The Mandalorian: Full Circle

Due to a certain CGI Child, I probably don’t have to introduce you to The Mandalorian or explain what it’s about. I’ve read articles about how the show is a return to themes that Star Wars has always fundamentally been about, and that it’s more in keeping with the original trilogy than literally anything we’ve seen since, and how it’s pulled off the space Western idea, perhaps in a way that we haven’t seen since Firefly. But what I don’t see mentioned is the fact that The Mandalorian is really — especially in the fourth episode — getting back to Akira Kurosawa.

Buckle up, this is going to take a minute.

Unless you’re a film student, you probably are unaware that the original Star Wars — later referred to as Episode IV A New Hope — was based loosely on Kurosawa’s The Hidden Fortress. The basic story is that two mercenaries escort a woman and man — ultimately revealed to be a princess and a general — across enemy territory… Sound familiar? In my book, Kurosawa is a genius and even though I knew nothing of him when I first saw Star Wars when I was a kid, I can see his influences all over Hollywood of the past and the present. That’s great and all but how does this connect to The Mandalorian?

This is where things get interesting.

Some of Kurosawa’s greatest works were inspired, not by history — at least not Japanese history — but by Western films. By Western films, I mean cowboys and Indians, not just films produced by Western cultures. Yojimbo and The Seven Samurai were both inspired by the Old West and how we saw it in films like John Ford’s Stagecoach starring John Wayne. Kurosawa was very fascinated with the juxtaposition of Old West with Old East (with samurai and their masterless cousins, ronin) that he almost had to make his own films with this concept. And he was very successful with them. So much so, that — in a fit of irony that’s so comical it had to come from Hollywood — Hollywood copied his works. Seven Samurai became The Magnificent Seven, and Yojimbo became the series of Clint Eastwood films including The Good, The Bad, and the Ugly.

By now, if you’ve seen these films, and see where I’m going, you should understand that The Mandalorian isn’t taking Star Wars to the Old West, as some assert, but taking it back to the Old West by way of the Old East. With the original Star Wars being based on The Hidden Fortress, and The Mandalorian clearly drawing on both Yojimbo and, especially in episode 4, Seven Samurai, all that’s missing from Jon Favreau is a special thanks shout out to Akira Kurosawa.

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t mean to suggest that Favreau is ripping off anyone. He’s done an amazing job of recreating the feel of the original trilogy, referencing a lot of deep lore, and painstakingly created something everyone can love. But it’s important when talking about returning to traditional Star Wars themes that you take it all the way, and not just half ass it by saying that Star Wars has been taken to the Old West. It was already there, Star Wars simply went full circle back to where it began.

The Torch Has Been Passed

I could sit here and talk about everything that is Avengers: Endgame but I’d rather not. This will be adjacent though; as the title says, the torch has been passed to the next generation, or in MCU-speak, phase. You know me, I’m not going to speak honestly without spoilers, I’m just going to speak honestly. This is your first and last chance to stop reading.

So, the status at the culmination of Endgame: Vision, Iron Man, and Black Widow are dead, Steve Rogers retired, having passed on the Captain America title to Sam Wilson (Falcon), and Thor ran off with the Guardians of the Galaxy. Hulk probably will continue to live the celebrity life, Hawkeye looking out for and raising his family. All the other characters are alive and presumably well, and not likely done with their adventures; or so we can expect from the known movie schedule.

What more is there to say?

A lot actually. There are multiple hints that this is not the end of the Avengers saga… Certainly not the individual members, but also for the team as a whole.

The first hint was that Tony made a set of armor for Pepper as a birthday gift or anniversary present or whatever. We know she got it because of her appearance in the film’s climax. Second, while he was already a hero and Avenger, Sam is now Cap. Third, Thor made a joke when aboard the Milano with the Guardians, “Asgardians of the Galaxy”, which happens to be a very real comic Marvel is doing, where Asgardians joined forces with the Guardians.

But I think the biggest hint is the one no one saw… But heard. Although I didn’t stay through the end credits myself, I was aware of the sound of metal clanging at the end of the credits. This, as many people of pointed out, it’s very reminiscent of Tony’s work on the first prototype in the first Iron Man film. There’s a simple reason for it… The cycle begins anew.

Valkyrie will take the place of Thor on Earth; Thor handed her the throne of Asgard before he left. Sam is the new Cap. So who is the new Iron Man? Well… It would be easy to say Pepper; she has the suit, is familiar with the capabilities, has Tony’s lab, and undoubtedly support from the other Avengers and Rhody (War Machine). But I’m going to go out on a limb, using the Marvel Comics links I’ve mentioned already, and say Riri Williams, the spiritual successor Tony already had in the comics introduced a few years ago. She currently goes by the name Ironheart, and here’s why I think she’ll take Stark’s place.

But first, a full disclosure… I only know what I’ve read of Ironheart and what I believe of her. I have not read any of the comics in which she appears, not because of how I feel about her or what she represents, but just because I haven’t bought any comics since before she was introduced. I keep minor tabs on them; I was a big Iron Man, War Machine, West Coast Avengers/Avengers West Coast fan back in the day, and frankly I like the idea of Ironheart.

So here’s why I think she’s up… While a lot of us really liked Tony Stark as portrayed by RDJ, a lot of people were not fans of his money, his ego, his personality. Tony’s chief advantage was also his greatest weakness: he was rich and had advantages no one else did as a result. From little I know about Riri, she came from the exact opposite background. She didn’t have money or power, she had her mind, curiosity, and strength of her beliefs to recreate the Iron Man technology but herself. She’s self built, from scratch, disadvantaged all the way. More importantly, not only is she a woman, she’s black. Part of the criticism of the Marvel Cinematic Universe is the lack of gender and racial diversity. That has greatly improved since Black Panther, but there’s always room to do more. Riri Williams, Ironheart, is both. The sound of metal being pounded is the sound of the cycle starting again with Riri creating her first suit of armor. The metaphorical, and quite possibly literal, torch being passed is, in my opinion, to Miss Williams who will take her place along side the new Captain, the new Asgardian monarch, and all the Avengers the MCU has collected over the years.

