Movie Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Rise of Skywalker, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after two years, the story finally comes to an end.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Actually, I’m not going to rehash the first six episodes plus the two continuations from four years ago and two years ago.  If you want the refresher, click here to read it from my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I did four years ago.

 

And after two years, the story ends.  Palpatine has spoken and has threatened revenge on the galaxy from a mysterious broadcast that he sent to it.  Kylo Ren is determined to find Palpatine’s whereabouts kill the one threat that stands in his way.  Rey is continuing her Jedi training while Poe is escaping danger on the Millennium Falcon with Finn, trying to deliver the shocking message of Palpatine’s return.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the next sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $60 billion,  with $7.72 billion coming from the eight main films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  J.J. Abrams returns as the director of the final Star Wars installment for the Skywalker Saga.  With the way that he handled The Force Awakens with the “mystery box” concept, I felt more reassured about his treatment of this movie.  But how does Abrams handle Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker?  The very last movie in the Skywalker Saga that George Lucas put together 42 years ago?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has this third and final movie in the new trilogy turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) fighting Alazmec Colonists on Mustafar.  He was after a relic called the wayfinder.  This belonged to the long-deceased Darth Vader, and he was going to get this relic at all costs.

Once he had the wayfinder, it led him to the Exegol System.  He enters a giant cube and takes the elevator down to the bottom.  As he precedes downward, he hears Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) speaking to him.

When Kylo Ren meets Palpatine, he is determined to kill him, as he did with Snoke.  But Palapatine revealed that he created Snoke and that every voice in his head came from him.  He then promises to offer Kylo Ren with everything.  A new empire and a new fleet.  The First Order was only the beginning.  The new Final Order fleet would help Ren in his new campaign to rule the galaxy.  The only thing that Palatine needed to be annihilated was Rey, the very last Jedi in the galaxy.  With that order, he promised Ren that he would rule the galaxy.

Meanwhile, on the Millennium Falcon, ex-stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance fighterpilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) engage the Wookiee Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) in a rousing game of dejarik (a holo-chess game played on a round board).  The team gets a message from a Resistance informant with orders to deliver to Leia (Carrie Fisher).  They insert the message into R2-D2 (Hassan Taj and Lee Towersey) just in the nick of time before they were assaulted by TIE fighters.  Finn destroys most of the fighters and Poe lightspace skipped to escape the squadron.

On the jungle moon of Ajan Kloss,  Rey (Daisy Ridley) meditates, floating in the air with many rocks.  Unable to maintain her composure and balance, she falls to the ground.  Leia then tells her not to give up and that nothing is impossible.  She hands her the Skywalker lightsaber, which she grabs before she takes off running.  She continues her training, knocking away every bolt from her training droid.  A vision begins that was induced by Ren via Vader’s helmet.  This upsets Rey, which causes her to hit BB-8 (Dave Chapman and Brian Herring) by mistake.

Later on, Rey studies holocrons and wayfinders in one of the ancient Jedi books she found at the First Jedi Temple.  The Millennium Falcon returns on fire, due to Poe’s lightspeed skipping.  This angers Rey, since she knows that the Falcon cannot support that.  At a Resistance briefing, Poe delivers the shocking news.  Palpatina has returned, and in 16 hours, attacks on all free worlds would begin.  Palpatine was hiding on Exegol, which C-3PO (Anthony Daniels)  explains that it can’t found on star charts and is known as the Hidden Land of the Sith.  Rey, deep in thought, shows Leia from the Jedi book that she can get to Exegol.  From what she found from Luke, he had searched for and nearly found the mysterious planet.  From what Rey found, she considered a Sith wayfinder to be necessary to find Exegol.  Leia refuses, but Rey insists, arguing that Leia would do the same thing if she was in her place.  With that, the team is sent to the desert of Pasaana, to find her contact that would give her the wayfinder.

And so the mission begins.  Will Rey find the wayfinder?  And what about Kylo Ren, who is seeking Rey’s life?

And what about Palpatine and the Final Order that he has given to Kylo Ren to use at his disposal?  Are all the free planets doomed?  And what was so upsetting about Rey’s vision?  Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced and well-paced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that another story is going to continue beyond the Skywalker Saga.  Star Wars is going to take a hiatus for a few years while they figure out the direction for the new story.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety. A number of new characters made a return.  I loved seeing Rey and Chewy from the last movie.  Seeing Leia was again amazing, and RIP Carrie Fisher.  This movie was a tribute to you and you will be missed!  I loved Luke’s role and it was fun seeing more of him.  There was also Finn, Poe, and Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) from the last movie as well.  Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) also made a cameo appearance.  And let’s not forget the phantom emperor Palpatine, the villain beyond every Star Wars movie in the Skywalker Saga. And how can we forget Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams)?  He was a wonderful surprise and I’m glad that they put him in the movie.

