This much-anticipated Star Wars sequel was fun, but with serious moments

Han Solo’s buddies are there to rescue him.

Solo (Harrison Ford) is encased in carbonite as a prize for the slimy, slug-like gangster Jabba the Hutt. Solo’s been indebted to the Hutt. Now Jabba has him, yet not the money he’s owed. But as payback, the person himself.

It sounds like the plot out of a pulpy Star Wars expanded universe novel, but The Empire Strikes Back which preceded Return of the Jedi gave gravitas to the scenario.

In Empire, the situation Solo found himself in was touched by danger. He was unjustly treated and betrayed. In the end, he lost. It gives his rescue mission in Return of the Jedi (1983) a sense of weight to proceedings, for a man who was put into so much difficulty, should be saved by equal measure of salvation.

One by one, Luke’s friends make their entrance into Jabba’s Palace to save Solo. It is obvious they have a plan. A hologram of Luke Skywalker is projected by the droid R2-D2 to present a message to Jabba the Hutt, but the message is rejected by Jabba and the droid employed into the service of the palace. Back-ups follow, in disguise, until it comes down to the last man, in a crucial action scene at the Tatooine dunes.

The rescue mission is punctuated by a sense of fun instead of heaviness, which is not so much a bad thing as it turns out. Jabba’s Palace is filled with sketchy, caricatured low-lives, one’s you wouldn’t care to get to know. But they are so sketchy they seem less sinister than what they probably are and more adequately fun. Fans would be buying the Palace toy and every figure that inhabits it.

The story progresses from Jabba’s Palace. Hero Luke Skywalker is seeking to convert villain Darth Vader to the good side. He’s coming to terms with losing a Jedi master and the revelation he has a sister, but all this existential angst is in the shadows of other moments. Fun moments.

Moments like the Rebel Briefing where the Rebels gather to discuss the strike on the Empire’s half-completed Death Star. You can’t take the overt statesmanship of this scene with gravitas.

The Rebel strike showcases the best action scenes and visual effects in the movie. Heaps of fun.

And moments with Ian McDiarmid as the Emperor, the Empire’s head honcho. He buoys the scenes he is in, to make those scenes come alive. The Emperor’s theatrical plays of power is a lot of good innocent fun.

Vader and Luke’s story which is supposed to resonate doesn’t nail it at times. The human moment that Vader and Luke share strains for effect, the sentiment somehow misses the mark.

But other serious moments resonate. One watches Vader and Luke duelling to the sounds of quasi-religious music on the soundtrack, heightening the theme of good versus evil.

Later, the redemptive moment echoes off profoundly.

Return of the Jedi may be more about the fun moments, but the serious moments that work count for something. And one can see how the finale all pans out and is very moved at the end of it.


Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983) **** Starring: Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, Kenny Baker, Peter Mayhew, Dave Prowse, voice of Frank Oz and James Earl Jones. Director: Richard Marquand.

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Invisible Touch (1986) by Genesis

Genesis’ 1986 pop rock album Invisible Touch is musically half an infectious album, the second half puts it out of whack, just a bit. Interesting, in-depth, not superficial lyrics about the subtleties and intricacies of love and commitment, In Too Deep standing out, and Land of Confusion challenging apathy and the status quo. But on second thoughts there is not much light in the album’s songs. It’s kept on my shelf because it connects with the human condition and the infectious songs that open the album–Invisible Touch; Tonight, Tonight, Tonight; Land of Confusion; and, In Too Deep, with Throwing It all Away the highlight towards the end of the album.

Star Wars music today–is it any good?

The soundtrack to Star Wars The Force Awakens (2015) by John Williams is a must buy for me, because it’s a Star Wars, but is it any good?

In 1977, the Star Wars theme music cemented unmistakably in pop culture. Everyone or almost everyone knows it although the others are in denial or have never seen the film.

The Star Wars main theme is not the only remarkable, memorable moment of Star Wars music.

The entire film scoring of the original Star Wars—which includes every section of music in the film—was brilliant.

To add to its unanimous two thumbs up in the popular consciousness, it was voted the American Film Institute’s top film score in 2005 and won the Oscar.

In 1980 and 1983, Star Wars continued its resonance in popular culture.

“The Imperial March”, from Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back, is resounding and powerful…utterly memorable. The Imperial March is now an iconic part of popular culture.

“The Asteroid Field” is palpitatingly good, the music accompaniment to the asteroid field scene in The Empire Strikes Back.

There were many other resonate moments. Return of the Jedi boasted “Into the Trap”, “The Emperor”, “Return of the Jedi” and “The Forest Battle”, and more.