So… What do you think?

Spiderman: Into The Spiderverse

Spiderman was never my hero. Don’t get me wrong, I never disliked him… He just wasn’t my spirit animal, as it were. He was one of the many, many heroes I saw and respected, even liked. But he’s not the one I wanted to grow up to be. Superman was that guy… Now before you go and get upset thinking I’m in the DC side of that great DC-Marvel holy war, I owned and read far more Marvel comics than I did DC, but the thing is I read what I liked to read, and I looked up to who I wanted to be. For me, that was Superman/Captain America, though I recognize and respect the fact that we live in a world that needs Batman/Iron Man more. (Someday I’ll make my case for those parallels here, but this is about Spidey, so…)

I have friends that are diehard Spiderman fans, and I have frequently tried to stay awake while they explained why he’s the best. I have to admit that I loved a number of the mythos’s villains, and found a number of the stories interesting. But it wasn’t mine or for me. I kept in touch with it primarily for the various connections to the X-Men and Avengers, but I don’t think I ever ran out and bought a Spiderman t-shirt or hat or even keychain. I enjoyed, for the most part, the Toby McGuire films — Thomas Hayden Church’s Sandman was the best character in any of them though! Fight me! — but I couldn’t even tell you the name of the guy in the Amazing Reboots. And I’m not interested enough to look it up. I think Tom Holland, if he can keep himself from being banned from Hollywood films, is doing a great job as the current iteration, but still, Spiderman just wasn’t really for me.

I saw the trailer for Into The Spiderverse early this year, I don’t remember what movie it was in front of, but I thought the art style and idea was a bit weird. I mentally wrote it off, and wrongly assumed it was a videogame.

I just got out of the theater and all I can say is Spiderman still isn’t “my hero”, but this is my Spiderman movie.

I already knew of Miles Morales and his status as “ultimate Spiderman”, though honestly I didn’t know much about him. I also knew about Spider Gwen, and there’s some part of my brain that remembers Peter Porker… But what I didn’t anticipate was how well all these different takes on Spiderman would work together, and not feel redundant. Hell, at least 3 of the Spidermen present in the film were different versions of Peter Parker himself, just from different eras or different lengths of time having been there web slinger we all know. My favorite version, honestly, was Noir Spiderman, who was simply put, black and white in terms of costume and morals, and in his own words, the wind goes wherever he goes… So his trenchcoat was perpetually flapping in the wind. And as luck would have it, he was voiced by Nick Cage… God bless him!

Any way, the different takes on the character were just one facet of the film. It wouldn’t be a Spiderman film without a heavy dose of morality, character building for both the audience and the hero, and the moment of truth/rise to the occasion birth of the hero climax. We get that. We get that in a lot of films, frankly. But it was different in Spiderverse because it was actually fun instead of intense or over the top. The film made it a point to show that Miles is a kid and that none of the other Spider-peeps expected him to just go out and fight the bad guy. Peter even points out that he just wasn’t ready yet towards the end of the film. Perhaps in one of the most grown up moments I’ve seen in a comic book based movie, I’m an animated movie period, Peter chooses to sacrifice himself to save all the other Spider-peeps because it was the only way since Miles wasn’t ready. And he demonstrates to the kid that he just wasn’t ready without being brutal or unfair.

I’m rambling and have lost all sense of form but suffice it to say, I liked this movie. I’ll be happy to add it to my collection once it’s available.

A Counterpoint to #MeToo

Sexual assault and harassment are legitimate and real problems. I’m not here to argue that they aren’t. I’m not going to sit here and minimize them either. However, I do want to point out a couple things in how Hollywood and America in general are handling it, because it needs to be pointed out.

First and foremost, at this point in time, the accused are essentially being condemned, tried, and executed, frequently without an actual legal trial. In some cases, all it takes is a single accusation to bring down a person, and there doesn’t even have to be any validity to that accusation. This is a tough thing to try to deal with properly; on one hand, you have to take the victim’s claim seriously. You have to, there is no other option. But on the other hand, you also have to give the accused the benefit of the doubt: our law is based on the presumption of innocence until a court of law finds him or her guilty. That is the law of the land. You can’t bypass that and go straight to punishment. Except we have been. With the #MeToo movement, people have been drummed out of their jobs and society, frequently without a trial of any kind.

Take Kevin Spacey, for example; his accuser waited 30 years to bring up the assault publicly. He had 30 years to bring it up to the police (ok, probably a lot less given the statute of limitations) and to seek some justice, but only did so at the start of this movement. In the process, Spacey has been banished from Hollywood for something that may have been a one time, mutually consented to interaction, without a trial, or expectation of such. He was fired from his current role, digitally erased from a film, and likely will never earn another dollar as an actor. Hell, he may not even be able to work again period given the notoriety if the situation. All that without even giving him the benefit of the doubt or at least a fair trial.

I’m not saying he didn’t deserve it, I’m not saying he’s a saint. For all I know, Spacey may eat the hearts of puppies every morning for breakfast. What I am saying is that the court of social media and public opinion needs to stop convicting and punishing people without a legal conviction first.

The other point is that in cases where people have been legally convicted, and have served their time, they have a right to work again if they can find it. It’s hard enough for any ex-convict to find work; it always has been and likely always will be. It’s a stigma and struggle they have to live with. But once they have served their time, they are legally entitled to work again. I’m writing this post because I just finished reading about how unfairly Olivia Munn is being treated after she informed Fox about Steven Wilder Striegel who appeared in the upcoming film “The Predator”, apparently in a single scene, with Munn. There were many wrongs about this.

