one a clone?  And the whole cloning thing; the universe already proved that stable clones could be produced, so why are Palpatine’s all messed up?  Is it the Dark Side of the Force?

On the revelation that Rey is Palpatine’s granddaughter; first, ew.  On so many levels.  Technically, it makes it a compelling story when Rey won’t turn and instead defeats Palpatine.  However, I’d much rather go with the fan theory that she was Obi-Wan’s granddaughter; it would explain her strength in the Force.  And give her a connection to the Skywalker clan considering Obi-Wan’s presences in Anakin and Luke’s lives.  There was also the theory that she was Leia and Han’s second child, which has some basis in the Extended Legends universe.  That would make the kiss at the end of the movie very awkward, but they’ve already gone there once.  But, Kylo would know his own sister.  Then there was the theory that she was Luke’s daughter (and in the Extended Legends universe, Luke married Mara Jade and had a son, so again, weaving in those elements fan were already familiar with).  There is a strong connection between Luke and Rey and she is incredibly strong in the Force; but Kylo’s knowledge is again a sticking point.  Some fans would argue that it would make a more compelling story for her parents to be completely unrelated to any of the main characters; there are more Force-sensitive beings out there than just the Skywalker clan.  But Anakin did have an incredibly high midi-cholrian count and was destined to bring balance to the Force.

I would have to say this is my favorite of the sequel trilogy.  It has the most compelling story and I love all the bits and pieces they brought in from the original trilogy (though someone give Chewie a hug).  Gotta smile when Luke raises his X-Wing like Yoda did.

Up Next: I start the Superhero section.  I’ll begin with DC, since there is a lot to unpack with Marvel.  X-Men will get thrown in the middle.  To start, let’s dive into Batman, with the animated series Batman Beyond.

“You were always scum.” “Rebel scum.”

The Last Jedi

The main cast returns, with Mark Hamill and Andy Serkis having more screen time than the last movie.  Billie Lourd (Carrie Fisher’s daughter) has a role as Lieutenant Connix as well.  Laura Dern (Marmee March in the 2019 Little Women amongst dozens of other movies) is Vice Admiral Holdo.  And if the captain of the First Order ship at the beginning looks familiar, that is Mark Lewis Jones, who has appeared in Merlin, Game of Thrones, Master and Commander, The Other Boleyn Girl, and Robin Hood.

We are informed that the First Order has taken military control of the galaxy and plans to wipe out the Resistance.  Leia is still certain that Luke will return and bring hope to the galaxy.  The Resistance is fleeing their last base when a Dreadnought ship appears.  A single light fighter [like in the original film] goes against the massive ship, piloted by Poe.  He’s able to take out the canons since he is too small and too close for their other weapons to hit, and still has time to joke with Hux.  This is supposed to pave the way for the rest of his squad to come in and bomb the Dreadnought.  His disobeys Leia’s orders and loses all of his bombers.  The last one manages to drop their payload, but falls into the resulting explosion.  They did manage to destroy the Dreadnought, but it came at a great cost. 

Nevertheless, Snoke is disappointed with Hux.  Snoke is also disappointed with Kylo Ren; he has too much of his father’s heart in him.  He keeps Hux around because he can be manipulated into a sharp tool.  But Kylo; Snoke sensed the raw, untamed power within him, in combination with the potential of his bloodline.  He could have been a new Vader.  Snoke fears he is mistaken.  “You’re no Vader.  You’re just a child in a mask.”  Kylo destroys the mask.  His new task is to snuff out hope in the galaxy, alive because the seed of the Jedi lives.

The Resistance thinks they have gotten away.  Finn wakes up and finds Poe, but he’s more concerned with “where is Rey?”  Leia slaps Poe and demotes him.  He needs to learn that “you can’t solve everything by hoping in an X-Wing and blowing something up.”  Then they receive word that the First Order has found them.  Poe immediately asks “permission to jump in an X-Wing and blow something up?”  Permission granted.  Poe doesn’t make it into the hanger before Kylo Ren blows it up.  Kylo senses Leia and does not fire.  His troops do not hesitate to blow the bridge.  Leia floats into space, but she uses the Force to bring herself back on board.  She is unconscious and needs time to heal.

Meanwhile, Rey attempts to get Luke to train her.  Well, her first argument is that the Resistance needs him.  That’s after Luke accepts his lightsaber from Rey and throws it over his shoulder.  His X-Wing is underwater.  [Fun note, the Pogs were created because puffins are prevalent on Skellig Michael and to digitally remove them from every scene would be impossible.  Thus, we get cute Pogs!]  Rey eventually has Chewie break in Luke’s door in demand of seeing him.  Luke is initially happy to see his old friend and hear that the Falcon is nearby.  Then he asks “where’s Han?” [there is a deleted scene that should have been kept of Luke mourning his brother-in-law.]  Luke tells Rey to go away.  She won’t leave without him.  So she gets to watch his daily routine (including a weird milking scene that could have been deleted instead).

But Rey begins to hear something.  She wanders the island and finds old books – the original Jedi texts.  Luke finally asks “who are you?”  Rey feels she knows the place from her dreams.  Luke now wonders why Leia sent Rey specifically to him.  Rey wants to learn, but Luke refuses to teach. “It’s time for the Jedi to die.”  That is, until Luke visits the Falcon alone and finds R2.  R2 tries to convince him.  Luke retorts “nothing can make me change my mind.”  Then R2 shows him Leia’s message from all those years ago: “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi, you’re my only hope.”  Low blow, but it works.

I’ll admit, the bit with Luke and the palm branch “do you feel it?  Oh, you must be very strong!” while training Rey was funny.  When Luke tells her to reach out, she needs to reach out with her feelings.  The Force is not just something to lift rocks and control people.  It is balance and energy between everything and inside of you.  And it does not just belong to the Jedi.  He’s a bit impressed with Rey’s training with the lightsaber, until she cuts a rock in two.  However, when Rey senses a dark pit on the island, she doesn’t heed Luke’s warning to stay away.  She dives right in, attempting to discover what it is it wants to tell her.  Luke is troubled; he sensed that same power in Ben Solo.  Rey realizes that Luke has cut himself off from the Force.  He tells her that when you strip away the mythology of the Jedi, their legacy is failure.  At the height of their power, they allowed Darth Sidious to rise and destroy them, and create the Empire.  It was Sidious who was responsible for Darth Vader.  Rey argues that a Jedi, Luke, brought Vader back.

Luke recalls that yes, there was balance for a time after the defeat of Vader.  Luke became a legend in the galaxy.  And he feels he became arrogant.  He thought he could teach the next generation of Jedi.  He thought he could teach his nephew.  But Ben ultimately betrayed him and slaughtered his school.  Luke blames himself.  Like the Jedi of the Old Republic, he failed.  Rey argues that Luke was not the one who failed; Ben failed him.  She vows not to fail Luke.

She also discovers a connection to Kylo Ren.  They can see each other, but not their surroundings.  Kylo attempts at the beginning to force her to tell him where Luke is, but realizes it won’t work.  It is Kylo who wonders why there is a connection.  He even agrees with Rey when she calls him a monster.  During one of their conversations, he’s shirtless, which unsettles Rey a bit.  She asks him “why did you hate your father?”  Kylo admits he didn’t hate him, but won’t answer why he killed him.  Instead, he muses on how Rey is constantly searching for parents.  And she finds those figures first in Han and now in Luke.  But did Luke tell her the truth?  Kylo tells her that Luke sensed his power and feared it.  He tried to murder his nephew.  Kylo tells Rey “let the past die, kill it if you have it.  It is the only way to become who you were meant to be.”  In return, Rey admits to Kylo what she saw in the cave (a very weird mirror universe) and she tried to see her parents, but it didn’t work.  She comforts Kylo that they are not alone.  It’s not too late for Kylo.  Their hands reach out for each other.  Their fingers touch.  And Luke walks in.

