Monday, December 18, 2017

Five Changes to Make "Star Wars: The Last Jedi" Better

Star Wars: The Last Jedi is a good movie.  Some people call it one of the best Star Wars movies; others not so much. 

Either way, I’ve taken inspiration from previous articles about The Force Awakens and made my own list of changes to make The Last Jedi better.

Disclaimer #1: This is NOT a nerd rant. Think of it more as a geek thesis, or “geeksis.”

Disclaimer #2: SPOILERS . . .





Five Changes to Make “The Last Jedi” Better (in order of importance):

#1. Replace Amilyn Holdo with Admiral Ackbar

This is the biggie. If The Last Jedi had made this one change, the film would automatically be a hundred times better. 

Rebel Admiral (and meme king) Gial Ackbar had an unceremonious off-screen death in the first third of The Last Jedi, which has drawn much ire from fans. 

I’m okay with off-screen deaths, as they can be just as emotional and even more startling than on-screen demises. However, Ackbar certainly deserved better.

Consider an early scene in The Last Jedi when the rebels learn of losing nearly all their leadership, including a comatose Leia. A murmur runs through the crowd, with questions of who remains to lead them.  

Instead of a purple-haired officer NO ONE has met (audience, and many rebels, from the look of things), a familiar Mon Calamari’s squishy feet step into view. This reveal alone would bring hope to the heroes and cheers from the crowd.

Moreover, think of the enusing conflict between Rebel leadership and pilot Poe Dameron about military strategy. The eventual mutiny would be especially powerful.

As it’s written, The Last Jedi provides little tension for the heroes. Audience members obviously root for Poe, since we know his personality and have seen his work. Laura Dern’s Admiral Holdo is also a hero (we’re told), but aside from her purple hair and smug demeanor, we got nothing. Why would we care about her point of view?

Replace Holdo with Ackbar and viewers are admittedly torn between up-and-comer Poe and established leader Ackbar (whom we’ve admired ever since The Return of the Jedi).

Even better, imagine the final sacrifice of Admiral Holdo and give that dramatic exit to Admiral Ackbar. Hyperspace kamikaze into enemy mother ship is so much better than “Oh, yeah. He’s dead, too.”

#2. Lando in Canto

The casino on Canto Bight boasts all kinds of extravagant aliens and elegant creatures. One face is missing: Lando Calrissian’s.  Lando’s return alone would make the subplot side trip worth it.

Everyone knows Lando has a thing for gambling, so this is the perfect place to reintroduce our favorite sweet-talking swindler. With The Last Jedi being the second film in the new trilogy, there’s even a nice symmetry for Lando’s presence, who first appeared in The Empire Strikes Back.

Billy Dee Williams has frequently voice-acted as Lando since the original movies (audio books, animation), so it seems he’s willing to contribute in his most famous role.

We know Donald Glover plays a young Lando in the upcoming Star Wars: Solo film. Hopefully Billy Dee Williams can portray an elder Lando in the follow-up to The Last Jedi.

(One idea: Open with a funeral for Leia—who died a peaceful death—and Lando returns to pay his respects and eventually join the fight, co-piloting the Millennium Falcon with Chewbacca while Rey does whatever Jedi thing requiring lightsabers.)

#3. Snoke Clone

After The Force Awakens, many fans created all kinds of theories about Supreme Leader Snoke, with hopes the evil leader would reveal more of his past in future movies.

The Last Jedi didn’t do much, except slice Snoke in half.

And I’m fine with that. It was a terrific build-up and pay-off to show Kylo Ren taking his own path. The sequence also contrasted nicely with Emperor Palpatine’s throne room scenes in The Return of the Jedi.

One thing lacks, and it would only take one line of dialogue: What is Snoke’s deal?

How’d he get so powerful and evil? Where’d he come from?

All we need is Snoke saying something self-congratulatory about himself, how he was the sole surviving member of Emperor Palpatine’s private stash of clones. His grotesque body shows signs of the imperfect cloning process, which claimed the lives of every other potential successor.  

It’s not that far-fetched. Clones have been around since the prequels, and Dark Horse created an entire clone Emperor story in their “Dark Empire” comic book series.

