More STAR WARS News Than You Can Shake a Gaffi Stick At

By Tom Holste

Nov. 10, 2017

Yesterday was an unexpectedly busy news day for Star Wars fans.

First up was the announcement that Rian Johnson, writer-director of the upcoming film The Last Jedi, has been given the greenlight to develop an entirely new Star Wars trilogy after the current one. The trilogy will be the first to go in a new direction in this universe and not be tied to the Skywalker-Solo family saga.

As I said back in September, I’m really surprised that Lucasfilm is putting so much faith in Johnson without yet seeing how the fans react to Last Jedi. I don’t doubt that he’s talented, but is it wise to give so much power and creative control over such an important franchise to one person before we see one Star Wars film completed by the guy? If the movie is well-received, I could see this announcement being made in January. But this seems a bit premature.

22-rian-johnson-star-wars.w750.h560.2x

Yeah, if I was Rian Johnson, I’d be jumping up and down with excitement, too.

I am grateful that the new trilogy won’t just rehash what’s been done before. The poor Skywalkers and Solos have been through enough misery already. (Weirdly, many people are speculating that the new trilogy will be an adaptation of the Knights of the Old Republic games. Seeing as how the press release went out of its way to say that Johnson is being given a “blank canvas,” and that he would “introduce new characters from a corner of the galaxy that Star Wars lore has never before explored,” I don’t see how anyone could think that this is going to be an adaptation of any previous material.)

As if that all wasn’t enough for us, an hour or so later brought the announcement that Lucasfilm is finally moving forward with a live-action Star Wars TV series for Disney’s upcoming streaming service. Fans have waited a long time for such a series, since George Lucas announced in 2005 that he was developing a live-action series called Underworld. That long-gestating project never got off the ground, and it’s unlikely that this new series is in any way related to it.

I’m intrigued by the idea, and having waited so long to see new Star Wars, I certainly don’t want to complain. However, considering all the behind-the-scenes difficulties that Lucasfilm has been dealing with over the last few years, with multiple directors getting replaced, I would almost think it would be smarter for the company to step back and get their bearings for a minute before rushing into other projects.

This all feels very much like the post-Avengers effect. I love the Marvel Cinematic Universe; the powers that be at the studio continue to turn out great movies and shows. Unfortunately, as with any success in Hollywood, everyone rushes to imitate them, usually to significantly lesser effect. (This is no different than the rush of lesser outer-space movies released after the success of the first Star Wars.) In this case, Marvel has been able to keep so many plates spinning at once, everyone else thinks they need to do the same thing with their franchises. And so Lucasfilm keeps greenlighting one movie after another, and multiple TV shows (counting their animated output).

I’m keeping an open mind. I don’t have a problem with a lot of Star Wars. I just really, really want it to be good more than I want it fast and plentiful.

Gaffi Stick

This is a Gaffi stick, in case you were wondering.

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Ep IX Update

By Tom Holste

Sep. 15, 2017

Last week, I commented on the removal of Colin Trevorrow from Star Wars Ep. IX, and suggested possible replacement directors.

Just a few days later, Lucasfilm announced that JJ Abrams, who had previously directed Ep. VII: The Force Awakens, was returning to cap the series by taking over Ep. IX.

jj-abrams-star-wars-episode-vii

Meet the new boss. Same as the old boss.

Originally, I expressed a bit of concern over the possibility picking Abrams. He’s a talented director, but ironically, I actually thought his two Star Trek movies functioned really well as imitations of Star Wars, but when it came to actual Star Wars, I found The Force Awakens just ever so slightly lacking. It was exciting and fun, but I strongly disagreed with the fates of some of the characters, particularly from the Original Trilogy. It’s still miles better than the prequels, but it was just a little less than what I hoped.

Having said all that, when this news broke, I found myself realizing that it was a completely sensible choice. While other directors may have potentially been more exciting, the last thing that Kathleen Kennedy wants right now is exciting. As the head of Lucasfilm, she’s had to fire far too many directors. She wants a dependable person who can bring this thing to the finish line on time. There were murmurs of some tension on the Force Awakens set, but Abrams and Kennedy still managed to get out a really good film that was popular with both audiences and critics. Considering how often the director hasn’t managed to survive all the way through production, that’s saying something.

As for “on time,” shortly after the news of Abrams’ hiring broke, yet another huge news item hit: Ep. IX got pushed back to December 2019, causing Disney to have to shuffle around the rest of their schedule. Originally the movie was supposed to be released in December anyway, but Disney has been trying to get the Star Wars back to their more traditional May release date. The Han Solo film is the only one on the current release schedule to still be slated for May 2018, even though that also recently had a director swap.