There were also a couple of new characters that were portrayed quite well.  We have Zorii Bliss (Keri Russell), which was a wonderful addition to fill in Poe’s story on Kijimi.  There is also TZ-1719, or Jannah (Naomi Ackie), which was the perfect companion for Finn.  There is also the new droid named D-O (J.J. Abrams).  With the new characters, they’re a wonderful addition to this sequel and I liked the place that each one had in telling this wonderful story.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  The one thing that I wished was that we had a little more closure.  I felt like they crammed in everything pretty quickly and if they had any cut content, they should’ve kept it in as it would’ve done a better job at closing up the 42-year saga.  And while we’re closing up things, I would like to revise my criticism on The Last Jedi.  I felt that Johnson hurt the movie in the direction that he took it.  With today’s ratings, I would give it a 3 out of 5.  For this current installment, Abrams did a good job at patching things up but having two ruined films in a row should be a wake-up call for Disney.  If you’re going to make a Star Wars movie, take your time and don’t rush production.  Lucas never did and that’s why his films were a phenomenal success.  With those nitpicks aside, I thought that Episode IX was pretty solid overall.

How did Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s performing below the standards that I expect it to.  To put things into perspective, it’s performing worse than The Last Jedi! Two years ago, that movie grossed $104,684,491 on opening day.  The Rise of Skywalker, however, is falling short at $89,615,288.  The sixth highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $40 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the eleventh highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that it will get up there.  Maybe at least secure the number three spot behind The Last Jedi.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Last Jedi, the weekend domestic gross is a disappointing $177.3 million, behind The Last Jedi‘s $220 million and The Force Awakens $248 million from four years ago.  The current domestic gross is $177.3 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $198.7 million, the worldwide gross stands at $376 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s not even domestically.  It would need another $23 million to make back it’s budget domestically.  This movie has a long ways to go to even reach the top ten.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the way that it ended.  I only wish that they spend more time on making closure to such a wonderful story that George Lucas began 42 years ago.  The force with this movie is lukewarm, in very much the same way that it was with Rey during the new trilogy.  Her fear kept her moving between Jedi and Sith, and I feel that the performance of this movie at the box office is doing the same.  I still encourage many other others to see this movie, as we all need to see how this story ends.  I can say that there is a big shocking surprise in the movie, and that is enough to make this movie worth seeing.  I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to its total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. They just need to give it the respect that it deserves for a good ending.  And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started, with all the sagas continuing after the Skywalker Saga.  I graciously applaud the finale to the 42-year long saga of Star Wars and I give Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker a 4 out of 5.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Last Jedi, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after two years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Actually, I’m not going to rehash the first six episodes plus the continuation from two years ago.  If you want the refresher, click here to read it from my review of Star Wars: The Force Awakens that I did two years ago.

 

And after two years, the story continues.  Rey has found the whereabouts of Luke Skywalker and is looking for answers.  Hopefully Luke can provide her with them by training her to become a Jedi.  Maybe then the Jedi line would continue and would spell new hope for the galaxy.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Last Jedi, the next sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $6.44 billion coming from the seven films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  Rian Johnson is the director of this next Star Wars installment.  How does Johnson handle Star Wars: The Last Jedi?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has this second movie in the new trilogy turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with the Resistance fighters evacuating their base.  This charge was led by General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher).  Just after that, a First Order fleet arrives.  After a counterattack led by Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), the vessels from the Resistance go into hyperspace to escape.  But their escape was cut short when the First Order pursues their whereabouts with a tracking device.

Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) destroys the support fighters from the Resistance, but stays his hand when he spotted the lead Resistance ship.  He hesitates to fire after sensing his mother’s presence.  TIE fighters destroy the bridge of the ship, killing several Resistance leaders and placing General Leia in critical condition.  Following this unfortunate event, Vice Admiral Holdo (Laura Dern) was placed in command to lead in place of Leia.

Poe, Finn (John Boyega), BB-8, and mechanic Rose Tico (Kelly Marie Tran) expressed disapproval of Holdo’s passive strategy, and all began on a secret mission to disable the tracking device.