John Williams’ musical soundtrack to 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens starts off like the old days. It’s compelling, as the Main Title and “The Attack on Jakku Village” recalls the old days of the smooth transition between opening music and what follows.

These transitions are delightful in all the original Star Wars films as the booming main title smooths subtly into the evocative tones of the first scenes.

Unfortunately, the rest of the musical soundtrack to The Force Awakens made me think about the good old days when Star Wars music was original, lively, and resonant. Or it was unshakably memorable, music you wouldn’t forget–The Force Awakens has little that compels or resonates in that vein. It seems rather lackadaisical and repetitive.

All this soundtrack does is sit in my CD rack as a necessary addition to my collection, but not a very liked one. It’s hard to recapture a little of the old magic of. Done once, but not again. Watch the film with the music instead.

Perilous undertaking to save Middle Earth

At school, we had to listen to J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings being read. I never liked the book much. It was a bit unusual and strange with its epic themes somehow devoid of reality and a cast of strange characters of elves, hobbits and conjurers. The Lord of the Rings is now a film and a blockbuster at that. This makes all the difference to someone feeling foreign to the book.

The journey through Middle Earth could have felt like tedium, arduous for viewer. Yet the first part of The Lord of the Rings trilogy The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) works and progressively ups the stakes.

The story is set in the world of Middle Earth which is undergoing a seismic upheaval as Sauron’s denizens the Ringwraiths seek a ring that in Sauron’s possession will control Middle Earth under an oppressive spiritual darkness.

A diminutive hobbit, the earnest, honourable Frodo Baggins (Elijah Wood), gets possession of the ring and on the advice of Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen), a wisely, well-beared wizard, Frodo must take the ring out of his homeland, the Shire. If he does not leave, the Ringwraiths will track Frodo down to the Shire and kill Frodo and take possession of the ring.

Frodo and fellow hobbit, the faithful, good-humoured Sam Gamgee (Sean Astin) embark on an escape, without knowing anything much of the details of their journey onward. Yet with a mental road map of where to go next and one thing in mind: don’t let Sauron get possession of the ring.

Keep away from the roads, says Gandalf. Frodo will take the country. The Ringwraiths, dark and foreboding, who succumbed to evil but were once men, are tracking Frodo down on horseback and the danger makes for action, suspense and excitement.

Writer and director Peter Jackson doesn’t make it look easy for the hobbits. Even so there are some things that require one to suspend disbelief.

The film may get one thinking about the deeper meaning.

Like when Arwen (Liv Tyler) appears “out of nowhere” to assist Frodo, I thought that’s hard to believe because Frodo should have died. But thinking about it more, Arwen helps Frodo despite the dark or sinful influences, the “poison”.

The outcomes of Gandalf’s hopeless plight on a tower in Mordor will also make you think twice, in unbelief, but also awe.

The powerful scene of Gandalf trying to escape the demonic clutches of Sauron’s right-hand man Saruman (a deeply resonant Christopher Lee) leads up to it.

The middle breaks at Rivendale for the introduction of the fellowship of the ring, where representatives of the tribes of Middle Earth meet and join Frodo on his quest to eliminate the ring.

At Rivendale, there is time to explore, in this very long movie at almost three hours, the characters. Not necessarily a bad thing in slowing down the action, as the moments with the characters are rich, but may be aloof nevertheless.

I think The Fellowship of the Ring is better when it moves along with the action and creates meaning out of those actions, out of miracles, daring escapes, and facing conflict and evil.

The Fellowship of the Ring gets better and keeps on getting better, making this a vivid, panoramic tale where it is indeed a perilous undertaking to journey Middle Earth to save it.


The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (2001) ****½ Starring: Elijah Wood, Ian McKellen, Christopher Lee, Sean Astin, Viggo Mortensen, John Rhys-Davies, Orlando Bloom, Sean Bean, Billy Boyd, Dominic Monaghan, Liv Tyler, Cate Blanchett, Ian Holm. Director: Peter Jackson. I watched this film at the 171min length (DVD Widescreen Edition) Originally 178 minutes There are also the 208min length (Special DVD Extended Edition) and the 228min length (Blu Ray Extended Edition).

The end of this episode

In the novelization of Return of the Jedi, the Empire’s end felt a little underwhelming as if it should have felt more resonate, more grave, more underlined. But the next trilogy of books, the Aftermath, carry on the Empire’s story. I suppose someone thought like I did. Something’s a little amiss in the delivery and the end of the Empire needs a better send off.