Again, I was originally skeptical when Disney wanted their Star Wars movies released in December instead of May, but at the moment, that makes more sense. In fact, I think positioning the Han Solo movie just a mere 3 weeks after Avengers: Infinity War might actually hurt both films. Star Wars: Episode IX was scheduled to be released 3 weeks after the fourth Avengers movie, and I was concerned about Disney cannibalizing themselves in that case as well. The December date avoids that problem.

And, at any rate, I would rather have the final episodic Star Wars movie to be done right than to be done quickly.

Apparently, Rian Johnson (currently working on The Last Jedi, due out in September) reportedly was asked to take over Ep. IX as well since Lucasfilm is so impressed with him. But he turned it down because he’s still too busy finishing the current Star Wars film to take on another one! To me, that seems like a very smart move on his part. He shouldn’t spread himself too thin.

The only worrisome point is that Chris Terrio has been brought on board to rewrite the script, despite having previously worked on the much-loathed Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. But I’m trying to keep an open mind.

When I told my wife the news about Abrams, she had the appropriate reaction: an excited gasp! We’re both huge fans of Lost and Alias (TV shows that Abrams produced), and Abrams’ film Super 8 is one of her all-time favorites. So, yeah, despite a little bit of reservation, I think Abrams will overall do a bang-up job. I’m looking forward to this.

 

Lucasfilm Entrance Should Have a Revolving Door

By Tom Holste

Sep. 9, 2017

By now, you’ve probably all heard about Colin Trevorrow being removed as director from the as-yet-unnamed Star Wars Ep. IX, the final film in the Skywalker saga. (There will be other Star Wars films, but this will be the end of the Episodic cycle involving the Skywalker-Solo clan.)

This news comes barely two months after Phil Lord and Chris Miller were removed from the upcoming unnamed movie about a young Han Solo, replaced with Ron Howard, an old friend of George Lucas and an accomplished director in his own right. And it also comes after director Tony Gilroy was brought in to do extensive reshoots on Gareth Edwards’ Rogue One last year (although Edwards cooperated with the reshoots and got to keep his name on the film). And this is after director Josh Trank was removed from an untitled Star Wars spinoff movie.

Old-Luke-Skywalker1

“Really? … ANOTHER director gone?”

While it’s natural to be slightly nervous about all these abrupt behind-the-scenes changes, I suppose it means that Kathleen Kennedy (the current head of Lucasfilm) is leaving nothing to chance, so perhaps it’s cause for relief.

As for Colin Trevorrow, I enjoyed Safety Not Guaranteed, and Jurassic World was passable fun, but I don’t think it had very much to do with the direction. As stated in an earlier blog post, I think it had more to do with good timing on a film fueled by nostalgia that offered a nice alternative to people tired of superhero movies. Don’t get me wrong, Trevorrow did his job well, but I don’t think the film’s massive success was about that.

Many people are suggesting that Rian Johnson, writer-director of the upcoming Episode VII: The Last Jedi, should take over Ep. IX as well. Rian Johnson might be a good choice, but frankly, I’ve been a little nervous about his work. Looper is certainly a clever film, but there’s nothing in that movie at all that suggests that Johnson knows how to handle the light-hearted, family-friendly tone of a Star Wars film. And yet, they let him write and direct this Episodic film and co-write the next one. Add in Mark Hammill’s comments about “fundamentally disagreeing” with every choice Johnson made regarding Luke, and I’m a little on edge about this one guy having so much say over my favorite franchise.

Having said all that, Kathleen Kennedy has seen Johnson’s work on this film and kept him around, when she hasn’t done the same for others. We know she takes this too seriously to just let anyone do whatever they want, so I consider it a high compliment to him that he’s been allowed so much creative control.

I’m not outright saying he’ll do a bad job. I’m saying I don’t think it’s wise to hand over direction of the next film to him when we don’t know how audiences have reacted to this film yet. (All that being said, I’m still looking forward to December. Again, I haven’t seen Johnson’s work on The Last Jedi, while Kennedy has, so I’ll defer to her judgment if she picks him for Ep. IX.)

So who should Lucasfilm go with? Here are my thoughts on the other names I’ve heard bandied about:

JJ Abrams: He did direct some Star Wars-y stuff before working on The Force Awakens, but I wasn’t overwhelmed by his work on this franchise. He initially resisted taking on the job because he didn’t think he was the right choice; he thought he was too attached to the source material to have an objective eye. He may have been right on that.