First of all, regardless of how Striegel got the role, he has a legal obligation to inform his employer about any convictions that he has. Given that Fox claimed ignorance of it, he either didn’t, Fox lied, or someone kept it quiet. Given that Striegel is a friend of the director, Shane Black, my bet is that it was kept quiet. That’s a tough call; on one hand Striegel did his time and is just trying to work and a friend has a duty to help another friend where he can, on the other Black’s obligation to the studio, the cast and the crew demands that he bring it to their attention prior to filming. Another thing to consider is whether Striegel was an “extra” or a paid member of the cast: it’s not difficult to be an extra on a film, and frequently no one even asks your name or has you sign a release, let alone do a background check. It would be impossible produce films the way they are currently and do background checks on everyone involved no matter how small the role. Nonetheless, this is something that Hollywood might have to change.

The second thing is, that had the proper notifications been made, Striegel had a fully legal reason and right to be there. I love Olivia Munn and have since her days on Attack of the Show (????????????????), I really do. But, strictly speaking, Striegel did his court assigned punishment; aside from being obligated to notify the powers that be of his conviction, he was entitled to be there as much as Munn was. While I agree that the fact that she wasn’t informed and given the option of not working with him, he didn’t do anything wrong on this film as far as we know. Her outrage is valid; there’s no disputing that especially she found out after the fact, but had she been informed, there’s no reason the scene needed to be cut from the film. As far as I know, Striegel did not assault or harass her or anyone else on the set, and no laws were broken. (Aside from the question of notification.) So, I again stress that the cast and crew had a right to know, but Striegel also had a right to be there.

Next, I think it’s absolutely disgraceful the way that Black and Fox have apparently behaved. If you’re going to ostracise someone for doing the right thing, you may as well kill the film. That seems to be the way things are being done these days; Spacey’s last film was released to a limited number of theaters with no advertising whatsoever, and then the media that covers Hollywood was alerted that the film made $126 in its opening weekend. So why not do that? Frankly, the only reason I’m probably going to see “The Predator” is for Ms Munn; frankly, I’m tired of the remakes and reboots that are all the rage these days.

My final point in this post is that despite what the #MeToo movement seems to think, people, whether they’re legally convicted or not, still need to work. They still need to feed themselves and their families. If they’ve been accused of a crime, push for legal prosecution; if they are guilty, then they need to stand trial, be convinced, and be put away so they can’t harm anyone else again. If they haven’t been convicted, as hard as it is for me to say it, then they “legally” haven’t done anything wrong. I’m not saying their actions weren’t terrible or a crime, but until they are convicted, they shouldn’t be persecuted and exiled from their jobs. It’s how our law is supposed to work. You can’t fairly force people out because someone accused them off something, when only the people who were there really know the truth. #MeToo shouldn’t be about forcing the accused out, it needs to be about supporting the victims, getting them to stand up and press charges in a timely manner, and getting sexual assault and harassment to stop by getting convictions. Right now, the movement is too similar to an angry mob out to lynch anyone it can find.

A Quiet Place

While I’m going to highly recommend that you see this film, I’m really only going to tell you that its got an interesting story about a family surviving monsters, and that it’s well done. There are much more important experiences that make this film worth seeing than the story itself.

Right off the bat here, one of the experiences — perhaps the only one really story focused — is that the first scenes take place on day 89. By this point, the film’s creatures have pretty much overrun the world and our family has marked it as the 89th day. Whether that’s the 89th day of their ordeal or since the creatures’ first appearance is never explained. It’s a rare treat to be thrust in situ; as you’re all too well aware, most films, especially the first in a franchise, usually do some exposition before you really find yourself in the film. Not so with A Quiet Place. Right from the start, you’re in it with them.

Next up, as you might guess from the trailers, a small child puts the family in a bad situation. What isn’t obvious from them, is that that’s pretty much right at the start of the film, and despite the father’s best effort, there was just no saving that child. The film didn’t shy away from it, and it only occasionally reminded you of how much that loss hurt the family, but I applaud the film door not backing out of it or allowing the heroics to pull off a miracle. Deus ex machina was no where to be found. Thank you.

But the biggest and most important of the film’s experiences was the use of sound and silence. It’s so very easy to take sound in film and television for granted; even I tend to think of the sounds heard in them as just a part of the natural filming process, that the sounds we hear were the sounds present when the filming was being done. That’s me, a guy with a degree in film analysis, that has had classes on silent films and early films with sound. A guy that has done sound recording on short film projects and knows how difficult it can be to edit films and trying to make sure sounds match across footage. I can’t imagine that most people stand a chance at realizing how much work goes into a film’s sound design!

What A Quiet Place does so well is emphasize sounds we take for granted in films and make them stand out. How often do you think about your footsteps as you walk across the room? How many feet can you walk across a wooden floor before you hear a floorboard creak? How often do you even pay attention to the sound of crickets outside your window? Did you hear the sound of the dried leaf you just stepped on? These are all things you become obsessively aware of in A Quiet Place, and the only two other films I can think of that put such an emphasis on sound are Fritz Lang’s 1931 classic M and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Conversation in 1974. My questions above are all directly relevant to the film because they are all things that you become aware of while watching this film, and you — well *I* — become aware of the artificial nature of the sound in the movie, the fact that every little noise was either intentionally engineered into the set design, left in on purpose to add unexpected character, or, far more often, deliberately added in or removed during post-production. Most of the time, you don’t hear the crickets in the film, except when the film is trying to accentuate how quiet the characters are attempting to be. During the entirety of the movie, despite seeing them walk on leaves, you never hear one crunch. The floors have places to step painted on them to minimize the creaking noises, which implies the family put a great deal of effort into finding out exactly where you can step. Even the use of verbal dialogue in the film is minimized. So much is said not only in sign language, but though body language. Even when there’s no subtitles, you know exactly what the characters are thinking.