Luke and Rey fight.  Rey pulls out the lightsaber and demands an answer.  Did Luke try to murder Ben?  Luke elaborates; he had sensed that Snoke had turned Ben’s heart.  He saw Ben’s future, saw him destroy everything Luke had fought for, and for a brief moment, Luke was tempted to end the threat.  That moment passed and he was left with shame and the consequences.  The last Luke saw of Ben was the eyes of a frightened boy.  That is why Ben saw Luke raise his lightsaber.  Then Ben reacted and everything went to pot.  Luke warns Rey when she wants to go to Ben and attempt to save him “this is not going to go how you think.” Rey leaves on the Falcon.

The ghost of Yoda appears when Luke attempts to burn the sacred tree and texts.  But Luke can’t bring himself to do it.  So Yoda calls down lightning and ignites the tree.  Luke even tries to save the texts, but Yoda laughs.  So Yoda must agree, it is time for the Jedi Order to end.  No, it’s time for Luke to look past a pile of books.  It has always been the way of things for the students to grow beyond the master.  Luke must pass on what he knows, Yoda instructs.  “Greatest teacher, failure is.”

Back with the Resistance, Vice Admiral Holdo takes command.  Finn doesn’t intend to stick around long enough to find out what her plan is; his plan is to leave and find Rey and keep her safe.  But a young woman named Rose stops him.  Together, they realized that the First Order managed to track them through lightspeed, which should be impossible.  But they could only be using the lead ship.  There’s a way to disable the tracker.  They tell Poe the plan and he contacts Maz for help.  She sends Finn and Rose after a master code breaker.  They check out an upscale casino, then managed to get arrested.  They meet another criminal hacker and during their escape, free some animals and destroy the casino, giving the poor locals hope.  When Finn and Rose are delayed, Poe confronts Holdo about her lack of plan, then takes command in order to buy his friends more time.  Leia wakes up in time to take the bridge back from Poe and stun him.  In actuality, she and Holdo like Poe.  Holdo’s plan all along was to get the last of the Resistance to a hidden Rebel base.  The First Order wouldn’t track the small cruisers.  She’s staying aboard the larger carrier to keep up the decoy.

Many of the characters all end up on Snoke’s ship.  Finn, Rose, and BB-8 are aboard to turn off the tracker.  They are instead caught by Captain Phasma, finding out that their criminal “friend” double-crossed them and they are almost executed.  That’s going on while Rey attempts to turn Ben.  “You don’t have to do this.  I feel the conflict within you.”  (Reusing dialogue from Return of the Jedi).  She’s seen the future where Ben does not bow to Snoke.  Ben has seen a different future, where Rey is the one who will turn.  They appear before Snoke, who calls Ben his good and faithful apprentice.  Snoke sensed that as Kylo grew stronger in the Dark Side, he equal would grow in the Light.  So Snoke bridged their minds and planted bait.  And Rey was not wise enough to resists it.

Similar to Return of the Jedi, Rey witnesses the destruction of the Resistance fleet and calls Kylo’s lightsaber to her.  Snoke senses that Rey holds the spirit of a true Jedi.  And that is why she must be destroyed.  He calls upon Kylo, the heir apparent to Vader, to kill her.  Rey still holds hope.  Snoke disabuses her of that notion; he cannot be betrayed or beaten.  He can see Kylo’s every thought and even now, he turns his lightsaber to kill his true enemy.  And Kylo did that.  He turned Luke’s lightsaber next to Snoke and cuts him in two.  Ben and Rey fight the guards off together (also catching the room on fire); Rey even tosses her lightsaber to Ben when he’s disarmed.  She begs Ben to come with her when they’re finished.  Ben in turns asks Rey to stay; together, they can rule and create a new order.  Let the past, all of it; Sith, Jedi, Skywalker, Snoke, die.  He knows that Rey’s parents were nobodies.  That would make Rey a nobody.  But not to him.  “Join me.”  Rey won’t.  They Force-fight for Luke’s lightsaber and it ultimately breaks in two, knocking them out.

When Snoke’s ship starts firing on the transports, Holdo turns the cruiser and jumps to lightspeed through the ship.  Finn gets a showdown with Captain Phasma, who then falls to her death.  Finn and Rose manage to escape with BB-8 (who has managed to get ahold of an AT-ST!)  The transport with Leia and Poe manages to make it to the base, where Finn and Rose crash land.  (Yes, Poe is happy to see them, but he wants his droid back.)  They put a call out for help.  In the meantime, there is a battering ram cannon that will eventually make it through their door.  A final stand then.  The Resistance is bolstered when the Millennium Falcon comes to their aid (Rey is safely aboard with Chewie, and a few Pogs).  Hux has saved Kylo, though not willingly.  Kylo declares himself the new Supreme Leader and leads Hux’s army.  Kylo now demands “blow that piece of junk out of the sky!” (meaning the Falcon).  Finn informs his friends that the New Order hates the Falcon.

The Resistance fighters are picked off.  Poe orders them to retreat, but Finn insists he has to take out the cannon; the New Order cannot win.  He continues with his suicide run until Rose knocks him out of the way.  She tells him that they will win by saving what they love, not be fighting what they hate.  She gives him a gentle kiss and passes out.  The cannon did its work and Kylo orders Hux to advance.  No quarter will be given and no prisoners taken (Kylo knows his mother is in there; he does not hesitate now).  The Resistance fears that no help is coming; the galaxy has lost hope, the spark has gone out.  Then a cloaked figure enters and kneels before Leia.  It’s Luke.  He apologizes to his sister, but that is not necessary; she’s glad he’s here at the end [and that is so poignant given that Carrie Fisher passed away before this movie was released].  Luke tells her that he is here to face Kylo, but he can’t save him.  She knows her son is gone.

Everyone watches Luke walk out.  Kylo orders every gun fire on that man, even shouting “more!”  Hux calls it off.  But Luke is still standing.  Kylo steps down to face him, and Luke admits that he is not here to save Kylo’s soul.  They duel, though notice that Luke dodges Kylo’s lightsaber strikes.  Meanwhile, Poe realizes that Luke is serving as a distraction; he’s stalling so they can escape.  They follow the crystal foxes for a way out.  When they get there, rocks are blocking their way.  But the Falcon is there and Rey lifts the rocks and rushes people onboard.  Luke cautions Kylo that if he strikes him down in anger, he will always be with him, just like his father.  Luke is not the last of the Jedi.  Kylo runs Luke through.  And finds out that Luke is a Force projection.  Luke is meditating on his island and collapses.  When he gets back up, he opens himself up to the Force, one last time.  He disappears and his cloak falls.  Kylo is not pleased to find the base deserted when he finally walks in.  He “sees” Rey one last time, before she shuts the door on the Falcon.  (Oh, she’s also hidden the Jedi texts on there.)  She has a conversation with Leia; they both sensed that Luke is gone, but he was at peace.  They will rebuild the rebellion.