George Lucas: Yes, heaven help us, a lot of fans are insisting that this is the time for George to step back into the franchise. There’s even an online petition to get Disney to hire him. I say: No, no, a thousand times, no! George is great at many things — he’s a creative visionary and a technological genius — but he is not a director of actors, nor is he a good editor.

Joe Johnston: The director of Honey, I Shrunk the Kids, Jumanji and Captain America: The First Avenger — as well as an old-school Lucasfilm employee who created Boba Fett’s armor, among other things — is a solid choice, but he’s working on the next Narnia film, The Silver Chair, and I think Narnia needs him more than Star Wars at the moment. I hope he doesn’t jump ship on that project. I’d like to see him direct a different Star Wars film later on, though.

Ron Howard: He’ll probably do a solid job on the Han Solo movie, but I don’t want him to feel rushed trying to also get Ep. IX out the door.

Brad Bird: Would do a great job, but is busy with Incredibles 2 at the moment.

Steven Spielberg: Gets asked every time. He isn’t interested because this isn’t his franchise.

Robert Zemeckis: The director of Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit and Forrest Gump is rumored to be in talks to direct DC Comics’ Flashpoint, but if that doesn’t happen, he would be an exciting choice for Ep. IX, and his career could use a boost right now (his recent films haven’t done so well), but I don’t know what his interest level is. He reportedly turned down directing one of the Episodic prequels (as did Spielberg and Ron Howard).

Ryan Coogler: Director of Creed, so he knows how to take long-running franchises and give them new leases on life that are both popular and acclaimed. He’s also finishing up work on the Marvel movie Black Panther. I have no problems with this choice; I only put it at the bottom because I haven’t yet seen any of his movies.

Now here are some names I haven’t heard, but would be interesting choices:

Jon Favreau: Director of the first two Iron Man movies, among others. I know a lot of people don’t like the second one, but I don’t think its problems were related to the direction (and I kind of love the movie anyway).

David Fincher: Yes, as with Rian Johnson, his work is very dark, but he’s also another former Lucasfilm employee (ILM, specifically) that’s gone on to direct movies, which makes him an interesting choice.

Hettie MacDonald or Rachel Talalay: It would be nice to have some women behind the camera, and both of these directors have helmed fan-favorite episodes of Doctor Who. MacDonald worked on “Blink,” nearly everyone’s choice for best episode ever, and Talalay directed the acclaimed season finales of the past two seasons. Yes, TV is somewhat of a different animal than features, but they’ve shown that they can handle special effects and tight pacing while pulling strong performances out of their actors.

Anyway, it will be interesting to see how this all develops!

 

QUANTUM LEAP Spells it Out in Black and White

By Tom Holste

Aug. 18, 2017

The tragic events of the past week have me repeatedly going back in my mind to the excellent Quantum Leap episode “Black on White on Fire,” originally aired on November 9, 1990. (Some spoilers follow.)

The episode is set during the riots in Watts, Los Angeles, in August of 1965. Honestly, I had never heard of the Watts riots in school, nor have I heard anyone discuss them at length outside of this program since then. But it seems worthwhile to remember the lessons of this event.

As viewers of the series know, the TV show (which ran from 1989-93) follows the adventures of Sam Beckett (played by Scott Bakula), a scientist whose time travel experiment goes wrong, and he winds up in the bodies of different people from the 1950s to the 1980s, setting right things that had gone wrong in their lives.

In this episode, he ends up in the body of an African-American man engaged to a white woman just as riots break out over a reported incident of police brutality. While his family members express understandable anger at the unfair treatment that they receive at the hands of authority figures because of their skin color, Sam must soon act to save his fiancee’s life when the town’s anger turns against her because of her skin color.QL-Black-on-White-on-Fire-1

The episode’s writer, Deborah Pratt (herself an African-American), does a beautiful, skillful balancing act with this story: She treats all of the characters with respect and human dignity while thoroughly condemning the irrational hatred and violence that spread from fear.

While the show frequently ended on an optimistic note, this story is one of the few to end tragically (although not in the way one might expect). Indeed, how could it not end tragically? When tensions get heightened and everyone starts pointing fingers, someone is bound to get unfairly caught in the crossfire.

I wonder if Pratt even knew that one episode of a TV show couldn’t change anything, and that’s why the episode ends on the sad note that it does. Still, in bleak times, what can one do but light a candle of hope and pray for peace and sanity? That, I think, is the goal of the episode.