Meanwhile, Rey (Daisy Ridley) arrives on the remote planet Ahch-To with Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) and R2-D2 aboard the Millennium Falcon to recruit Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to the Resistance.  But Luke refused, having experienced the failures of the Jedi.  Rey finally convinces Luke to train her.  He told her that it would only be three lessons.  While Rey is learning from Luke, she begins to hear Kylo Ren and they begin to have conversations with each other.

Will Rey listen to Kylo Ren or will she listen to Luke?  Having seen a similar incident with Anakin Skywalker, Rey is very vulnerable.

And what about Finn and Rose’s secret plan?  Will they succeed in carrying it out?  What will the Resistance do with no new place to hide? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that there’s going to be another Star Wars movie.  Episode IX is slated for release in 2019.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety. A number of new characters made a return.  I loved seeing Rey and Chewy from the last movie.  Seeing Leia was again amazing, and RIP Carrie Fisher.  This movie was a tribute to you and you will be missed!  I loved Luke’s role and it was fun seeing more of him.  There was also Finn and Poe from the last movie as well.  Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) also made a cameo appearance.  And the female stormtrooper Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christe) also made a return.  And let’s not forget Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis), the leader of the First Order.

There were also a couple of new characters that were portrayed quite well.  We have Rose Tico, which complemented Finn quite nice as her companion.  There is also DJ (Benicio del Toro) which had a very interesting role.  Is he friend or foe?  Or is he both?  Who knows?  The two words that come to mind is “Don’t Join”.  I’ll let you figure out what that means when you see the movie. With the new characters, they’re a wonderful addition to this sequel and I liked the place that each one had in telling this wonderful story.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  Perhaps the only thing that I would’ve wanted to see was a little more closure with Luke Skywalker.  We get a brief scene at the end.  But maybe make it a little bit longer.  Besides these nitpicks, this movie was brilliant.  The next amazing new chapter in the Star Wars saga.

How did Star Wars: The Last Jedi do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  While it’s not performing as high as The Force Awakens, it’s still doing pretty well.  This movie grossed $104,684,491 on opening day.  The second highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $45 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the seventh highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that it will get up there.  Maybe at least secure the number two spot behind The Force Awakens.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Last Jedi, the weekend domestic gross is a staggering $220 million, just behind of The Force Awakens $248 million from two years ago.  The current domestic gross is $278.7 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $295 million, the worldwide gross stands at $573.7 million.  That pales in comparison to the $172.8 million that Revenge of the Sith made six days into its release.  That’s over a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals. With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie is well on it’s way to cracking the top ten, and could reach near the $1 billion mark by this weekend.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the continuation of the story and how it defied my expectations.  Johnson did pretty good with this movie.  He nailed it.  The force is strong with this movie, and it’s about to get stronger as many other others continue to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to its total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  I eagerly await the wonderful finale with Episode IX and I give Star Wars: The Last Jedi a 5 out of 5.

Me & My Muse – Day 1292: President Donald Trump

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Whether you voted for him or not, it is official.  As of noon today, President-elect Donald J. Trump will be our 45th president of the United States.

And with this still being a free country, I’m entitled to my own opinion.  While the protests are going on in the background, I will be celebrating this historical event in our nation’s history.

For eight long horrible years, Obama has been in power. Before he took office, the nation was $9 trillion in debt.  To date, that figure is more than $20 trillion. Furthermore, we have the following figures:

  • The lowest labor participation since the 1970’s (95 million Americans out of the labor force)
  • Lowest home ownership rate in 51 years
  • The weakest recovery since the 1940’s
  • 11 million more Americans on food stamps
  • 43 million Americans living in poverty

It’s time to make American great again.  It’s high time to get our jobs back and drain that wretched swamp in Washington DC.  Trump has 100% of my support and am ready to see positive change in this country.

 

Muse:  Go Trump!  USA! USA! USA!

Aren’t you excited?

Muse: Definitely!  This country is a wreck, and it’s good to have a leader that is very passionate about restoring it.

I am looking forward to seeing how this will turn out.  The one problem that we have to get past is the Democrats.  If they’re not going to stand with us, they need to.  After all, Clinton told her voters to do this.

Muse:  Did they even hear her concession speech?  This country needs to unite.  Being divided like this isn’t going to solve any problems.  It’s only going to create more of them.

And if those protesters are so angry, maybe Trump can give them real jobs.  Jobs that pay more than what Soros is giving them.  And with less taxes too!

Muse:  I agree.  How would they behave if they were given a job?  Holding a picket sign and screaming in the streets hardly qualifies as one.