Overall, not terribly interested in the side quest, because honestly, it wasn’t needed.  It was just some action for the characters to do when we weren’t focused on Rey, Kylo, and Luke.  And technically, if you think about it, if Finn and Rose hadn’t met that criminal, he couldn’t have double crossed them, thus allowing the First Order to target the small cruisers taking the Resistance to their base.  The story felt disjointed; yes, everything came together at the end, but it was clearly three separate stories going on.  This is repeating elements of Empire Strikes Back, with Rey training with Luke, and Han and Leia facing off with Vader.  But Vader was using Han and Leia as bait for Luke.

And we have to wonder where did Snoke fall in the whole timeline of Sidious turning Anakin and the rise of the Empire and eventual fall?  There is a very famous “Rule of Two” amongst the Sith, that there is only ever a master and an apprentice.  (Hence why Dooku became the apprentice after Maul was killed and Dooku had to die in order for Anakin to become Sidious’s apprentice.  Though in the Legends universe, there were other Force-sensitive students of Palpatine, but maybe they were not considered true apprentices?)

What I do like is the examination of the Jedi and the dichotomy between Rey and Ben/Kylo (he’s Ben when he’s good, Kylo when he’s bad).  They’re both fighting for a place to belong.  Again, we want Rey to succeed in turning Ben back to the Light.  And it almost works for a minute!  Then Kylo has to be stupid and vote for power.  That last scene between Rey and Kylo, when Rey shuts the door, I thought “she has the life you would have.”

Up Next: The Rise of Skywalker

“Some things never change.” “True, you still drive me crazy.”

The Force Awakens

The first of the sequel trilogy.  We’re introduced to Daisy Ridley as Rey, Oscar Isaac (he was Prince John in Robin Hood with Russell Crowe) as Poe Dameron, John Boyega as Finn, and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren.  Domhnall Gleeson (eldest son Bill of the Weasley family in Harry Potter) is General Hux, Lupita Nyong’o (Nakia in Black Panther) voices Maz Kanata, Andy Serkis (Gollum in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, as well as making an appearance in Black Panther…and apparently in the new Batman movie coming out) is Supreme Leader Snoke.  Gwendolyn Christie (Brienne of Tarth in Game of Thrones) is under the helmet of Captain Phasma.  Also from Robin Hood and Game of Thrones is Max von Sydow (he was Sir Walter Loxley in Robin Hood and the Three-Eyed Raven in Game of Thrones) as Lor San Tekka.  Familiar faces from other franchises include Simon Pegg (Scotty in Star Trek) is Unkar Plutt and Kiran Shah (he’s been scale doubles in Lord of the Rings and Hobbit, and Ginarrbrik in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe) is Teedo.  Warwick Davis also pops up and yes, Daniel Craig hides out as one of the stormtroopers.  Anthony Daniels returns as C-3PO, Peter Mayhew as Chewbacca, and the old gang of Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, and Mark Hamill is back together (I find it interesting in the ending credits that they appear first) …and honestly, this is why I watched.  J.J. Abrams of the NuStar Trek films directed this film.

The film opens with “Luke Skywalker has vanished.”  (That certainly catches our attention.)  “In his absences, the sinister FIRST ORDER has risen from the ashes of the Empire and will not rest until Skywalker, the last Jedi [thought he was first of the new as of the end of Return of the Jedi?  Wasn’t that the whole point?  And fans know there are others out there!] has been destroyed.”  General Leia Organa [pretty sure there should be a “Solo” in there] leads the brave RESITANCE with the support of the Republic and hopes to “find Luke and restore peace and justice to the galaxy.”  [Pretty sure they already did that.]  Anyways, a pilot is sent to Jakku [a desert planet, cause there’s more than Tatooine] to find and old ally who has a clue to Luke’s whereabouts.  We continue the trend to open a Star Wars movie with a large ship.  And we still have stormtroopers, though their helmets have changed a little (and now a car mimics that).

We’re introduced to the BB-8 droid who brings us to the pilot speaking to an old man.  With no Jedi, he cautions, there is no balance to the Force [um, wasn’t that solved by the whole Anakin/Vader storyline?  Seriously, why is this an issue?]  The old man gives the pilot an information stick and warns him to leave.  The First Order has arrived.  And lays waste to the village, led by a black-robed figure.  We do see one trooper get startled and not fire on the village.  The pilot attempts to escape, but his ship is damaged.  The information is given to BB-8 and the pilot is captured.  The old man (Lor San Tekka) stands up to the dark figure; he knew him before he took the name Kylo Ren, he was not originally from the Dark Side.  He cannot deny the truth of his family (hint hint).  However, he is impaled by a red lightsaber.

We follow the new stormtrooper as they return to a Star Destroyer and briefly meet his female captain.  We can already sense he is not like most stormtroopers and are later rewarded when he breaks the pilot out, after interrogation with Kylo Ren.  Kylo and the Frist Order, led by General Hux, start hunting for the BB-8 unit.

Which is still on Jakku and meets a young scavenger.  There is a crashed Star Destroyer and AT-AT on the planet and the young woman wears an old Rebel helmet at times.  She rescues BB-8 and won’t sell him even when she would be given more food.  But, someone calls in that the droid is on the planet and events really kick off.  The pilot, Poe, and the trooper, now named Finn manage to escape, but soon after crash back on Jakku.  They’re separated and we fear Poe is dead.  So now Finn is taking up the mission to find the BB-8 unit…well, mainly he wants to get away from the First Order.  But he literally runs into the young woman, Rey, and BB-8.  And they keep running when troopers land.  They need to get off planet and the garbage ship will have to do.  Turns out the “garbage ship” is the Millennium Falcon [and fans cheer!].  Finn and Rey work well together to escape the First Order.  Finn doesn’t admit to Rey that he’s a former stormtrooper and plays along with being from the Resistance.  Then they’re captured.  By Han and Chewie [more cheers and just about the best scene of the film!  Cue old theme!]  “We’re home,” Han tells his old friend. 

They discover Finn and Rey and then have to escape from trouble that followed Han (that hasn’t changed).  Finn knows Han as the Rebellion general and war hero.  Rey knows him as a smuggler (he’s both, and we love him for it).  Rey proves very useful onboard the Falcon, though when she asks Han if his plan will work, he retorts “I never ask that until after I’ve done it.”  The information still gets back to the First Order and the Falcon races off.  Han fills in a few questions.  Luke was training the new generation of Jedi when one betrayed him.  He felt responsible and so he hid [not a smart or wise move, Luke], under the guise of looking for the first Jedi Temple.  Han has also come around to the Force; he used to disbelieve, but he saw too many things.  So yes, he will help Finn and Rey.  He even offers Rey a job, but she counters with the need to return to Jakku.

Within the First Order, Hux and Kylo report to Supreme Leader Snoke (well, the giant hologram of him).  Snoke tells Hux to use their new weapon on the Republic.  His conversation with Kylo centers on the concern of new Jedi rising.  “There’s been an awakening.”  And acknowledgement that Han Solo is the father of Kylo Ren.  Kylo apparently turned to the Dark Side to honor his grandfather, Darth Vader.  He even dug up Vader’s old, mishappened helmet from the funeral pyre on Endor [dude!  Did you learn nothing?!].  We hear a few notes of the old Imperial theme and Kylo Ren vows to finish what Vader started.