This episode of Quantum Leap (along with the rest) is available on DVD from Mill Creek Entertainment and available on streaming from NBC.com:

https://www.nbc.com/classic-tv/quantum-leap/video/black-on-white-on-fire-august-11-1965/2924331

 

Mickey Mouse to Leave Netflix

By Tom Holste

Aug. 9, 2017

This news story has been making the rounds on Facebook, and I thought it might be interesting for discussion here.

https://www.gamespot.com/articles/disney-to-pull-its-movies-from-netflix-including-s/1100-6452383/?ftag=GSS-05-10aab8d&utm_campaign=trueAnthem%3A+Trending+Content&utm_content=598a81bd3ed3f00007aca3d8&utm_medium=trueAnthem&utm_source=facebook

This comes just a year after Disney’s content went exclusively to Netflix for the foreseeable future. Apparently, that deal will end in 2019.

I, for one, am getting really tired of every entertainment company pulling out of Netflix to start their own service, or in some cases, multiple services. Warner Bros. has put all their classic cartoons (including Hanna-Barbera and MGM content) on the Boomerang app, and they intend to release another app for all their DC Comics content. And if one wants to watch Doctor Who on streaming, one has to pay Britbox for the classic stuff and Amazon Prime for the new stuff.

Disney has already announced that they’re going to have a separate streaming service for ESPN content. If they have a separate service for animated classics, and a separate service for Marvel, and one for Lucasfilm, Pixar, etc., people are not going to go for that.

Part of what’s great about Netflix is its affordability. But studios seem to think that if we’ll pay Netflix $8 a month, we’ll be willing to pay them $40 a month for multiple different mini-Netflixes. That’s an incorrect assumption.

This strategy may drive some consumers back to physical media, which may in fact be part of the goal of the studios. Even though the rest of the planet moved on to streaming media 10-ish years ago, I’ve seen multiple doom-and-gloom articles from Hollywood experts about how the industry is doomed if consumers don’t keep buying physical media (ignoring the many decades in which the industry did just fine without that).

Nonetheless, having said all that, if enough companies do pull out of Netflix, it may become worth my while to invest our $8 a month in one of these other companies. Much of what my family watches comes from one of Disney’s many divisions; in addition to what’s mentioned above, my kids are big fans of anime from Studio Ghibli, which has been distributed by Disney for a long time. While I don’t want to jump ship — I’d rather pay Netflix a little more to have more content — there may come a point where loyalty to them doesn’t make sense.

I’d also be interested if the Disney streaming service has multiple classic versions of characters instead of just the latest version. For instance, if they have just the new DuckTales and the latest version of Spider-Man, that doesn’t seem very interesting to me. But if they have those in addition to the old DuckTales and the ’90s Spider-Man and so forth, that could be fun. I would also be excited if they would finally release all episodes of The Muppet Show. (The DVDs stopped after Season 3, leaving two seasons unreleased.) They would need to dig in their archives a bit and come up with interesting things.

Anyway, the industry continues to change and evolve, and it’s fascinating to watch the permutations.

READY PLAYER ONE Drops 1st Trailer

By Tom Holste

Jul. 24, 2017

Over a year ago, I wrote an article about the upcoming film adaptation of the novel Ready Player One by Ernie Cline. To my surprise, it’s become the most “Liked” post I’ve made, and I’ve gotten more follows on my blog due to that than anything else!

For those unfamiliar with the source material, the novel is about a young man living in a future Earth where everything has deteriorated so much that the only escape is into a virtual reality “OASIS” where people can be whoever they want to be, and can have whatever they want to have, including their favorite pop culture icons. So, for instance, if you want to look like Batman and fly the Millennium Falcon, you can do that.

Cline’s novel is clever and fast-paced, but I figured with all the different intellectual properties from different companies mentioned, this film would be impossible to make. When Steven Spielberg stepped into the director’s chair, though, the film’s development really started to move forward. Spielberg is one of the few people in Hollywood that could make such a project happen; in fact, he already got multiple companies to work together for the animation extravaganza Who Framed Roger Rabbit (which he produced and Robert Zemeckis directed)That film met with such success and acclaim, it’s not surprising that studios would be willing to trust his instincts with this film as well.

(Also worth noting is that, when the novel came out, we hadn’t seen such universe-jumping franchises as The LEGO Movie or LEGO Dimensions yet, which is why I found such an onscreen mashup unlikely at the time.)

