Posts Tagged ‘Star Wars’

DC vs. Marvel at the movies

August 5, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 5, 2017

Author’s note: A few hours after I published this post, I added a note to my ersatz table indicating that two of the listings included ticket sales from the same Marvel movie. MEM

East Coast vs. West Coast, New York vs. Boston, Apple vs. Microsoft, DC vs. Marvel: Each one of these rivalries is famous and hard-fought. But over the past decade or so, perhaps none of these have been so one-sided as that between the two titans of comic books.

Although DC’s Superman and Batman are inarguably the best-known superheroes of all time, Marvel’s superhero teams — the X-Men, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and, in recent years, the Guardians of the Galaxy — are by far more popular. Moreover, Marvel comics are generally thought to have more artistic merit and to be more socially relevant than DC products.

To add insult to injury, Marvel has been kicking DC’s heinie on the film front for a decade or more. This is despite the fact that DC’s flagship characters were phenomenally successful at the box office and helped establish the comic-book movie as a genre on the strength of productions such as Superman (1978) and Superman II (1980), Tim Burton’s Batman (1989) and Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins (2005) and its 2008 and 2012 sequels.

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The 2016 ‘Star Trek’ movie urged viewers to tolerate and embrace differences even as some Americans sought safety in homogeneity

April 28, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 28, 2017

Author’s note: I am once again on a bit of a Star Trek kick. Having just written, respectively, about the most recent and the first Trek movies, I now intend to discuss the cultural and political implications of the latest Star Trek and Star Wars features (that’s the purpose of this post). Be on the lookout for a vignette about going to see Star Trek: The Motion Picture in the movie theater, after which I’ll return to more varied subjects. MEM

The Star Wars franchise is a largely apolitical one. Creator George Lucas conceived of his space saga in largely black-and-white terms. The color lines were literal in some cases, as when the towering evil black-clad Sith Lord, Darth Vader (David Prowse, voiced by James Earl Jones), menaced the elfin, virtuous white-clad rebel, Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) in 1977’s Star Wars (retroactively retitled Star Wars: A New Hope).

Lucas later introduced some more nuance and ambiguity, with moody protagonist Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) donning dark-colored apparel for the latter half of Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back and most of Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. And to his credit, Lucas attempted to explore what happens when peaceful societies are overtaken by complacency, greed and corruption in his prequel trilogy.

But even in the prequel trilogy, Lucas was pretty light on specificity; other than “Don’t vote to establish a standing army” or “Don’t entrust leadership of your enfeebled and embattled republic to a creepy politician who is also secretly a master manipulator and skilled warrior with awesome telekinetic powers who can shoot death lightning from his fingertips,” he offers no solid prescriptions for preserving peace and democracy. This is, perhaps, no surprise: The franchise is called Star Wars, after all, not Star Governance.

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A motley band of raiders defies an Empire in the unexpectedly timely new ‘Star Wars’ movie, ‘Rogue One’

February 11, 2017

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Feb. 11, 2016

Gareth Edwards’s December 2016 blockbuster, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, is a film very much set in the Star Wars universe but not quite of that fictional realm.

The movie can be watched independently of any other Star Wars feature, and arguably might be more enjoyable that way. Nonetheless, it serves as a sort of prequel to the very first Star Wars film, the 1977 movie retroactively retitled Star Wars: A New Hope, to the point that Rogue One ends shortly before the action of George Lucas’s original blockbuster commences. The McGuffin of the new release is the Death Star, the top-secret planet-destroying super-weapon central to A New Hope — or perhaps more accurately the Death Star’s engineering specifications, which the protagonists must discover and help learn how to destroy.

Edwards’s movie features a few characters from A New Hope, notably the villains Darth Vader and Grand Moff Tarkin (using the digitally reconditioned face of the late Peter Cushing) and the robots C-3PO and R2-D2, mostly in brief cameos, as well as a handful of settings from the earlier picture.

But the main action in Rogue One involves the awkwardly named Jyn Erso. Her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), was once a lead engineer for the Death Star before he grew disgusted with the totalitarian Galactic Empire and fled to a remote farm world with his wife and child.