Han takes his young companions to Maz Kanata.  She jokes that Chewie is her boyfriend (which is adorable), but is intrigued by Han’s companions.  Finn just wants to outrun the First Order and walks away (and two separate side characters inform both the Resistance and the First Order).  Maz is more interested in Rey.  She has seen darkness with the Sith, the Empire, and the First Order (and we wonder how old she is and if she’s Force-sensitive).  All must fight.  When Rey hears a child’s voice, she wanders down an old hallway and finds a chest.  It’s calling to her.  Inside the chest is a lightsaber.  Rey sees and hears the past [this scene is also very cool; though it also calls into question, how does Maz have Anakin/Luke’s old lightsaber, the one he lost with his hand on Cloud City?  But we do get to hear Alec Guiness and Ewan McGregor for a second].  Rey does not want the lightsaber, even when Maz tells her that the people she is looking for are not returning to Jakku.

Their discussion is interrupted by the arrival of the First Order.  Hux has stirred them into a frenzy [very reminiscent of Hitler].  He claims that the Republic will fall [already tried that] and they have a new weapon, even bigger than the Death Star [cause that worked so well the last time…and honestly, that bit confuses me].  Finn takes the lightsaber from Maz and faces some of his old friends.  Rey runs into the forest and BB-8 follows her.  She sends the droid into hiding so the First Order can’t get ahold of the map he holds.  Finn, Han, and Chewie are briefly captured, but the Resistance is to the rescue (led by Poe, hurray)!  [The music is similar to the bit the occurs in the Attack of the Clones soundtrack where we pan over the clones before the Imperial March kicks in…I’ve obviously listened to the soundtracks too much, but it’s a nice tie-in to the prequel trilogy and a very “good guy” sound].

But Kylo finds Rey in the forest.  He senses that she has seen the map, so he takes her.  Finn sees them briefly, but can’t get to them.  Leia arrives with the Resistance and reunites with Han [and I’d really like to know how exactly things broke up].  Chewie comes up and gives her a hug.  Han admits that he saw him; he saw their son.  BB-8 is happily reunited with Poe, as is Finn.  Those two even exchange a hug [release the shippers!]  The Resistance begins their plans.  Finn says he knows the base that Rey was taken to.  Han is trying to help, but Leia doesn’t quite believe him (she doesn’t count the Death Star).  We get a glimpse of R2, but 3PO doesn’t have much hope of him waking up, the droid shut down after Luke left.

Han and Leia continue their conversation.  Han feels there is too much Vader in their son.  Leia hoped that Luke could train him; however, she should have never sent him away because she ended up losing both her son and her husband.  It seems that when their son turned, the couple split and they both went back to what they knew.  But they haven’t been truly happy since.  And much like her brother, Leia believes that Kylo can be saved; and Han is the one to do it.  He’s the boy’s father.

We see Kylo take his mask off and he’s not disfigured; he doesn’t wear it for the reason that Anakin/Vader did.  However, he most likely wears it to hide his true identity and a black mask with a deep voice is intimidating, Vader proved that.  Kylo tries to persuade Rey to give him the information he seeks.  He could take it by Force (literally), but he’s also trying to bring Rey to the Dark Side.  Rey uses her burgeoning powers (she has to be Force sensitive to sense Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber and to have Jedi from the past speak to her) to read that Kylo is afraid he will never be as strong as Vader.  Snoke instructs Kylo to bring Rey to him to teach [just like Sidious/Palpatine instructed Vader to bring Luke.]  Rey is able to influence a stormtrooper [Daniel Craig] in freeing her and escaping on her own (you go girl!)

Han takes Finn to the First Order base [which is a planet, somehow?  Powered by the sun?  Still so confused] in hopes of destroying it while the Resistance fleet follows, much like a Death Star run.  Leia hugs Han goodbye; she hates watching him leave, but she asks him to bring home their son (and we’re treated to a reprise of their theme, yay).  Han crashes the Falcon a bit and Kylo senses his father has arrived.  And then throws a tantrum when he realizes Rey has escaped.  However, Finn’s true plan was just to rescue Rey.  But he figures they can “use the Force.”  Han bites back “that’s not how the Force works.”  [Ok, that part is funny.]  They end up capturing Captain Phasma and bring down the shields.  Han suggests putting her down a garbage chute and through a trash compactor [also funny].  But Rey’s got everything under control.  The guys find her and they decide to stay and blow up the base.  “Escape now.  Hug later,” Han tells the young people.

Kylo meets up with his father.  And turns out his name is actually Ben.  Han tells him to take off his mask and show him his son’s face.  Kylo retorts that Ben is gone, he was weak and foolish like his father (and he had remarked to Rey earlier that Han would disappoint her as a father…I really want to know what happened while they were a family).  Han tries to get Ben to see sense; Snoke is only using him and he’ll dispose of him one his use is completed.  Kylo insists it is too late.  Han tells his son, “no, come home.”  And the young man is so confused; he has tears in his eyes and he feels like he’s being torn apart.  All is wants is to be free of the pain.  “I know what I have to do, but I don’t know if I have the strength to do it.”  He asks his father for help and Han answers “yes, anything.”  And Ben drops the mask and holds out his lightsaber to his father.  Han steps closer….And Kylo runs him through.  Chewie shouts.  Rey cries out.  Leia senses her husband’s death.

But they must complete their mission.  The detonators go off and the base begins to crumble.  The Resistance fleet hits it.  Kylo goes after Rey and Finn.  Rey calls him a monster and Kylo knocks her out.  Finn takes up the lightsaber again.  Kylo feels it belongs to him, he wants it back.  They duel for a minute, but Kylo is better trained and burns Finn’s shoulder and slices his back.  Rey is back up and there is a Force face-off between her and Kylo for the blue lightsaber (and we hear the Force theme).  Rey wins and attacks.  Kylo is wounded but still tries to turn Rey; she needs a teacher, she doesn’t understand this power she has.  She attacks again and manages to strike Kylo and scar his face.  Before she can wield a final blow, the planet begins to break apart and a gulf erupts between them (also very metaphorical.)  She runs back to Finn and Chewie rescues them in the Falcon.  They lead Poe and the other pilots away from the explosion.  Kylo has survived and Hux retrieves him per Snoke’s orders.  Snoke will complete Kylo’s training.

Back with the Resistance, R2 has woken up.  He has the rest of the map, so with BB-8’s piece, they have a complete route to Luke.  Leia sends Rey; an echo of A New Hope theme from the end of Revenge of the Sith plays as Leia wishes her “May the Force be with you.”  Chewie and Rey take the Falcon to a series of islands [actually the Skellig islands in Ireland, a UNESCO World Heritage site and they had to get special permission to film…also, that seemed like a short lightspeed trip].  Rey climbs up one to a cloaked figure and holds out the lightsaber.  The figure turns around with a metallic hand; it is Luke.  The Force theme swells, then switches to the main theme and credits roll.

My main issue with The Force Awakens and the sequel trilogy as a whole is that it recycles so much of the original trilogy.  It takes place thirty years after the Empire fell; why have things not changed or gotten better?  And if the New Republic opposes the First Order, why is there the need for the Resistance?  Isn’t that redundant?  The prequel trilogy at least had a different story line.  And more awesome music.  It’s great to hear the familiar themes after a decade, but Phantom Menace brough us Duel of the Fates.  There’s no new signature piece for Force Awakens.  Still love John Williams (and super stoked that he may be writing the music for the Kenobi series, which I eagerly await…that is about the only new Star Wars show I plan on watching [considering I don’t have time to re-watch shows I love and I still need to catch up on Marvel, Star Wars falls to the wayside]).