So, if you’re missing the point, you should sit down, put on your favorite film, and watch 30 minutes of it with the sound muted. Then unmute it and marvel in the fact that someone, more likely than not, spent days or weeks listening to every single second of that film, gradually adding layer upon layer of sound, music, white noise to make it seem natural. Natural to the point that you didn’t even notice how many other sounds were likely missing, such as the hum of the electric lights, or the periodic hiss of an air conditioner or heater. Mentally thank them for composing the auditory reality of your film. Because sound and its absence are key players we fail to pay attention to unless it’s pointed out by films like A Quiet Place and a certain scene in The Last Jedi.

Pacific Rim: Uprising

This is a review I really don’t want to write. I’ve seen a lot of movies recently and I guess I’ve been spoiled by their quality. I can’t say enough good things about Black Panther — for the record, I was seriously worried about it touching off a lot of racist bullshit before I saw it the first time — and I’ve seen it 4.5 times (I was falling asleep the last time, after an entirely too long day, and left before I felt I was disrespecting the film) which I’ve never done before. I thought A Wrinkle in Time was great, especially for a film targeting preteens and children, and felt it had a lot of positive messages that kids really need today, especially girls. And hands down the most intriguing intellectual film I’ve seen in years was Annihilation.

So perhaps I was spoiled.

I went to Pacific Rim: Uprising with a lot of high hopes and little or no concern that it wouldn’t measure up. Let’s face it, as much as I love the original, it made no apologies for basically just being a monster movie meant to be fun. It didn’t try to force a romance in. The plot, while good and well considered, was there more or less as window dressing for the special effects showcase that was giant robots fighting giant monsters. There were tons of little details that were random and fun, and let us not forget cinematically amazing, but the whole fucking thing was done for fun.

I didn’t have fun in Uprising. Don’t get me wrong, there were a lot of attempts at bringing the fun, but many of them were entirely too reminiscent of the original. That’s not bad per se, but the movie came off as a copy or tribute to the original instead of a sequel. As elegy nevermore put it when I was talking to her about it, it was the kind of thing a fanboy or fangirl would do. They made an attempt to make Pacific Rim rather than the follow-up to it. I didn’t realize that Guillermo del Toro wasn’t involved (directly at least) in this sequel when I went in or while watching it, but I came away absolutely sure it wasn’t his film. It might be a world he created or at least first explored on the big screen but this was not his work and it showed.

Again, don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t a bad film, and there were some good things about it, but I came away disappointed. And angry.

I’m angry for one reason more than any other. Since I never give spoiler warnings or avoid them, I’m not going to start now. They under utilized and killed off Mako Mori, played by Rinko Kikuchi. Her only purpose in this film was to bridge the original cast to the new one, something that was done by the presences of Newton and Herman, but Mako should’ve had a larger role and her death was completely needless.

And where the fuck did Raleigh fuck off to? There was one mention of him in the film with no word on whether he was alive or dead, with the possible exception of a photo of him in the hall of dead heroes. (I’m not sure I saw him there but he may have been.) I’m guessing he was another casualty to bring about the new generation.

Pacific Rim: Uprising was a valiant attempt at capturing the magic of its predecessor, but it comes up short. It was missing the humorous characters like Hannibal Chau and Tendo Choi, the larger than life badass that was Stacker Pentecost, the determination of Raleigh Becket, and the heart of Mako Mori and Herc Hansen. What was left was a bunch of, frankly, kids trying to fill the void and share the screen with John Boyega playing a reluctant hero. John’s Jake Pentecost was good, but he reminded me all too much of Finn… Yeah, I know, same actor but the characters should be different, instead they felt almost like one and the same. I don’t know if John is to blame or the screenwriters, but that’s what it felt like to me.

If you’re a fan of the original, it might be worth seeing, but for me, I definitely will not be seeing this another 3.5 times in theater.

Hollywood: 2020 Challenge!

Ok Hollywood, I sometimes really don’t like you and you don’t know who the fuck I am, but since this has come up a lot in the last few weeks, I’m going to challenge you to make a change for just one year.

That’s right, a year.

What I challenge you to do, Hollywood, is to give up prequels, sequels, reboots, remakes and any other derivative work of any exposing film, television show, short film, etc for one full year. I know it’s too late for 2019 already, to say nothing of 2018, but 2020 is feasible. Go one year, one single fucking calendar year, without releasing any of the above to theaters for us.

Just give original works a single solitary year to inspire us! Just one! I’ll even allow you to hedge your bet and continue to work on those projects before and during 2020, just don’t release them until January 1st 2021.

Please! We’re tired of all of this and are ready for some interesting, weird, funny, serious, WTF IS THIS SHIT? work from little known or just starting out filmmakers and screenwriters. Let’s see what they can do if you give them a chance! Please! Please take the 2020 challenge!

The Gospel of Luke’s Plan

Yesterday, I read Mike Ryan’s article, We Date You to Explain Luke’s Plan to Rescue Han in ‘Return Of the Jedi’, and immediately thought: challenge accepted! So here we are. For the tiniest bit of background on me before I get started, just so no one has to go digging through the rest of this site: I’m a reader, writer, programmer, gamer, and rabid Star Wars and Star Trek fan and have read in excess of 80 books of the former before they were disavowed by Disney.


Luke’s plan didn’t anticipate much of what happened within Jabba’s palace, but was a multi-tiered, fault tolerant plan with contingencies and unmentioned assistance. But read on for the full explanation.