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Enter Jar Jar, Anakin and stereotypes: Revisiting ‘Star Wars: The Phantom Menace’

September 27, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Sept. 26, 2016

In January, I excoriated the The Star Wars Holiday Special, the worst feature-length production in that fantastically popular science-fiction franchise. Today, I come to examine what is widely agreed to be the property’s second-worst movie. I write, of course, about the much-loathed 1999 release that kicked off the prequel trilogy: Star Wars: The Phantom Menance. (Disclaimer: Completists ought to stick “Episode I” in the middle of that title; feel free to punctuate it to your pleasure.)

Until this past weekend, I’d seen The Phantom Menace once and once only: Shortly after its initial theatrical release, some 16 years after the debut of Return of the Jedi, which had capped the original Star Wars trilogy. At the time, anticipation for the film ran high, thanks not only to the years-long interregnum but to a marketing blitz that included oodles and oodles of — well, stuff. (Mel Brooks, it would seem, got it exactly right in this clip from his 1987 film Spaceballs.)

In case you don’t remember the merchandising onslaught, I direct you to this passage that Libby Brooks wrote for The Guardian in June 1999, a month before The Phantom Menace opened in British movie theaters:

Devotees can choose from over 375 different products. The range offers talking figures of the key characters, including Jedi knight Obi Wan-Kenobi and his foe Darth Maul, double-handed light sabres, computer accessories and costumes, as well as the new Lego Star Wars collection.

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Cheeps and Chirps for Aug. 16, 2016

August 16, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Aug. 16, 2016

There will be Twitter!

• Comedy!

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Brian Daley provides fast-moving space opera fun in ‘The Han Solo Adventures’

July 7, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
July 7, 2016

Sometimes, when I pick up certain books that I read years ago, I am transported to past eras of my life. There was a stretch in the summer of 2003 when I would frequently take a picnic lunch from my apartment on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, amble over to Riverside Park and read one of the hefty volumes from J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series. I no longer recall which of the books I consumed during those warm, lazy afternoons, but I think of those idle summer reading sessions anytime I pick up the third or subsequent entires from the Potter chronicles.

Similarly, when I reread the first two volumes in Douglas Adams’s “increasingly misnamed trilogy” of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy novels, I recall sitting in the backyard of the house where I grew up, also on a summer day, and virtually inhaling the words that I still enjoy these many years later.

The other day, I was looking for books to discard from my personal collection when I noticed a long-forgotten paperback that bore the clunky title of Star Wars®: The Han Solo Adventures. This yellowing mass-market paperback was published in June 1992 by Del Rey, an imprint of Ballantine Books, a division of Random House. It’s an omnibus edition of three space opera novels licensed from George Lucas’s Star Wars universe; its cover boasts, “For the first time, all three books in one volume!”

The three books contained therein — Han Solo at Stars’ EndHan Solo’s Revenge and Han Solo and the Lost Legacy — were all written by science fiction author Brian Daley. They were originally published over what seems like an unbelievably short period: Han Solo at Stars’ End debuted in April 1979, according to Wookieepedia, while the trilogy concluded in August 1980 with the release of Han Solo and the Lost Legacy.

As soon as I saw the book, I knew that I wanted to reread it, and almost as soon as I started rereading it, I began recalling the novel’s intricate particulars in detail. All three books are rip-roaringly fun adventures that pay loving homage to the eponymous smuggler, his immense fur-covered Wookiee sidekick, Chewbacca, and their battered, deceptively ordinary-looking freighter, the Millennium Falcon.

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Cheeps and Chirps for April 26, 2016

April 26, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
April 26, 2016

Here are some recent odds and ends from my Twitter feed. I hope that “Cheeps and Chirps” will be a semi-regular feature on my blog. (Ideally, it’ll be more regular and less semi than “Recent Readings”…)

• Check out this great hockey name!

• Aging man (almost) yells at kid. On Wednesday, I saw a bicyclist (I think she was a college student) bicycling with her helmet dangling from her handlebars. I had to restrain myself from scolding her. #GetOffMyLawn #AgingManYellsAtKid (Except I didn’t actually yell at her.)

• About that pitcher who was fired by ESPN last week… Curt Schilling, who has regularly made a habit of posting right-wing memes on social media that disparage Muslims, the LGBTQ community and liberals — excuse me, libtards — in general, recently lost his job. Unsurprisingly, right-wingers rallied around him. I attempted to remind conservatives that their hero of the moment had extracted $75 million from the coffers of the state of Rhode Island for a video game company that was a tremendous bust — hardly embodying the free market that conservatives claim to reveal. But hey, it’s OK to tout Schilling as a conservative icon as long as he regularly hates on lefties and queers, right?!