There are admittedly elements of the film that I liked.  I like that the lead is a female.  I think the young stars performed well.  I loved seeing Han again, but I wished we could have seen the other two a bit more.  Luke and Han don’t get to reunite.  However, this is supposed to introduce the new generation, so they should be the focus.  You should check out Jill Bearup’s video on YouTube about the fight between Finn, Kylo, and Rey (her videos are just awesome in general).  For a minute, I truly thought that Kylo would turn back to the Light and I think it still could have worked story-wise, that Han’s love as a father could bring his son back.  It worked the other direction, though admittedly it took several films.  And this technically makes sense story wise as well; just, seeing Han die made me sad, it truly was a shock the first time.  Harrison’s been asking for it since Empire Strikes Back; at least he played a good-sized role in this film.  I also appreciate that some elements from the former Expanded Universe are used in the sequels; such as a son of Han and Leia’s turning to the Dark Side.  In the books, it was Jacen, twin of Jania.  He also leads Ben Skywalker to the Dark Side.  Though, I have to shout “have you learned nothing?!”  Like, how do you not know that this is a bad idea?

Next Time: The Last Jedi  [I cannot keep these straight]

“I’m out of it for a little while and everyone gets delusions of grandeur!”

Return of the Jedi

The film was originally planned to be titled Revenge of the Jedi, but George Lucas decided that revenge was not the Jedi way.  That title got recycled as Revenge of the Sith, because revenge is definitely the way of the Sith.  Warwick Davis (Professor Flitwick and Griphook in Harry Potter; he was in an episode of Merlin; Nikabrik in Prince Caspian) joins as Wicket [he was eleven years old].  Kenny Baker (R2) joins as another Ewok.  And my apologies, I forgot to mention in the previous write-up that Billy Dee Williams is the rascal Lando Calrissian.

While the Empire builds another Death Star (because the last one worked out so well), Vader arrives to put them back on schedule and announces that Emperor Palpatine himself will be joining him.  Luke returns to Tatooine to stage his rescue of Han and sends C-3PO and R2-D2 to Jabba’s palace.  His message gives them as gifts to Jabba and they are put to work.  Then a bounty hunter shows up with Chewie to collect the bounty.  They haggle over price and the bounty hunter wins when he threatens to blow everyone up with a thermal detonator.  Turns out, the bounty hunter is Leia, who sneaks down to free Han from carbonite in the evening.  Han is temporarily blind due to hibernation sickness, but he recognizes Leia’s voice when she says “someone who loves you.”  But their reunion is interrupted by Jabba.  He imprisons Han with Chewie and takes Leia as a slave (complete with impractical attire).  Han is a bit disbelieving when Chewie informs that Luke has a plan; “Luke’s crazy!  He can’t even take care of himself, let alone rescue anybody.”  Luke shows up the next day dressed in all black (interesting style choice) to once again barter for his friends, introducing himself as a Jedi Knight and using their tricks.  But mind tricks won’t work on the Hutts and so Jabba dumps Luke into a rancor pit (and that this is creepy).  Luke’s still got his old tricks and throws a rock at the controls to bring the gate down on the creature.  The gang is all back together and Jabba sentences Luke, Han, and Chewie to death in the Sarlacc pit.

When Luke is about to be pushed into the pit, he salutes R2, who ejects his new green lightsaber, and Luke flips into action (cue hero theme!).  Lando gets to take his mask off, but falls overboard while fighting, so Han and Chewie try their best to rescue him.  Han even inadvertently knocks Boba Fett off the barge and into the pit (he survived somehow, and that was even before these new shows started coming out).  Leia seizes the opportunity, and her chain, and chokes Jabba to death.  Luke boards to rescue her and they swing away as they blow up the sail barge (call back to A New Hope).  Luke returns to Dagobah to complete his training, but Yoda is dying.  “When 900 years old, you reach, look as good, you will not,” he comments.  He also tells the young man that he has all the knowledge he needs to become a Jedi Knight, except he must complete his destiny and confront Vader.  Luke insists he needs to know if Vader was telling the truth.  Yes, Yoda admits, Vader is Luke’s father; and the wizened Master repeats his warning about the Dark Side.  Do not underestimate the Emperor, or Luke will suffer the same fate as his father.  Yoda’s final words to Luke are “there is another Skywalker.”

Obi-Wan pays another visit to Luke and the young man questions him why he didn’t tell him the truth.  Obi-Wan’s argument is that the young man he trained, Anakin Skywalker was destroyed by Vader when he fell to the Dark Side; so it was the truth from a certain point of view.  “You’re going to find that many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view.”  [You could write an entire article on how true that is; no, I’m not volunteering at this point, but I think I tried back in college.  I don’t think it turned out well, since I don’t remember]  Obi-Wan urges Luke to complete the task that he could not (when we go back to the prequels, Obi-Wan argues with Yoda that he cannot kill Anakin).  Luke replies that he cannot kill his own father [maybe Obi-Wan was hoping that if Luke lacked an emotional connection to Vader, it would make the task easier].  Obi-Wan confesses that yes, Luke has a twin sister; they were split up and hidden for their protection from both Vader and the Emperor.  Luke can sense that Leia is his sister.  Obi-Wan’s final warning is for Luke to bury his feelings; they do him credit, but they can be used against him.

The Emperor boards the Death Star and counsels Vader that young Skywalker will come to him.  When he does, Vader is to bring the young man to the Emperor and together they will turn him.  Everything is proceeding as he has foreseen.  However, later, the Emperor cannot sense when Luke is near, not like Vader can.  Palpatine is wondering if Vader’s feelings are clouding his judgment, but insists that Luke’s compassion for his father will be his undoing.

The Rebels prepare for their final attack.  Word has gotten to them that the Death Star is not complete and even better, the Emperor is aboard.  This is the perfect time.  Lando is now a general and is tasked with leading the attack on the Death Star to blow it up (again).  Han is also a general now and is tasked with leading the forces on the forest moon of Endor to knock out the shield generator.  Leia quickly volunteers to accompany him, as does Luke when he shows up.  Han insists that Lando take the Millennium Falcon, it’s the fastest ship in the fleet.  Though he has a strange notion he may not see his beloved ship again and makes Lando promise, not a scratch.

This is me, on a speeder bike display in the Star Wars section of Disney (circa 2007)

There is almost a slight hiccough while the Empire delays granting the stolen ship’s request to land.  And Han’s helpful instruction to Chewie is to “fly casual.”  They run into a bit trouble on the moon when they find some troopers scouting the forest.  Leia and Luke go after two of them and speed through the forest.  They’re separated and only Luke makes it back to Han.  Now they go searching for Leia.  Leia, in the meantime, has met the cute natives of the world, Ewoks (specifically Wicket, but they’re never named on screen).  Wicket helps her escape from more troopers and takes her back to his village.