The Simplest Explanation

The simplest and most dull explanation is that Luke, using the Force, saw much or all of the rescue in a vision, particularly the outcome. This would mean that Luke only had to know how it all ended and then work out how to get all of his Team Skywalker players into position. This is also most likely the path that Lucas, Lawrence Kasdan, and Rick Kerb took to resolving the Solo subplot; start at the resolution and work backwards in time placing characters’ entrances in a staggered pattern with various purposes as their roles in the “master plan.”

So in all likelihood, even with the Force vision explanation, the plan really didn’t have to be sound or even really make a lot of sense as Luke and the filmmakers knew it would work.

That said…

My Thoughts on the Plan

Without bringing a Force vision (deus ex machina) into play, according to lore I’ve acquired over the last 35 years, there’s a lot more going on in the Jedi opening than what’s been presented on-screen. Some of this knowledge is from the various novels I’ve read, some from comics and various Star Wars games over the decades, some from discussions with friends who acquired it from God knows where. Some of this will undoubtedly have been considered canon prior to the New Disney Order, some may have only been rumor. At this point, with all the things I’ve been exposed to related to Star Wars, the only way to back up some of this stuff would be to go digging through my books and write a full on research paper which I’m not interested in doing at this time. Given my bachelor’s degree is in film analysis, I probably will end up writing that paper, but for the moment…

Things that you need to know that aren’t expressly stated in the opening of Return of the Jedi:

  1. Jedi takes place roughly 1 year after the events at Bespin.
  2. The Rebel Alliance infiltrated Jabba’s palace.
  3. Luke spent more time training and developing his Jedi skills with Yoda.

Some of this is just common sense inferral… We know, for instance, that Luke had to have gone back to Yoda to complete his training prior to the grand master’s death because Luke constructed a new lightsaber. I believe the original novelization of Jedi —originally entitled “Revenge of the Jedi” in paperback, magazine style format — noted that the film too place after a year of chasing Boba Fett around the galaxy trying to rescue Han prior to his arrival at Jabba’s palace. I’ll concede again that I’m not 100% sure that I got the source right, but I’m more than 99% sure that this was canon.

The fact that Jedi took place so long after Han’s entombment gave our heroes plenty of time to prepare. Before you get started with it, it was common knowledge among them that Fett was going to take him to Jabba. After all, Han had been complaining about owing the Hutt a large debt since Tatooine. So the destination was never in question.

Now, how do we know a significant amount of time has passed? The biggest two clues are that the gang suddenly knew Lando well enough to trust him and, more importantly, Luke had constructed a new lightsaber. Let’s start with Lando…

Empire introduced Lando out of no where as an old friend and rival of Han’s. Some of the lore makes them out as having been childhood friends, theoretically growing up on Corellia together. Other lore seems to indicate they met gambling or smuggling or during other shady activities, some of which seem to be indicated in the upcoming spin-off film. What’s certain, however, it’s from the moment the Falcon touched down in Bespin, the gang was nervous about Lando, Han going as far as saying, “Of course I don’t trust him, he is my friend!” So after Lando sold them out to Vader and the Empire, how could Jedi possibly pick up immediately after Empire with Luke and the others trusting Lando enough for him to be in a crucial position during their final rescue attempt? The answer is they wouldn’t, unless they knew him better. Ergo, some significant amount of time has passed.

The second clue is something you never really think about until you consider the film very closely. If Jedi picks up right after Empire, when did Luke build his new lightsaber? You could say that he learned while he trained with Yoda during Empire, but he had no need: he had his father’s lightsaber. Vader later comments to Luke that he’s “constructed a new lightsaber” and that his “skills are complete.” This implies additional training had taken place off screen, because Luke surely didn’t have time onscreen to learn these things. Mastering the subtle control over the Force to construct a lightsaber is time consuming and is considered one of the final steps in achieving the rank of Jedi Knight. (Just because the Sith are passionate and generally blunt in much of what they do doesn’t make them incapable of subtlety.) This all points to Luke returning to Dagobah to continue his training under Yoda. What the remaining lessons besides constructing a new weapon were remains a mystery, though some books have indicated that Ben and Yoda only trained Luke in what he needed to defeat Vader and the Emperor. He was occasionally referred to as a weapon that they used to defeat the two Sith lords, and that he was taught what he needed to become a complete Jedi afterwards. But that’s all besides the point: Luke spent some time during the Fett Chase to get fully into the Jedi game.

My other point listed above was that the Rebel Alliance infiltrated Jabba’s palace. As much as I love Lando, by the time we meet him, he’s no longer fit to be the scoundrel that Han had once hung out with and made him out to be. He was a rich businessman by the time we meet him, though I’ll admit that he’s still very much a shady character. (By the way, his initial harsh greeting to Han was an attempt to warn him away, but when it failed, he committed to Vader’s plan.) That said, there’s no way that he would’ve had the contacts to quietly become a member of Jabba’s staff without help, and the lore I’ve heard indicated that there were Rebel spies throughout Jabba’s palace. In fact, I’ve heard that the Twi’lek dancer that Jabba drops into the rancor pit was one of them. I admit that my claim that Lando wouldn’t have had the contacts is a bit tenuous; Bespin mined tibana gas, which is used in the blasters and turbo-lasers of pretty much everyone in the Star Wars galaxy, and Lando was selling to both legal and illegal purveyors of the gas. So he might have had some contacts, but I would think that anyone that he had contact with would’ve been known to Jabba, and Jabba certainly would’ve heard of Lando. So Lando had to go in with a false identity, without using his own influence, and I would say that would’ve taken a great deal of time to get into a position where he had access to prisoners, Jabba’s throne room, and sail barge. He had to have help. Perhaps it started with a couple of Rebel spies bribing some low ranking members of Jabba’s gang to get themselves into the gang. Perhaps there were a few members of the Rebellion that were already members of the gang. (Another fact: the Rebel Alliance and New Republic — in the Expanded Universe/Legends books at least — had long had an association with the criminal element of the galaxy as they were frequently common allies against the Empire. When the Rebels went legit after Jedi, they kind of toned down relationship and didn’t look the other way quite as much, but they never fully cut ties to the pirates and smugglers that made up a significant portion of their ranks at one point.) Regardless of how many spies there were in Jabba’s organization, they succeeded in getting Lando into position, and I think they would’ve played more roles had Luke’s plans gone differently.