Side Note: One line is also all we need to learn why General Hux is in command of the First Order. Isn’t he a little young to be in control of a galactic army? Explain why with Hux mentioning how he graduated top of his class and climbed the ranks by any means necessary.

Think of those nerdy kids who never let anyone forget they graduated valedictorian in high school, college, and kindergarten. That’s General Hux. He could remind us of his ruthless, savage preeminence during a brief exchange with his surrogate sibling rival Kylo Ren.

#4. Let Phasma Shine

The coolest Star Wars baddies always get the short end of the stick. Boba Fett. Darth Maul. And now, evidently, Captain Phasma.

People complained about this in The Force Awakens, and many offered the solution of putting Phasma in place of the FN-2199 Stormtrooper (“TR-8R!”) who dueled with Finn outside Maz Kanata’s castle.

Since that change didn’t happen in The Force Awakens, Phasma should have made an earlier appearance in The Last Jedi, starting with the first scene. She could have led a Stormtrooper squad into the Resistance’s base, kicking tail and leaving a trail of fallen rebels. This way, there is more weight to Phasma’s later confrontation with Finn and Rose on Snoke’s ship.

Who knows? Maybe Phasma will return in future films. Or maybe she’ll shine in stories elsewhere—comics, books, cartoons, video games, etc.—just like Boba Fett, Darth Maul, and others.

Speaking of underused antagonists . . .

#5. Knights of Ren

Who the heck are these people? The Force Awakens alludes to the Knights as Kylo Ren’s cronies when he rebelled against Luke Skywalker. Did they all die in the process? Are any still around? I’d like better answers than more fan theories.

Can we meet these Knights (or a replacement crew) in the next film?  It would make perfect sense to see Kylo Ren creating his own force-sensitive disciples and assassins.  The Last Jedi has nicely set up the next generation of heroes and villains to continue the story.  If done right, the results will be epic.

To reiterate, The Last Jedi is a good film.

It is visually gorgeous (especially the last third), funny, and refuses to play it safe.

Most importantly, The Last Jedi elevates new characters while honoring the previous era’s iconic cast (Ackbar notwithstanding).  Mark Hammill gives an award-deserving performance as Luke Skywalker, and here’s hoping he can return as a “force ghost” in the future. 

At the same time, Star Wars is more than the Skywalkers’ family story, an idea The Last Jedi presents and promises for subsequent films.

“See you around, kid.”

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Top 5 Oscar Best Pictures

Here's how we watch the Academy Awards at my house--we cheer whenever a film wins that we've actually seen. (Yay, Inception and Toy Story 3!)

In honor of the 83rd annual Oscars, here's MY list of

Top 5 Oscar Best Pictures

(These aren't my Top 5 Movies, per se, but just my Top 5 Favorites that won Best Picture. Sorry, Goonies. The Academy shut you out.)

#5 - My Fair Lady (1964)

Sure, they dubbed over Audrey Hepburn's singing voice with someone else, but you can't mask her terrific transformation from Cockney street flower seller to refined Englishwoman. And Rex Harrison is terrific as the pompous Professor Higgins. (Doesn't hurt that our high school did this musical when I was a sophomore. I can still sing "On the Street Where You Live" to this day.)

#4 - A Beautiful Mind (2001)

What starts out looking like a conspiracy theory story soon becomes a creepy true-life drama. Russell Crowe is more famous for his lead in Gladiator, but he's better here portraying real-life Nobel-prize winner John Forbes Nash, Jr.

#3 - Dances with Wolves (1990)

At first, I didn't like this movie because of its depressing resolution. But then I grew up and realized not all westerns need a happy ending. Kevin Costner's film makes me yearn for a Midwest view absent of highways and cell towers.

#2 - The Sound of Music (1965)

Another musical here, one that I've seen the most times out of all of these, thanks to growing up with only network TV. I have to admit, I still get nervous watching family von Trapp hide in the cemetery from the Nazis. Maybe this is the time they get caught!

(Bonus trivia: I acted in the stage version of this musical, too, as Fritz--the singing son that does NOT dance with Maria but does belt out a high G in "So Long, Farewell.")

#1 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003)

Okay, I'm a geek. Gotta be true to self.