Chewie gets the men caught in a net (“always thinking with your stomach!”) and they’re surrounded by Ewoks as well.  Who believe that 3PO is a god.  And “it would be against my programming to impersonate a deity,” the fuss bucket tells Han.  So Han, Chewie, and Luke are carted off to the village as well.  Luke uses a Force trick to mimic “magic” and get the Ewoks to set them free before Han can be roasted for dinner.  Leia and Han share a brief kiss and later, 3PO entertains the tribe with a brief retelling of their tale, complete with sound effects.  This gains them membership into the tribe, and some help.  Luke steps out and Leia follows.  Luke reveals that he can sense Vader is near; Leia urges him to run away.  He also reveals that Vader is his father and furthermore, the Force runs strong in his family; his father has it, he has it, and his sister.  Leia muses that she had sensed a connection as well.  Luke wants to try to save Vader; he can still sense good in him.  They part with a kiss on the cheek.  Which Han witnesses.  But Leia can’t tell him what she’s learned, but begs for Han to hold her.

Luke turns himself in to Vader, accepting the truth that Vader is his father.  Well, that Anakin Skywalker was his father.  Vader retorts that “that name no longer has any meaning.”  He examines his son’s new green lightsaber and declares his skills are complete.  But the Emperor will finish his training, in the Dark Side.  Luke cannot underestimate it; Vader must obey his master.  Luke even asks Vader to come away with him.  He tells his father “I will not turn and you will be forced to kill me.”  He feels the conflict within his father.  Vader insists it is too late for him.  And he still takes Luke to the Emperor.  Luke tells Vader “my father is truly dead.” 

The Rebels begin their space attack, but it’s taking a bit of time for Han and his team to get into the shield bunker.  The Ewoks create a distraction by taking one of the speeder bikes.  They make it a few steps in, except there are reinforcements.  (There is the notion amongst the fans that the older guy in Han’s attack group is actually Rex, who we know and love from the Clone Wars series.)  This is all a trap for the Rebels, laid by the Emperor.  Palpatine taunts Luke with the knowledge and urges him to strike him down in anger and descend into the Dark Side.  Luke retorts “your overconfidence is your weakness.”  “And your faith in your friends is yours,” Palpatine hisses.

But the Ewoks are clever creatures and attack the invading Imperials.  They have primitive weapons and for a while, things look bad.  But once Chewie helps a few Ewoks take control of an AT-ST (All Terrain Scout Transport), they gain momentum.  They use ropes to spin a speeder around a tree and clothesline another trooper.  Logs crush one of the walkers [Mythbusters tested this and it worked].  But this is still taking time and Lando urges Admiral Ackbar to give Han more time.  And the fighters unfortunately discover that the Death Star is fully operational when it blows up a large cruiser.  So they have to take on the Star Destroyers first.

Luke can’t take more of watching his friends die, so he calls his lightsaber and aims for the Emperor.  His blade crosses with Vader’s red one and the Emperor chuckles.  Then begins another duel between father and son [and the best one of the original trilogy].  But Luke stops fighting his father.  Vader doesn’t hold back long, even as Luke repeats he feels the conflict within.  Eventually, his thoughts drift back to his friends, and to his sister.  Vader was unaware there was a second child.  Perhaps she will turn easier than her brother.  This enrages Luke and he aggressively attacks, eventually knocking Vader down and slashing at him until he cuts off a hand.  He sees the wires in Vader’s limb, similar to his.  Palpatine laughs.  Luke’s hate has made him powerful.  Now, strike down Vader and become Palpatine’s new apprentice (see how loyal he is to Vader?  He did this with Dooku, if you recall.  This is the problem with the Sith, always backstabbing, completely untrustworthy the lot of them).  “Never,” declares Luke and throws his lightsaber to the side (bad move).  “You failed, your highness.  I am a Jedi, like my father before me.”  Palpatine cackles again and shoots lightning at Luke.

Han and Leia have victory on the moon and blow up the shield (reversing the “I love you”/ “I know” lines, which is adorable).  Now Lando and the fighters can launch their attack.  Wedge is leader of Red squadron and accompanies Lando.  Luke pleads “father, please.”  Vader studies Palpatine and when his master declares “now young Skywalker, you will die,” he shouts “No!” and picks up the maniac.  Lightning surrounds the two and Vader tosses the Sith Lord down the shaft.  Lando and Wedge’s shots ring true and the Death Star begins its’ destruction.  But Vader’s last stand has cost him.  His wheezing is worse and by the time Luke drags him to a shuttle Vader asks his son to help him take this mask off.  He knows he will die, “just for once, let me look on you with my own eyes.”  Anakin has aged, but the scars remain from his last battle.  The Imperial theme plays softly in the background, no longer menacing.  Luke pleads he has to save his father.  “You already have.  Tell your sister, you were right,” and Anakin Skywalker breathes his last.  Luke pilots them out in time.

Leia and Han watch the Death Star explode and Han is quick to assure Leia that Luke wasn’t on it.  She knows.  Very well, he won’t get in the way of the two of them when Luke returns.  No, it’s not like that, Leia reassures Han.  Luke is her brother.  Han gets a delightfully puzzled look on his face and has the most adorable realization after Leia kisses him.  He kisses back enthusiastically, until Wicket interrupts them.  The Ewok horns herald the celebrations, though Luke gives Anakin a funeral pyre alone.  We catch glimpses of Cloud City, Tatooine, Naboo (I’m glad they added Naboo), and Coruscant, where a statue is toppled.  Everyone hugs and Leia and Han cuddle.  Luke glances to the side and see the Force ghosts of both Yoda and Obi-Wan, then joined by Anakin (the new editions use Hayden Christensen, though I kind of agree they should have used the older Anakin from the original release; they used older Obi-Wan.  If you’re going to use Hayden, then use Ewan and heck, throw in Liam Neeson as Qui-Gon.)

A happy ending!  The evil Emperor is destroyed, his henchman is gone, and our heroes are one big happy family.

The story continues “officially” with the sequel trilogy in 2015.  However, before that, fans had the Extended Universe, now called Legends [because Lucas had to throw all that development out the window].  As I’ve stated, this was how I got into Star Wars.  I’ve already mentioned the Jedi Apprentice series by Jude Watson and Dave Wolverton, detailing Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan’s adventures while Obi-Wan was a Padawan (including how they were almost not paired up).  Truce at Bakura literally picks up where Return of the Jedi ends, Luke is undergoing treatment from his exposure to Force lightning when they receive a distress call (Han and Leia are looking for alone time and don’t get it because there’s always something going on).  Our heroes answer and meet a new race of aliens and Leia begins forging peace between the Rebellion and the Empire (Luke almost dies, again; he needs a vacation).  There’s The Courtship of Princess Leia (self-explanatory) where Han and Leia make it official. 

Timothy Zahn brings us the epic trilogy of Heir to the Empire, Dark Force Rising, and The Last Command.  He introduces Grand Admiral Thrawn (the only non-human Grand Admiral and he’s appeared in Star Wars: Rebels, meaning he’s actually present-day canon) and Mara Jade.  Mara Jade is Force sensitive and worked as the Emperor’s Hand, a trained assassin who could hear her Master’s call anywhere in the universe.  And his final instructions are for her to kill Luke Skywalker, planting the image in her mind that Vader and Luke turned their lightsabers on Palpatine.  She does kill Luke, a clone made from his cut-off hand made by a crazy clone of an old Jedi Master, Joruus C’baoth (Zhan delves more into that backstory in Outbound Flight and Survivor’s Quest).  Mara and Luke actually end up married and Han and Leia have twins over the course of the first trilogy, Jaina and Jacen.  Later, they have a son, Anakin.  Leia becomes okay with that name after Tatooine Ghost by Troy Denning.  Zahn also wrote Specter of the Past and Vision of the Future.  I highly recommend any of his books.