Now, on to the nitty gritty…

The Droids

Luke absolutely would’ve sacrificed the droids to Jabba if the Hutt had agreed to free Han for them. There’s no doubt in my mind. Artoo and Threepio were dear friends to him and the gang, but they were property first and foremost. Some of the EU books had a strong undercurrent of just how droids were treated in the Star Wars universe, and while these two in particular were well treated and cared for, they were still just machines and Han clearly meant much more to Luke and the others than the droids did. I don’t really think that would’ve been the end of the pair, mind you… It’s my belief that if Jabba had taken the deal, the Rebel spies within his organization, including Lando, would’ve stolen the pair on the way out… Much like lifting office supplies from an employer when you quit. Not that I’ve ever done such a thing… I have no evidence to back this up, but that seems logical to me. Jabba had plenty of droids, and plenty of staff; I think he would’ve missed the staff that suddenly departed after a hypothetical bargain than he would’ve the pair of droids that he got in the deal. And if he did miss the droids, then all he’d probably do is set a bounty on Luke’s head just like he had with Han. I have serious doubts that Luke would’ve felt bad about receiving stolen property (his own droids) liberated from a major criminal; just because Luke is on the light side of the Force, and our story’s hero, doesn’t mean he isn’t practical or a law abiding citizen.

From Luke’s own words in his projected speech to Jabba, he offered the droids as a gift regardless of whether the bargain was accepted, meaning that he really didn’t expect a pair of droids to be worth Han’s life and so this part of the plan was just getting Artoo into position.

Chewie and Leia

This part of the plan is a bit more interesting. It’s my assessment that this was purely about putting Chewie, Leia, and Han into position for the grand finale of the rescue, however, there are things that really stand out that I want to draw attention to that were not taken into account in Mike Ryan’s post.

  • Why wasn’t Chewie cuffed?
  • Where was Leia/Boushh when Jabba and crew supposedly called it a day?
  • Why did Leia/Boushh make so much noise while entering and freeing Han?
  • Why didn’t Leia/Boushh see Jabba and the others behind the thin curtain?
  • Why did Jabba and gang happen to be awake and waiting on Leia/Boushh?
  • Why did Jabba allow Leia/Boushh free Han from the carbonite?

The big Boushh-Chewbacca entrance is somewhat epic: a few blaster hits just off screen and a body flying into scene. But if you look closely, you can see Chewie’s arm coming down after the body starts flying. Why, if Chewie is a prisoner, is he not cuffed? There’s reason to believe that he may have made some pledge to never be cuffed again; he’s almost willing to hurt Luke in A New Hope when the farmboy went to put them on for his plan. Lore has it that Chewie and other Wookiees were slaves when Han found and freed them, at which point the life-debt was established; I guess we’ll see if that becomes canon (a second time) in a few months. So, from that perspective I can understand Leia/Boushh not forcing the issue. Instead, she led him in with a leash and collar that didn’t stop him from doing what he wanted. I don’t care what your reputation as a bounty hunter may be, that collar isn’t enough for a Wookiee, even a runt like Chewbacca. Jabba and crew should’ve been highly suspicious. And perhaps they were.

Another interesting point is that while Boushh negotiated for a bounty for Chewie, this is the first time we hear about such a bounty for the Wookiee. Han freely and repeatedly mentions the bounty on his head, but nothing is ever said about Chewie until now. Think about it: do you really think that Boba Fett would’ve left Bespin with Han alone when he could have received two bounties by bringing in Chewie too? There literally wouldn’t have been any extra work since Chewie had been captured too. What would Vader want with the Wookiee? Yes, he tells Lando to “take the Wookiee and the princess to my ship” but for what purpose? Leia makes sense, she was a traitor and a valuable Rebel leader that had thwarted him in the past, but he had no reason to believe that Chewie was worth keeping. So, why wouldn’t he let Boba Fett take him as well if there was a bounty on his head?

Simple. The bounty was a MacGuffin made up for Jedi, though you could canonize it by simply saying that Chewie was a bonus bounty on Han’s larger bounty. Still, though, I can’t imagine Fett just walking away from easy money. So this brings me back to Rebel infiltrators: perhaps they convinced Jabba to put a bounty on Chewie’s head to give Leia/Boushh and Chewbacca an “in” for the plan. I also admit that it’s possible that in that time between films, Chewie may have made such trouble for Jabba that a bounty was indeed placed on his head, though I think the Wookiee is much more of a team player than that.

So getting past the bounty, at some point Leia/Boushh leaves the general party and good time in Jabba’s throne room, and effectively disappears for uncounted and unknowable time only to return noisily to rescue Han. This particular scene has always been a bit troublesome for me. First she bangs until some wind chimes in the doorway. Then she makes her way across the room, wearing a helmet probably equipped with as much data collection sensory as Boba Fett’s own while still missing Jabba and the gang behind a thin curtain. Lowers Han’s entombed body to the floor with a loud bang, and the releases him, only to be surprised when Jabba starts laughing.