Return of the King received eleven Academy nominations and it won every one, including Best Picture. The recognition was well deserved, three years in the making for the complete trilogy of films.

And that's why it's on my list, too. Peter Jackson's masterpiece rivals only the original Star Wars trio for best movie epic ever. (I told you I'm a geek.)

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

My next MUST-see movie

Here it is . . . just a glimpse . . .

Probably not in the U.S. for another couple of years :(

So until then check out one of director Makoto Shinkai's other great tearjerkers . . . like his first gem--created all with a Mac computer!

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Christmas Letter 2010

In lieu of an actual letter to go with our Christmas cards, this year we're going GREEN.

That's right, below is a brand spankin' new digital format. Think of it as Christmas Letter 2.0.

Actually, think of it as 2010--The Year in Pictures . . .

Laura and Danny with our neighbor Makayla at Pizza Hut to celebrate Makayla's baptism! (Danny did the dunking, God did the saving.)

Makayla with Laura and Laura's friend Roxanne on a visit to Florida. Danny presented at a conference in Orlando, part of his teacher education work at Wichita State University. Laura and Makayla came along to visit Laura's friends and Mickey Mouse.

*Makayla's flower headgear were handcrafted creations by Laura. (Danny's creative work can be found HERE and HERE.)

Danny's parents on the "front steps" of their house outside O'Neill, NE. The family home for 35+ years burned down after a water heater malfunction. Thankfully, everyone is safe and most of the photo albums were rescued, as well as the tulips.

"Babysitting" nephews Josh and Nic with the help of Nintendo.

Laura and the newest addition to our home--puppy Harper! She joined Scout and Boo and enjoyed (?) her first bath in the kitchen sink on her arrival from the Humane Society. (She's taller and louder now--Harper, not Laura.)

Danny and Josh with an Imperial Scout Trooper before the Star Wars In Concert show. (Who said Rebel scum can't be classy?)

May (busy month)
Laura and niece Kylie catching up during a visit to Laura's parents in Missouri.

Laura and niece Addy on another visit to Missouri, this time for July 4th and a concert with fireworks.

With Laura's family before the show. (We're the ones wearing red, white, and blue.)

Laura posing with her "wheels" after her third surgery resulting from last summer's car accident. (The scooter was much better than crutches or a wheel chair, and she even let Danny take it for a joyride from time to time.)

Danny resting with his parents after helping them move into their NEW house in Newton. (Furniture is sparse but still growing!)

Danny and his Little Brother Jacob doing a science demonstration for the BBBS Halloween Party. (Jacob's next lesson is the mad scientist "bwah-ha-ha" laugh.)

October (another busy month)
With Danny's family in Nebraska to celebrate his Grandma Frida's 90th birthday! (Where's Waldo?)

Laura with niece Addy and the quilt Laura made to celebrate Addy's adoption.

At home during the holidays--Merry Christmas! (And a Happy Antique Sepia.)

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Self-Photography Work #11a-e

Here's a special five-parter in my Self-Photography collection . . .

Self-Photograph #11a-e: "Grading Astronomy Homework"

- Spring, 1999

A Saturday tradition of mine this semester was checking Astronomy 101 homework papers. I was an undergraduate teaching aid for a couple of the professors. One of the professors actually assigned weekly homework to his students and needed someone to check it, since the class didn’t have a recitation hour.

Well, this particular Saturday I felt like I was going insane. The homework was a two paper assignment. Plus there were 200+ (!!!) students in this class. When I finished checking, I also had to alphabetize the papers. So as I checked them, I’d throw the papers in the general area for the students’ last names. This weekend, my checking took 8 hours!!! Around three-fourths the way through, it got to me.

11a & b: Here I am, thoughtfully correcting papers.

11c: Uh-oh. Homeworks are starting to get restless . . .

11d: Yikes! Looks like they're getting the upper hand!

11e: Da-Dum! But Danny is triumphant!

I think some students were surprised to get their homework back with footprints on it.

If you hadn’t noticed, I cheated on this self-photography sequence. I used the auto-timer on my camera. Hey! I created this art form. Besides, like all true artists, once you establish the rules, you break them!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Joke of the Week (year?)

Here's a good one I got from my 7-year-old nephew:

What do you call a platypus at the North Pole?