They could get jobs in social media and marketing.  Or anything else.  If they have a dream, they can pursue it.  The sky is the limit.

Muse:  Time to watch more coverage!  I’ll talk to you later!

 

I’m with you.  I have to see Obama leaving the White House and Trump getting sworn in at noon.

I will bring this to an end, since I would like to watch more of Trump’s Inauguration.

Today’s high is going to be 37 degrees and the silver lining is Donald Trump getting sworn in as president.

To those of you are witnessing this historic event, I hope that you all have a fantastic day.

 

Muse:  Obama just left the White House!  It’s about time!  Good riddance!

 

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

 

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen Rogue One, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after 30 years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Okay.  It’s really not that brief.  For the actual review, skip down past the recap.

On the desert planet of Tatooine, a pregnant Shmi Skywalker gives birth to a boy named Anakin.  Having no father, Anakin was believed to be conceived by the will of the Force.  Years later, excessive taxation for the trade routes around the outlying star systems has the Galactic Republic in an uproar.  With this in mind, two Jedi knights were dispatched to settle the conflict. Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Darth Sidious, the Sith lord wanted them killed when they reached Naboo, but they escaped from his clutches.

After taking off, their attackers pursued them, and damaged their ship’s hyperdrive.  They landed on Tatooine, needing a replacement part before they could leave.  And…let’s cut to the chase.  They meet Anakin, they enter a pod race, Anakin wins and they get the money for their ship part and to buy Anakin’s freedom from being a Toydarian junkyard slave.  Anakin wants to go with the two Jedi knights and the Queen of Naboo’s assistant.  Later, we find that the assistant was the queen in hiding.  With Darth Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul tasked to capture the queen and kill the Jedi, he was hot on their tail.  They escape with the queen.

In the end, Anakin destroys the droid control ship and Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul.  Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi.

Episode II has more of this, with it mainly being a love story between Anakin and Padme Amidala.  Shmi is killed and it makes Anakin angry, slaughtering a whole Tusken community.  Men, women and children.  Anakin and Padme rescue their friends on Geonosis.  The droid army fights the Jedis, and the clone army cleans out the droids.  Count Dooku fights Yoda, but was unsuccessful in besting him. The Jedis hear the shocking news about Darth Sidious controlling the Senate.  Anakin and Padme have a secret wedding on Naboo, with C-3PO and R2-D2 as the only ones present.

Episode III takes a turn for the worse.  The Galactic Republic becomes the Galactic Empire.  With Anakin being enticed by Senator Palpatine, he begins the gradual turning away from his Jedi ways to the dark side, and becoming a Sith.  He kills all the Padawan learners in the Jedi temple and is given the title “Darth Vader”.  On Mustafar, Obi-Wan does battle with Darth Vader, his very pupil twisted by the dark side.  Vader is badly injured by the fire, burning up along the shore.  Padme dies in childbirth, giving birth to twins.  She names them both before she dies.  Luke was the first one and Leia was the second one.  Both of the children were separated.  Leia was taken to Alderaan and Luke was taken to Tatooine. Darth Vader was rescued by Darth Sidious and was placed in black armor, with a face mask and helmet to match.  The saga begins.

IV, V and VI are straightforward.  In IV, The rebel alliance find hope through Obi-Wan Kenobi, who trains Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi.  After fighting Darth Vader, Obi-Wan dies.  Luke uses a rebel X-Wing fighter to blast a proton torpedo into a small exhaust port leading to the Death Star’s reactor. In V, Luke trains under Master Yoda in the Dagobah system to become a Jedi.  He leaves without finishing his training, since he sensed that his friends were in danger.  Luke flies to Cloud City and Han Solo gets frozen in Carbonite.  Luke does battle with Darth Vader and discovers a chilling secret: Vader is his father.  Luke loses a hand and manages to escape, and is rescued by his friends on the Millennium Falcon, thanks to Leia being able to sense Luke being in danger.  In VI, Luke leads a rescue effort on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.  Han is unfrozen and they escape. Leia is also rescued in the process.  Luke returns to Dagobah with a dying Yoda telling him that no further training is needed and that “there is another Skywalker”.  With another Death Star under construction, they travel to the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor to deactivate it.  The rebel group is captured by Ewoks and C-3PO shows off his divine powers, thanks to Luke’s use of the Force.  With C-3PO sharing the story, they agree to fight the empire.  Luke is apprehended by the Empire and enticed by Darth Sidious to join the dark side.  The rebels begin their fight against the stormtroopers and disabling the shield generator.  Luke resists the Emperor and Vader saves his son.  Just before the finishing bolts are delivered, Vader lifts up the Emperor and throws him into the Death Star’s power core/reactor shaft.  Luke has a nice father-son chat with Anakin before he dies. The Millennium Falcon destroys the Death Star’s main reactor and Luke escapes.  The Empire has fallen.  The entire Galaxy celebrates the victory.