Assuming that the goal was to free Han and escape at that point, then Leia is doing a terrible job, and is making every rookie mistake in the book. Leia is only human, but she’s not that incompetent. I’ll give her a pass on the chimes — it was dark, they would’ve been room temperature so would have been difficult to see on a thermal imaging scan, maybe infrared as well, and they were hanging so that just a few of them were at head height. In reality, that may have been a completely goofed up entrance that they thought added character and left in as a result; visibility in that helmet had to have been terrible. I’ll also give a slight pass on the initial landing of Han’s carbonite slab; there’s no way Leia would or could have known how much noise it would make when it hit, still it seemed to drop to the floor way too fast. Then, of course, it hit the wall behind it as it settled. If Leia were trying to make a stealthy exit with Han, she failed completely at this point because she could easily have used the controls while he was still hanging on the wall to free him. There’s no excuse for missing Jabba & Pals; she should have seen them.

And maybe she did. Like I said, if she was trying to make a stealthy exit, she utterly failed, but if the plan was to make Han significantly more mobile, then the plan was a clear success. Even blind, a thawed and conscious Han is far more mobile than Side-of-Beef-Han with or without the hover-sled he’d been on in Bespin. My guess is that Luke’s plan was for Leia to merely free Han, and to take any opportunity to escape that presented itself, otherwise hang out and wait for the third tier of the plan, Luke’s entrance.

This explains why Chewie was “sacrificed”: he was moved into position, the dungeons where Han almost certainly would be moved after being released from the carbonite. How could they guarantee they’d end up in the same cell? The Rebel infiltrators, including Lando, would be in charge of moving prisoners around and could easily arrange for the partners to share a cell. Chewie and Han would hang out waiting for Luke’s part of the plan to succeed or fail.

I think the only part of Leia’s part that wasn’t anticipated was her being chained to Jabba’s dais; I think they probably expected her to be moved to the dungeons as well, but the earlier execution of the Twi’lek opened up the spot for the princess to be degraded and put on display for Jabba’s pleasure.

This all leads me to believe that Jabba was tipped off, most likely per Luke’s plan. Again, mainly for positioning the players. I think Team Skywalker would’ve been fine if it worked as it seemed to be planned, but I think this failure was all part of the real plan. The fact that Jabba and a dozen of his goons were still present and awake when Leia made her entrance and freed Han, and remained utterly silent while that happened seems way too coincidental. The only answer is that Jabba was tipped off by someone that this was a rescue attempt. It could be that Jabba was intelligent enough to put the pieces together but I don’t think he was that smart personally. It makes much more sense that one of the Rebel spies tipped off the rescue attempt and urged a public execution rather than a hail of blaster bolts to ensure a more orderly and less elaborate escape plan or to enable Luke’s phase of the plan. Otherwise, Leia and Han would’ve been dead before the latter fell free of the carbonite: Jabba was not known for his patience or mercy.

About Luke

Luke’s part of the plan was probably the most critical, though it had the most risk. Luke’s part had three goals:

  1. Negotiate the release of everyone, using the Force if necessary.
  2. Assassinate Jabba.
  3. Get captured for the last ditch escape effort.

Having received additional training from Yoda and feeling cocky despite himself, Luke’s part in the plan was undoubtedly — in his mind — the part with the highest chance of success. This is evident in his solitary entrance, the Force choking of the guards, the domination of Bib Fortuna, and his attempted domination of Jabba himself. Being the newest Jedi with a host of new skills he was eager to test out, Luke’s arrogance didn’t quite anticipate Jabba’s resistance. Luke had only been told by Obiwan that “the Force can have a strong influence on the weak minded”, not that some species are immune to the power. So Luke had to try it, because if it worked, he and friends could just walk right out of the palace without firing a shot.

But it didn’t work, so Luke moved on to plan B: assassinate Jabba right there in the throne room. Using the Force, he summoned a blaster to his hand and went for a shot on the Hutt before dropping into the rancor pit. I hadn’t thought about it until recently, but why didn’t Luke use a lightsaber instead? I mean, yeah, we know that he’d hidden a newly built lightsaber in Artoo, but why didn’t he construct two lightsabers in advance, one to have on him in Jabba’s throne room and one for the last ditch effort? Perhaps he could only come up with one Khyber crystal, or maybe he didn’t think that far in advance. Maybe it was so Jabba and the gang wouldn’t expect to fight against a lightsaber wielding Jedi later. I’m not sure, and I have never seen an explanation of this apparent oversight. Luke would’ve been hard-pressed to deflect blaster bolts from so many sources, but he would’ve been much more likely to have killed Jabba in this throne room than with the blaster. Nonetheless, you make every plan with contingencies, and while he probably didn’t anticipate a fight with the rancor — where a lightsaber would’ve been supremely useful — he probably did anticipate being captured and publicly executed.

Why the public execution? Luke lived on Tatooine most of his life by this point, and Jabba wasn’t exactly hiding from the authorities, so it’s probably a fact that the Hutt’s favorite type of punishment was public execution in a sarlacc pit, and kids growing up on that works were probably told tales of being fed to it deliberately to scare them into behaving. Again, Rebel spies might have influenced this outcome, and though we don’t see them in the ensuing battle that ended this part of the film, it’s my belief that they were there and doing their part. I think this because the sail barge was easily large enough to carry several hundred people, no matter how good our small cadre of heroes is, they’re no match for several hundred of Jabba’s thugs, or even several dozen, and Jabba would’ve wanted as many people to witness his gruesome punishment as possible. Yes, Leia smashed the controls to the window seats but that didn’t prevent anyone from opening them individually and firing out. There was no rush of troops to the top deck to blow the heros on the skiff away; something had to be delaying them. What would prevent them from doing so? A fire fight inside the barge with even a small small opposition force located at key locations. More indirect evidence: who tried to stop or kill Leia when she was busy choking the Hutt to death? She was alone, unarmed, and out in the open for an easy kill shot but not one came her way from any of the thugs aboard. Can you imagine the reward Jabba would’ve paid to someone that saved his life in that moment?