Apparently, in terms of story (rather than tone or feel) there were loose ends to the Empire’s end that needed to be done up. That wasn’t apparent in the book version of Return of the Jedi. In the book there is no moment allowing for the possibility of a sequel. There is not a moment in Return of the Jedi that sets up the Aftermath trilogy. However, we were given a sketch of what has happened following Return of the Jedi in the marketing of Aftermath and I guess fans have speculated on it for a long time before.

So I’m getting around to seriously read Aftermath soon. In the meantime, I think back to what I liked about the final chapters of Return of the Jedi. Again there is sentiment which I felt was overdone when Luke’s father is dying and he tastes Luke’s tears and is pleased by them. But what I liked is that the battle scenes at the end of Return of the Jedi is exciting and Luke and Vader’s confrontation echoes. But, as I said earlier, that in the novel of Return of the Jedi, the gravitas is missing at the end, but the Empire’s end deserved a tone of gravitas because the Empire’s end is profound. However, the tone of the Empire’s end has been left to the Aftermath trilogy.

Swells to a drama that is riveting

A Passage to India (1984) is a fine film. One becomes immersed in the grand sweep. One surrenders to it and hopes it doesn’t become spoiled by some off-putting scene that ruined the lot. The characters, their lives in the old British India, the roles the actors play, and the handsome production swells to a drama that is riveting.

Central to it is young British woman Adela (Judy Davis) who is meeting up with her fiancé in India, who is a magistrate. Along with Adela is his mother Mrs. Moore (Peggy Ashcroft). Adela is caught up in the romanticism of the country and is keen to discover more—details like this are so natural and true to life that one can immediately relate.

The Indian country is keenly observed and wanting to be discovered by Westerners. Adela and Mrs. Moore are immensely involved in the search. They are not proud that they are English and don’t look down on the locals. They don’t consider their privileged place in India because of her son being a magistrate as much to be boasted about.

The young woman is distraught, though, when she claims rape by an Indian guide, in a moment that seems uncertain and vague. The guide, Aziz (Victor Banerjee), who is a respected doctor, has the Indian people behind him who are upset by the claims.

East and West meet romantically, but also comes with a hefty dose of realism where East and West clash–the doctor is caught up in a scandal and controversy erupts, casting a blight on the British. The result of the scandal is grief and soul searching with a more abstract issue to consider, but also quite real: forgiveness.

A holiday which turned dramatic and where no one wanted it to. The larger meaning is the relationship between England and colonial India. The human meaning is underlying prejudice and fear of the unknown.

A Passage to India is based on the E.M. Forster novel of the same name, which was published in 1924 during the days of colonial England. The film is beautiful and grand, wonderfully acted, and larger than life-like characters engage vividly and vitally. It is especially recommended for thoughtful audiences and fine film aficionados.


A Passage to India (1984) ****½ Starring: Judy Davis, Victor Banerjee, Peggy Ashcroft. Director: David Lean.

Rubbing off in New York

Though it’s quite good, the problem with 13 Going on 30 (2004) is that it doesn’t quite get it right. By the end, one may be uncommitted to believing it could have happened. Movies are illusions, but making them believable is one of the tricks, leaving us with that satisfied feeling by the end. However, 13 Going on 30 is a sweet, good-natured fantasy comedy.

Shows what teens will do to be popular, but what if that wish came true? It is seen through the eyes of a 13-year-old girl in a 30-year-old body. Jenna Rink, the girl, is awkward, gawky, but innocent and sweet, she wishes to be the popular girl and she gets her wish with the help of some magical dust.

She is transformed into a thirty-year old who is cool, successful and popular. Yet her 13-year-old-self remains intact with its unworldly lack of sophistication, making her life in New York as a successful magazine editor difficult.

The beauty of her new life, is that the characteristics of her 13-year-old self are still present. Her sincerity, lack of worldliness, and spontaneity rubs off in New York, though mostly everyone else is playing by the world’s rules.

Thematically, seems to be saying that if you’re a nice girl it’s better to be yourself than selling yourself out.

Her first love Matt has moved on, but Jenna doesn’t know that. She comes knocking at his door, wanting someone in her new reality to connect with that she knows.

Mark Ruffalo as Matt works a charm. Matt’s a friendly, down-to-earth friend in her time of need, who comes on board though they haven’t been friends for years.

Jennifer Garner, as the older Jenna, extends her range convincingly from butch chick (in Alias and Daredevil) to naïve 30-something. One may even expect a Golden Globe nomination for comedy actress next year.