So there’s the refresher.  And after 30 years, the story continues…or does it?  This is already been visited with The Force Awakens.  This time, we’re taking a trip back in time.  After the events of Revenge of the Sith but before A New Hope.  Why are we traveling back in time?  An important plot element has to be explained.  The Rebels had access to the plans of the Death Star.  But where did they get those plans?  How did they acquire them?  This is the premise of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, another prequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $4.38 billion coming from the six films alone.  And an additional $2.07 billion made from The Force Awakens just a year ago.  With a combined film gross of nearly $6.5 billion, It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

With J.J Abrams treatment of The Force Awakens, we know that he was spot on in nailing all the key elements that everyone really loves about the Star Wars franchise.  Disney can make a Star Wars movie, and they more than proved it last year.  With Rogue One, however, we’re going in a totally different direction.  We have Gareth Edwards who is directing this project.  Known for directing the 2014 reboot of Godzilla, he has one good movie under his belt.  But for Star Wars, you want to be very careful.  With a rookie like him, how does Edwards manage with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story?  Do we see a wonderful addition to the plot of the movie, or is this side story just a big waste of time and investment for Disney? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with imperial ships touching down on the planet of Lah’mu.  The ships are there to apprehend Galen Erso (Mad Mikkelsen), a research scientist.  He has stopped working on the unfinished Death Star project and imperial weapons developer Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) wants him to continue on it.

Galen refuses and is captured by Krennic and the imperials.  Galen’s wife Lyra Erso (Valene Kane) is killed and their daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) escapes.

Moments later, she is taken to safety by rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker).

Fifteen years later, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) defects from the Empire.  During this time, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is freed from Imperial captivity by the Rebels, who planned to use her to track down Galen Erso, her father. In spite of this, General Draven (Alitair Petrie) wants Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) to kill Galen instead of capturing him.

Jyn, Andor, and his droid K-2SO travel to Jedha, where the Empire is mining Kyber crystals to power the Death Star.  While they’re doing this, Gerrera and his team are engaged in combat against them.  With the help of blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen), Jyn contacts Gerrera, who is holding Rook captive.  Gerrera shows Jyn the hologram, in which Galen explains that he covertly compromised the Death Star’s reactor design, directing them to find the plans at an Imperial high-security data bank on the planet Scarif.

With this knowledge, the Death Star plans are ripe for the taking.  Will Jyn be able to reach Scarif and recover the plans?  Or will the Empire shut down their plan before it even happens?  And what is Rogue One and how is this team formed?  Will there be a “New Hope” for the galaxy? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know how well it connects to Episode IV: A New Hope.  Episode VIII is slated for release in 2017.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the new characters and the old cameos.  The old characters were just cameos and we got enough screen time to get to know the new characters.  I loved the cameos for C-3PO and Princess Leia.  Darth Vader’s performance was killer and his cameo was executed well.

The new characters were portrayed quite well.  We have Jyn, which I really loved.  With her strong-willed attitude and personality, I liked her portrayal and where she fit in the Rogue One mission.  We also have Chirrut Imwe, Bodhi Rook, Baze Malbus, Cassian Andor, and K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), to name a few.  With the new characters, I feel like they all fulfilled their part of the Rogue One story well..

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  For one thing, I have a problem with the title.  For any Star Wars movie, you should have Star Wars in the main title.  To call it Rogue One: A Star Wars Story kind of makes Star Wars secondary.  Calling it Star Wars: Rogue One would’ve been a little better.  But with it being a side story, I would imagine that they didn’t want to confuse too many fans in thinking that this is the next chapter in the Star Wars saga.  Besides that, I can’t really find anything else that I can nitpick about the film.  The film was great and a great way to include some side story between Episode III and Episode IV.