The trilogy of books that actually got me into the original movies was the Jedi Academy trilogy by Kevin J. Anderson, consisting of Jedi Search, Dark Apprentice, and Champions of the Force.  These chronicle Luke’s early attempts to rebuild the Jedi Order (it doesn’t go quite according to plan, he almost ends up dead, again.  Kid, seriously!)  I discovered these at my local library before I found the Zahn books.  Anderson also wrote the Young Jedi Knights series and I remember that is where it really caught my interest.  Oh, fun afternoons of exploring the science-fiction shelves in the back of the library, looking for more Star Wars novels.  Crystal Star by Vonda N. McIntyre is very interesting; the kids get kidnapped and Leia goes off to find them, and Jaina has certainly inherited her father’s sass.  [When I get a chance to pull all my books out, I’ll have to find out which ones I have and which ones I need, because I’m remembering how much I loved these books; and these were my first introduction to “fanfiction,” one could say].

I got out of the Star Wars novels when Vector Prime, and the rest of the New Jedi Order books started coming out.  They just ended up weird, in my opinion.  There’s another alien race that invades and wants to take over the galaxy.  Chewbacca dies, Han blames Anakin, Jacen turns to the Dark Side, taking Ben Skywalker with him.  That just killed the fun.  The galaxy still had its own problems, it didn’t need more.  It took time to dismantle the Empire and build the New Republic, which had its own problems (reading these books made me hate politics).  But yes, I’m a bit put-out that all of this development got thrown out the window when Lucasfilm decided to make the sequel trilogy.  There were great characters already developed and I would love to see Mara Jade on screen because she kicks butt and has no problem telling people off when they’re being stupid, including her husband. 

My overall opinion of the film; it’s fine.  Leia’s main accomplishment is to kill Jabba (which we cheer for).  Luke seems so old; which yes, he’s matured, that’s a good thing, but we also liked the puppy-like Luke from the first film.  Now he’s all serious; he’s caught up on saving Vader.  Part of it is the dialogue is so reparative.  You’ve said it, now move on.  Han is fun, love that cocky smile he gives “hey, it’s me,” and he’s so proud of himself when they trick the Imperials.  And that’s why we love him.  The redemption of Vader is another good twist and if anyone would get through to him, it would be his son.  There is a message of hope that someone who has fallen can rejoin the Light.  And yes, there is a plothole created by Leia’s memories of her mother because in Revenge of the Sith we learn that Padmé died directly after giving birth; that’s a continuity error due to writing the movies in reverse order.

On a fun note: if you have never gotten the chance, go watch Carrie Fisher’s roast of George Lucas when he was awarded the AFI Lifetime Achievement in 2005; it is hilarious!

Next Time: The Force Awakens

“You Have Failed Me For the Last Time”

A quick note before we begin: I am happy to be back. I apologize for the delay; I’m not sure where all my time goes, but it doesn’t leave a lot of room in my schedule for this fun exercise. I eagerly await finishing this saga and continuing with more movies (we haven’t touched Marvel yet, or even the movies that make me happiest). And now, on with the show!

Empire Strikes Back

Released three years after the first film took people by storm, the core cast returns.  Julian Glover, who we saw as Donovan in Last Crusade pops in as General Veers.  Frank Oz gives us that iconic Yoda voice.  And a fun fact; Bob Anderson who choreographed the sword fights for Princess Bride, Pirates of the Caribbean, Lord of the Rings, and dozens of other films and taught Viggo Mortensen, Errol Flynn, and Sean Connery to sword fight is the stunt double for Darth Vader in this film and Return of the Jedi.

We left our heroes celebrating the destruction of the Death Star and gaining an important victory against the Empire.  Vader is now obsessed with finding Luke Skywalker.  But the Empire is still hunting the rebels.  They’ve taken refuge on the ice planet, Hoth.  Luke and Han are placing sensors when Luke sees a crash.  He assumes it is a meteorite; we know it is a probe from the Empire.  He tells Han he’s going to check it out.  Han returns to base and reports to the general; he needs to leave and pay back Jabba to get the price off his head.  Leia follows him because he can’t just leave.  The couple has a “discussion” in the hall.  Han is certain that Leia has feelings for him, but she won’t admit it (and vice versa, Han certainly has feelings for Leia but won’t admit it either.)  Han’s departure hits a snag, besides the lengthy repairs he is doing with Chewie to the Falcon, 3PO reports that Luke hasn’t returned.

I think one of my favorite things from the original trilogies now is the friendship between Han and Luke.  They’re like brothers (and a different relationship than Obi-Wan and Anakin had).  Han is very concerned that Luke has not returned and immediately sets about discovering his whereabouts.  When it is clear that Luke is still out in the freezing weather of Hoth, Han does not hesitate to suit up to go after him.  Someone cautions “you’re Tauntaun will freeze,” Han quips “see you in Hell!” (because of course Han is going to be the one to swear in the film).

And Luke has indeed found trouble.  A Wampa ice creature knocks him out and takes him back to cave, intent on eating him [the Wampa reminds me of Bumble the snow creature in Rudolph, or vice versa].  [Supposedly, the scars from the Wampa were to mask scars Mark Hamill had received from a car accident].  Luke uses his lightsaber to escape, but then trudges in the blowing snow (actually shot in a blizzard in Norway; the crew were nice and safe in a hotel while Mark got to venture outside).  He collapses and Force-ghost Obi-Wan visits him and urges him to go to Dagobah to find Yoda to complete his Jedi training.  That is how Han finds him, delirious and freezing.  Han’s Tauntaun does freeze to death, so Han uses Luke’s lightsaber to slice it open in order to keep Luke warm and alive.

Commander Skywalker and Captain Solo are rescued come morning and Luke spends some time in a bacta tank.  Everyone meets up in the medical bay; “that’s two you owe me, junior,” Han remarks to Luke.  Leia and Han continue to push each other’s buttons until Leia proclaims Han to be a “stuck up, half-witted, scruffy looking nerfherder!” and then kisses Luke just to prove that Han doesn’t know everything about women.  Luke is very pleased.

The Empire has to crash the party and the Rebels prepare to evacuate.  Luke leads the snow-speeders in knocking out the Imperial AT-Ats (All Terrain Armored Transport), rather ingeniously.  Han ends up taking Leia in the Falcon when Imperial troops enter the base and headquarters are in disarray.  Vader is steps behind them.  They’re pursued by a Star Destroyer and Han executes some fancy flying; until they try to go to lightspeed and the Falcon malfunctions.  Han gets the crazy idea to hide in an asteroid field; because the Imperials would have to be crazy to follow them, snapping at 3PO “never tell me the odds!”  They find a cave on a large asteroid to hide and make repairs. 

Luke reaches his X-Wing and leaves Hoth as well.  Then he heads for Dagobah.  R2 doesn’t quite agree with his decision and Luke is wrong when he assures the little astromech that the planet is safe for droids.  Fog clouds his sight and he crashes into a swamp and R2 almost gets eaten by something, until the creature decides it doesn’t like metal and spits the droid out.  They set up camp and a short green creature comes upon them, very curious about them, even stealing Luke’s dinner and whacks R2 with his stick when R2 won’t let him take a light.  But he knows Yoda.  He’ll take Luke to Yoda.  Luke shows his impatience and Yoda finally reveals himself when he remarks that Luke is not ready to become a Jedi.  “Adventure, excitement, a Jedi craves not these things.”  Obi-Wan’s voice chimes in that he was the same.  “For eight hundred years I have trained Jedi.  My own counsel I will keep on who is to be trained” (oh boy if this didn’t tie-in with the prequels).  Luke insists he wants to finish his training, declaring he is not afraid.  “You will be,” Yoda warns.