So all this is to say there was a lot more going on in these scenes than we were shown. The simple things we were shown we’re good enough to get the point across, Luke had a plan, it didn’t go exactly as expected but it worked. But as with the absence of sound, it’s sometimes there absence of something in a scene that gives us a bigger idea of what’s going on.

Finally, just for giggles, a bonus for those that haven’t read the books, Luke had nightmares about the sail barge part of the plan going wrong some years after the fall of Jabba and the death of the Emperor. In Tomorrow Zahn’s Heir to the Empire, Luke kept dreaming that his lightsaber flew not to his hand, but to the hand of a red headed woman standing on the deck of Jabba’s barge as she started down at him. This woman was Mara Jade (later Mara Jade Skywalker), the Emperor’s Hand.

In The End

So, while I think I have answered the question thoroughly with my explanation here, and I honestly do believe that most of this is how it went down behind the scenes given all that I’ve heard and read over the years, the simplest explanation really is that Luke saw the vast majority of it in a Force vision, and just had to tell the individuals how to get into position. That means he didn’t have to have an answer to everything, just had to have certain goals met to end up in the position that the team did.

Preconceptions Annihilated

(This post was delayed by several hours due to web server issues.)

My roommate and friend, elegy nevermore, and I literally just finished watching the film Annihilation and I’m going to simply sum up the experience as saying I’m beautifully confused.

You see, this is a very sci-fi film but it’s not your usual shoot ’em up. Following in the scientific genes of Contact, from twenty years ago, Annihilation is more an exploratory film than one that answers questions. As such, there are no clear answers in its ending, which both impresses and perplexes me. From a writer’s perspective, it’s very easy to slap an ending on a film (or book) and let people argue over whether the whole thing was good or bad as a result. Gift wrapping an ending, one with a clear ending, is almost all Hollywood knows how to do these days. The avant garde pose questions for which even they struggle to answer, which beg for discussion to truly understand, and it is in this category that Annihilation falls.

To be clear, in my spoiler dominant tradition, this film doesn’t have an ending that will resolve anything. You will leave the theater asking yourself if Natalie Portman’s character is the original that started the film, the alien copy, both, or something completely fucking new. If you leave the theater with a clear decisive answer, you weren’t paying attention.

The most horrible realization about this movie for me isn’t the slow pace, the acting (which is great), the vague choose your own ending conclusion, the way it was edited, or anything else with regards to Annihilation itself. It’s the fact that it’s being murdered in cold blood by the juggernaut that is Black Panther, and will not get the kind of attention I feel it deserves. When word gets out about the ending, this film is just plain done. Which is a damned shame.

Hollywood doesn’t like to take chances on films, especially the ones that are more daring to do something different. The studios would rather invest in sequels to known moneymakers, remakes, and reboots than take a chance on something new. Every now and then, something manages to sneak through their filter, something original that captures the intellect as well as the eye, something that challenges the preconceived notions the viewer has of the film… Art instead of the cookie cutter, mass produced film whose plot really doesn’t matter in the end. Annihilation is every inch that piece of art, and it’s a fucking shame the studios chose to schedule it against another great film — and Black Panther really is a great film — during the last weeks of winter to release. This should have been a late spring or early fall release, when it could’ve been the spectacle that would draw crowds to the theater.

But I get it. Black Panther was probably expected to die a quick and quiet death since it features a mostly black cast and is about a black superhero. So the studio targeted it with Annihilation and is getting its ass kicked for its trouble. Or at least, this is my suspicion.

Whatever the truth may be in this matter, Annihilation is a film that deserves to be seen. It’s intelligent, well acted, lead by a strong cast that happens to be mostly female, the characters are flawed and well rounded, and fundamentally, there’s no villain to be defeated, just an event that needs to be understood. Annihilation is this year’s The Arrival, and a spiritual successor to Contact. It deserves so much more than it will likely get in the theater.

I’m not the only one…

Sometimes I feel like I’m the only person in the world that feels a particular way about a particular thing. Sometimes I can’t even tell you why I feel like i do. I just do.
But with regards to Star Wars, I am most certainly not alone. It has meant the world to me since I was a kid, from the first time I saw it until now. While I have suffered many disappointments in life, it was almost never in relation to the Star Wars universe.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve read in excess of 50 Star Wars books (probably closer to 100 or more) over the years, and I credit the existence of the Expanded Universe with keeping Star Wars alive between the original trilogy and the prequels.
While I don’t like that Disney effectively killed the Expanded Universe, as a writer I can understand why they did it: they have the opportunity to tell new stories without having to lug around the history and baggage of literally decades worth of history and attempting to build something consistent with it.
That said, there was so much history in the EU that Disney didn’t even have to bat an eye to have dozens of waiting films if they literally made each book or story into its own film. I didn’t expect The Force Awakens to be The New Jedi Order or Legacy of the Force, but as I’ve said before, there’s no reason it couldn’t have lived aside then.
In this, I’ve felt alone. Only a couple friends of mine have felt the same way. But,  today I’ve discovered that I’m not alone.
Give Us Legends” isn’t asking Disney to ignore the new direction of the franchise, but asking that they allow the old direction to live on. There were many storylines that began before the Disney purchase of LucasFilm that have simply died and gone unresolved since the purchase because no new Legends/EU books are being produced, only official canon material in the new direction.
I think it would be an absolute shame to never find out what happens to the Skywalker-Solo clan after Fate of the Jedi, and I’m now sure many others think the same.