With such a high level of enthusiasm for the project, it’s only natural to share the first trailer for the film here:

A few random thoughts:

–While many different properties are indeed featured in the clips, naturally Warner Bros. put their properties front and center in the trailer. WB owns The Iron Giant, perhaps the licensed character that gets the most screen time in the trailer; DC Comics-owned characters (Harley Quinn and Deadshot) walk through one scene; and at another point Freddy Krueger (whose films were released through Warner-owned New Line Cinema) is also clearly visible.

There are cameos from the DeLorean from Back to the Future (Universal) and the van from The A-Team (Universal again, although Fox did the movie adaptation), but they’re basically blink-and-you’ll-miss-it moments. (I’m not saying that the trailer doesn’t feature many non-Warner properties, just that these stood out to me more, and I actually had to go and look up articles to find out what was in the trailer.)

Non-Warner Bros. characters and stories may still feature heavily in the completed film; I recall that the 1983 MGM-owned WarGames featured significantly into the plot, and I believe that Voltron was present in the climax, as were some TIE Fighters. But it’s not surprising that the marketing focuses more on the in-house stuff.

Also, I expect that any non-Warner property that’s not absolutely essential to the plot (or anything that they couldn’t get the rights to) will get substituted with something else in the final film.

–Is it just me, or is it really weird to see Freddy Krueger in a Steven Spielberg movie? It’s not wrong or anything; it just seems odd for some reason that I can’t put my finger on.

–It’s been interesting to see the fairly recent shift in storytelling tastes. For a long time, crossovers within a company or on a TV network were common. There were a ton of Hanna-Barbera projects where Yogi Bear met up with Scooby-Doo and the Flintstones and other H-B characters; Magnum P.I. wound up on an episode of Murder, She Wrote; Paul Reiser’s character from Mad About You once showed up at the apartment of Kramer from Seinfeld; and so on.

As time went on, these crossovers began to feel more and more like lame cash grabs without much story justification. And so a lot of TV shows and movies only took place within their respective fictional universes, with creators going out of their way to define why other characters wouldn’t work within the consistency of the universe. (In an interview about the first live-action Scooby-Doo movie, screenwriter James Gunn said that Grape Ape shouldn’t be able to casually exist next to Scooby: “This Mystery Inc. might freak out if they saw Grape Ape and try to pull his head off, thinking it was a mask.”)

However, possibly due to the rise of social media, where we’re used to scrolling through our feed and seeing a Lord of the Rings meme followed by a SpongeBob meme, audiences seem ready to accept crossovers again, and if the reception to Cline’s novel — as well as the aforementioned LEGO productions — is any indication, the idea even gets them very excited.

–Since John Williams ran into scheduling conflicts, composer Alan Silvestri has stepped up to the plate. As much as I love Williams’ work, Silvestri is pretty exciting to have on board. Silvestri’s work includes Back to the Future, Who Framed Roger Rabbit, Forrest Gump and The Avengers. Since we know at least the DeLorean appears in the film, expect Silvestri to work in a reference to this and possibly other franchises in the music.

–The movie looks visually stunning, and I actually probably would be excited for this film based on the story alone even if it wasn’t this huge mashup (although that is a huge selling point for me). And that really is the best way to go: The movie needs to function as a satisfying story in and of itself, or eventually the novelty will wear off.

Anyway, this first trailer is a rousing success!

Netflix Opens New DARK CRYSTAL

By Tom Holste

May 18, 2017

The Jim Henson Company has been trying to follow up on their cult classic, the 1982 fantasy film The Dark Crystal, for something like 15 years. It’s been in development for so long that it’s become something of an affectionate running joke among Henson fans.

And, now, suddenly, out of nowhere, they’re moving forward on something. And Netflix, currently the savviest network out there, is bringing it to us.

Can I just say…Wow?

The original movie, while visually stunning, is somewhat slow and a little too light on plot. I always feel like I should like it more than I actually do. And yet, this new project seems like such a smart move, I can’t help but be excited.

A new movie could be a huge hit like The Force Awakens, or it could appeal to a niche audience and be quickly forgotten, like Tron: Legacy (which I liked, but didn’t revive the franchise as hoped). But a new series on the streaming network that gave us such diverse projects as Daredevil, Stranger Things, Fuller House, and the revived Mystery Science Theater 3000…that’s going to generate a lot of excitement. I can’t imagine this not being successful.

This is a prequel series; while it may be too much to wish for, I hope that it gives enough context to the original movie that I find myself finally liking and appreciating the film more. If not, I hope it’s at least entertaining on its own terms, which should be the top priority.

Between this and several other projects, it seems like the Henson Company is finally waking up from its long dormancy, and may be entering a new golden age. Let’s hope!

Check out the trailer below.