This old Saturday Night Live skit would be…problematic today. And rightfully so.

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‘The Star Wars Holiday Special’ is a widely mocked backwater in one of science fiction’s most durable franchises

January 28, 2016

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Jan. 28, 2016

I came down with a cold last week, meaning that for a few days, it was difficult for me to concentrate on anything, or even to extract myself from bed. Once I started recovering, on Friday, I was in desperate need of mindless entertainment. (A bout with illness two winters ago, in 2014, led me to discover two smartphone games, Dumb Ways to Die and Smash Hit.)

That was one reason why I watched 1978’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special on Friday. There were a few others. One is that after seeing The Force Awakens earlier this month, I’ve been on a bit of a nostalgia trip for Star Wars, to the extent that I’ve watched a variety of short YouTube films on different Star Wars video games (mainly the past two versions of Battlefront and various editions of Rogue Squadron). Another reason is that one of the podcasts I enjoy, How Did This Get Made?, did an episode on The Star Wars Holiday Special late last year.

In addition, I had a very vague memory of seeing a snippet of the CBS special when it originally aired, and I recalled having enjoyed that bit. Finally, The Star Wars Holiday Special contains the debut of one of the franchise’s most beloved characters, the menacing bounty hunter Boba Fett, and I confess to being curious about his premier.

Frankly, just about every bad thing I can remember hearing about The Star Wars Holiday Special is true: It is poorly written, badly acted and shoddily produced. After watching it the other day, I couldn’t tell you what audience the makers were trying to reach or to please, and honestly, I doubt they could have told you that either while they were filming the thing.

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Considering why the original ‘Star Wars’ was such a hit and why the animated ‘Lord of the Rings’ was not

October 7, 2015

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Oct. 7, 2015

As I wrote earlier today:

J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, a fantasy-adventure trilogy first printed in 1954–55, was a seminal publication. Ralph Bakshi’s The Lord of the Rings, an animated feature based on Tolkien’s work that was released in 1978, is an obscurity.

By contrast, I saw the original Star Wars during an extended first run in 1977, and I immediately fell in love with the movie: I instantly wanted to buy all of the Kenner toys based on George Lucas’s movie. For years, I bought and devoutly studied novelizations of the original trilogy of movies as well as original Star Wars novels. (In the latter category, Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye and Brian Daley’s trilogy of Han Solo adventures held prized places on my bookshelf and in my heart.)

So why did I cotton to Star Wars so thoroughly while The Lord of the Rings left me cold? Part of it was the quality of Bakshi’s movie — as discussed earlier, I generally found it to be adequate, whereas I thought Star Wars was out-and-out thrilling. But there are also major differences between the narratives woven by Tolkien and Lucas, and I wanted to explore those.

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Like father, like son? Identity is inextricably tied to parentage in Nick Harkaway’s ‘Angelmaker’

December 18, 2014

By Matthew E. Milliken
MEMwrites.wordpress.com
Dec. 18, 2014

Absent parents loom large in the fictional realm. A key component of the original Star Wars trilogy is Luke Skywalker’s gradual discovery of the particulars of his parentage (especially the villainy of his father, the genocidal Darth Vader) and Luke’s struggle to develop his supernatural powers without being consumed by his own dark, angry impulses. The rebellious nature of the alternative timeline’s James Tiberius Kirk is shaped in large part by the absence of his father, George, whom director J.J. Abrams killed off in the opening sequence of the 2009 Star Trek reboot. Likewise, the rebooted Amazing Spider-Man makes the research and relationships of Richard Parker, father of the orphaned web-slinging Peter Parker, a key plot point in both of the series’s first two outings.

I’d wager that matters of parentage are even more prominent in British fiction. After all, the United Kingdom has been ruled for centuries by a hereditary monarchy, with power passing (at least in theory) from one generation of royalty to the next.

A major storyline in J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings trilogy involves Aragorn assuming the position of king of Gondor that, according to genetics and custom, is rightfully his. My recollection of the books is hazy, but in Peter Jackson’s wonderful movie adaptation, when the audience initially encounters this character, he goes by the name of Strider and appears to be a well-trained woodsman accustomed to operating on his own — hardly the résumé of the standard fantasy prince.

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