Support includes Andy Serkis (Gollum in The Lord of the Rings) as Jenna’s boss and Judy Greer who plays Jenna’s friend and co-worker.

The soundtrack is like a best of 80s collection and it’s a coup to have Michael Jackson’s Thriller and Pat Benatar’s Love is a Battlefield.

Though the leap from girl to woman feels at times confusing, and the premise does not fully ignite, 13 Going on 30 is still worthwhile, endearing, human, and involving.


Revised version, original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2004. 13 Going On 30 (2004) ***½ Starring: Jennifer Garner, Mark Ruffalo, Judy Greer, Kathy Baker, Phil Reeves, Andy Serkis. Director: Gary Winick. Warnings: some sexual content and brief drug references and some coarse language and one profanity.

 

A brisk read

I like film-book tie-ins and linger over them like an adoring puppy. Or in other words, they are one of my favorite type of books. So revisiting the film-book tie in  The Empire Strikes Back was easy. It’s a brisk read like the pace of the movie. It doesn’t linger long on scenes. The longest are the action sequences which are very well written, probably the best writing in the book. With the memory of the movie, it probably makes a better experience as a novel. However, some scenes which take liberty with what’s actually there in the movie are jarring and unconvincing like some moments on the planet Dagobah where Luke is in training with a Jedi master. All in all it’s a novel suitable for young adult audiences that’s entertaining and engaging, especially for Star Wars aficionados, young and old.

Keeping it tight

What I really like about The Empire Strikes Back is the tight structuring of the story. That’s what I like about it now at this moment. There are other things I like about the story, but in the present it’s the structuring. Like how the Millennium Falcon escapes danger then is thrust right back into it. The keeps the reader or viewer in case of the movie version on their toes. Don’t know if reading it is more exciting than the movie, but for me it is.

What the future could hold and what it means for humanity and artificial intelligence

All quite speculative is A.I. (2001), but artificial intelligence is coming to a world near you or your great grandchildren’s. Would it look more like Terminator or A.I.? The question it poses is what does it mean to be artificial and human in a real world?

In the future, some parents have artificially intelligent children because it’s better economics than having your own children in a world where climate change has decimated many cities of the earth. A couple who have lost their natural-born child are given David (Haley Joel Osment), an A.I. who can love. Mother wants something from David that he’s programmed to give: love. The problem is David wants to be loved unconditionally as well, but mother is put off by this unreal, artificial “life form”.

David’s human need for love is frustrated and he hopes the “Blue Fairy” (a character in the book Pinocchio) will grant him his wish of being a real boy so mother will love him unconditionally. It takes him on a journey through the new earth to find what he’s looking for, along with his robotic teddy bear and another artificial intelligence programmed to be a gigolo.

The problems with artificial intelligence are apparent in A.I. Some are made too closely to human likeness, but people can’t reciprocate the A.I.’s need for love. After all, they are still artificial and unlovable because they are robotic. Real humans may not relate to them.

As an aside: How does referring to the Creator who made us change or reinforce perceptions of humans creating other forms of life? Is artificial intelligence made in man’s image and not God’s image? Are A.I.’s valid forms of life if not made in God’s image? Can God meet their needs like God can meet a human’s need?

The movie shows that the needs of artificial intelligence can possibly be supported. So, A.I. is hopeful that their needs can be met. A satisfied artificial intelligence is like a satisfied human being. Both have needs that should be met to function in the world and the future world, together. There are other speculative elements to the future world with the emergence of alien life forms settling on earth.

A.I. is quieter and more clinical than most of Steven Spielberg’s films. The cold first half has those disturbing themes the censor’s note told you about—themes like a creepy brother, and boys being cruel to someone different. That someone different is David.

However, in the second half, it is better to go through life with someone kind by your side. The critics didn’t like how the film is split in two, between cold and warm, between cerebral and ‘fairy tale’.

However, it manages to get across well what it’s about, it is an important film about what the future could hold and what it means for humanity and artificial intelligence. it is a film of resplendent cinematography, production design, and visual effects, but also some quietly effective performances, those being Haley Joel Osment, Frances O’Connor and Jude Law, who don’t come on always strong, but are conveying vulnerability. The robotic teddy is a nice, congenial companion.


Revised version, original published at Entertainmentnutz, 2001. A.I. Artificial Intelligence (2001) **** Starring: Haley Joel Osment, Jude Law, Frances O’Connor. Directed by Steven Spielberg. Warnings: Disturbing thematic elements, violent content, and sex-related material.