Meanwhile, Vader must report his progress to the Emperor.  The Emperor has sensed a great disturbance in the Force and knows they have a new enemy in Skywalker.  He declares him to be the offspring of Anakin Skywalker and Vader asks how [this is a bit of a plot hole when you take into account the prequel because Anakin knows that Padmé was pregnant, but he doesn’t know that the child was born, especially since the Emperor told him she had died].  The Emperor informs his apprentice, “the son of Skywalker must not become a Jedi.”  Vader suggests that they turn Luke to the Dark Side; he’d be a great asset.  “He will join us or he will die.”

On the Falcon, Han and Leia have another interlude.  Leia is still resisting her feelings and calls Han a scoundrel.  He’s fine with that and we hear their theme as they finally share a kiss!  Only for 3PO to interrupt them.  Later, there is something flying around outside the Falcon; Leia remarks “I have a bad feeling about this” (famous saga line).  Mynocks are starting to attack the ship and the cave is not feeling like a cave.  Han beats a quick retreat; “there’s no time to discuss it in a committee,” he snaps at Leia.  “I’m not a committee,” she snaps back.  Just in time because the cave was actually a giant slug!  After they escape, they hide on the Star Destroyer, powered down so the Empire won’t read them.  Once the Imperials decide to separate, the Falcon can float away with the trash.  What they don’t know is that Vader has contacted bounty hunters to find Han and Leia.

Yoda puts Luke through his paces in his training.  He cautions Luke to beware the Dark Side; anger, fear, aggression.  “Once start down that path, consume you it will,” like Vader, the wise master warns.  Canonically, this is the first lesson on the Force and Jedi we learn.  The Dark Side is not stronger, but an easier path, Yoda teaches.  A Jedi uses the Force for knowledge and defense, never for attack [written before Attack of the Clones and can be viewed as something Yoda regretted].  There is a cave on Dagobah, strong with the Dark Side.  Luke ventures in it to learn something about himself and ends up dueling an illusion of Vader.  When Luke beheads his adversary, the helmet explodes to reveal Luke’s face.  A cautionary tale that Luke can fall the way of Vader (and also hinting at a deeper connection).  When Luke’s X-Wing sinks deeper into the swamp, he despairs at retrieving it.  He argues with Master Yoda there is a difference between lifting a stone with the Force and lifting an entire ship.  “No difference, only in your mind!” Yoda insists.  Luke tries to raise the ship.  The infamous “do or do not, there is no try,” [and even in Rebels Kanan admits he doesn’t even know what it means].  Luke does not succeed, because he does not believe he can.  Yoda raises the ship

Han suggests they take refuge with Lando, an old friend one could say, on Bespin.  They don’t know that a bounty hunter is following them.  Lando teases Han a bit when greeting him, but seems happy to see the old scallywag.  And then is very pleased to meet Leia.  Han’s now not so sure about introducing Lando to Leia; luckily, she is not taken by the man’s charm.  3PO wanders off and is attacked.  Chewie eventually finds him and sets about putting him back together.  Unfortunately, the bounty hunter Boba Fett arrived before Han and Leia and reported to Vader.  Lando leads our heroes into a set up with Vader.  The suited man tortures Han; he never asks any questions, just causes pain.  Lando admits that Han and Leia are just bait for Luke.

Luke has a vision of Han and Leia in danger while training.  He faces the question of rescuing his friends and possibly bringing about their suffering, or else staying and completing his training and following their wishes.  Obi-Wan cautions his pupil that the Dark Side will try to tempt Luke; he must complete his training.  He doesn’t want to lose Luke the way he lost Vader.  Luke promises to return and flies off.  Obi-Wan remarks to Yoda “that boy is our last hope.”  “No, there is another,” Yoda answers.

Vader’s plan is to test carbon freezing on Han to see if it will work on Luke; he doesn’t want to damage the Emperor’s prize.  Boba can have him afterwards.  If Solo dies, Boba will be compensated.  Chewie tries to fight the guards, but Han charges him with protecting the princess.  He gives Leia a searing kiss before he’s pulled away.  “I love you,” she finally declares.  “I know,” the scoundrel answers (this line was Harrison Ford’s idea; and this scene was partly due to not knowing if Harrison was coming back for the third movie).  Then Han is frozen; perfectly preserved and alive and now on his way to Jabba the Hutt.

Luke arrives on Bespin and begins searching for his friends.  Leia briefly spots him and screams “it’s a trap!”  But he’s funneled towards Vader anyway.  The lighting of this scene is iconic now; only the silhouette illuminated.  The lightsaber blades shine out.  Luke manages to hold off Vader, though he falls in the chamber for a moment and Vader muses whether Luke is really worth it, but the lad is full of surprises.  They move lower in the city, Vader pushing Luke back, even throwing heavy objects at the young man.  He urges Luke to dip into his anger; only his hatred will destroy his enemy.  They end up in a windy chamber and Vader literally disarms his opponent and tries another tactic.  “Obi-Wan never told you what happened to your father.”  “He told me enough.  He told me you killed him.”  “No.  I am your father” [the shocker of the decade.  Only a handful of people knew that was the actual line; it had originally been written as “Obi-Wan killed your father;” a huge plot twist as well.  George and the director knew, and James Earl Jones when he recorded it, but not even David Prowse (the actor in the suit) knew and Mark was told only moments before shooting.  He was warned that if the secret got out, they’d know who to come after.  Harrison apparently had words with Mark after the premiere.]

Luke makes the ultimate getaway by falling down the chamber and hanging off an antenna at the bottom of Cloud City.  Lando has gotten Chewie and Leia out of Cloud City aboard the Falcon; they were too late to rescue Han.  But Leia has Chewie turn around when she hears Luke call to her in her mind.  Chewie easily accepts her request despite Lando’s protest.  They catch the young man before Vader can come after him.  Luke moans “Ben, why didn’t you tell me.”  With a little help from R2, who knows that the hyperdrive on the Falcon had been disengaged, our heroes escape right from under Vader.

We see our heroes at another medical facility where Luke gains a life-like artificial hand.  The plan is he will join Lando and Chewie on Tatooine once he’s healed and they will rescue Han.

While I have said that I love Anakin and Padmé’s love theme, Across the Stars because you have that sweeping, passionate love theme that makes your heart melt, Han and Leia’s theme is more sedate.  It is a more mature refrain.  It echoes how they are unsure about each other.  There were hints of their attraction from the moment they met; Han even joked that he was beginning to like her when she took over her own rescue.  The music is upbeat for just a moment to brighten the peril they are in.

Empire Strikes Back is a good second movie in a trilogy.  We continue the adventure with characters we already know and love and everyone gets a bit of character development.  A lot of it focuses on Luke because he’s training to be a Jedi, but it’s Han and Leia who are trying to outrun Vader the entire movie.  We’re left with a cliffhanger which makes us anxious for the final film to come out.  And this lightsaber duel is even better than the one in New Hope (but just wait until the third movie!).  And the plot twist!  First time viewers had no idea that was coming.  I didn’t the first time I watched the movie as a child (and my reaction to Yoda was “it’s Fozzy Bear!”)

Next Time: Return of the Jedi