How did Rogue One: A Star Wars Story do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  While it didn’t do as well as The Force Awakens’ opening day gross of $119,119,282, it managed to still gross around $71,094,394. With it currently being the eigth highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that this will at least reach three or four very soon.  At the very highest, it will probably rank behind The Force Awakens. In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy, Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Force Awakens, it grossed $248 million.  And what’s the opening weekend gross for Rogue One? Just $150.1 million.  Almost $100 million behind Episode VII a year ago.  The current domestic gross is $190.3 million. It’s not going to catch The Force Awakens, which made $288.1 million only six days into its release.  That’s almost a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals.  In adding the foreign gross of $166.8 million, the worldwide gross stands at $357.1 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has secured most of that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie might crack the top ten, but it will have to work to get there.  It will certainly reach $1 billion eventually.  Casting my nitpick aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the story behind the mission and how it was portrayed.  Yes, it was filler for Episode VIII, but I would rather them not rush the next movie if they are to get it right.  And the filler was quite satisfying.  Edwards was careful to not take the easy path with soundstages and actually film a lot of the movie on location, and using movable models for the ships, like they did in all the other ones.  Edwards has nailed it.  The story was a great edition,, and I encourage many others to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to it’s total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with two good Star Wars movies in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  The opening crawl and the breathtaking visuals create a truly unique Star Wars experience.  And with the new characters and a solid plot, I am certain that this will become a new favorite that will be admired by generations to come. I eagerly await Episode VIII and I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story a 4.5 out of 5.

Movie Review: Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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(SPOILER WARNING:  For those who have not seen The Force Awakens, I strongly advise that you stop reading this review.  This review will contain numerous spoilers from the movie.  The rating will be spoiler-free, so skip to the end if you want no spoilers.  You have been warned.)

 

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away….

Have you ever been told a really good story?  And then, in the middle of the story, the one telling you it suddenly stops.  It may have been a bedtime story from when you were little, or one that a really good friend has told you.  They start telling you the story, and then stop.

After that, for what seems like ages, they finally continue with their story.  As a kid, waiting a whole day to hear the next part may seem like ages.  Or your friend may have been out of town for a while.  When they finally get back, they continue with the story.

You get the point.  This story I’m referring to is a story of good versus evil.  The light side versus the dark side of the Force.  Jedi masters versus Sith lords.  It started in the middle.  It continued with the beginning.  And now, after 30 years, the story finally continues.  This is the wonderful and amazing story of Star Wars.

And if it’s been a while since you have seen a Star Wars movie, here’s a brief refresher.  Okay.  It’s really not that brief.  For the actual review, skip down past the recap.

On the desert planet of Tatooine, a pregnant Shmi Skywalker gives birth to a boy named Anakin.  Having no father, Anakin was believed to be conceived by the will of the Force.  Years later, excessive taxation for the trade routes around the outlying star systems has the Galactic Republic in an uproar.  With this in mind, two Jedi knights were dispatched to settle the conflict. Master Qui-Gon Jinn and his Padawan, Obi-Wan Kenobi.  Darth Sidious, the Sith lord wanted them killed when they reached Naboo, but they escaped from his clutches.

After taking off, their attackers pursued them, and damaged their ship’s hyperdrive.  They landed on Tatooine, needing a replacement part before they could leave.  And…let’s cut to the chase.  They meet Anakin, they enter a pod race, Anakin wins and they get the money for their ship part and to buy Anakin’s freedom from being a Toydarian junkyard slave.  Anakin wants to go with the two Jedi knights and the Queen of Naboo’s assistant.  Later, we find that the assistant was the queen in hiding.  With Darth Sidious’s apprentice, Darth Maul tasked to capture the queen and kill the Jedi, he was hot on their tail.  They escape with the queen.

In the end, Anakin destroys the droid control ship and Obi-Wan defeats Darth Maul.  Qui-Gon Jinn tells Obi-Wan to train Anakin to become a Jedi.

Episode II has more of this, with it mainly being a love story between Anakin and Padme Amidala.  Shmi is killed and it makes Anakin angry, slaughtering a whole Tusken community.  Men, women and children.  Anakin and Padme rescue their friends on Geonosis.  The droid army fights the Jedis, and the clone army cleans out the droids.  Count Dooku fights Yoda, but was unsuccessful in besting him. The Jedis hear the shocking news about Darth Sidious controlling the Senate.  Anakin and Padme have a secret wedding on Naboo, with C-3PO and R2-D2 as the only ones present.

Episode III takes a turn for the worse.  The Galactic Republic becomes the Galactic Empire.  With Anakin being enticed by Senator Palpatine, he begins the gradual turning away from his Jedi ways to the dark side, and becoming a Sith.  He kills all the Padawan learners in the Jedi temple and is given the title “Darth Vader”.  On Mustafar, Obi-Wan does battle with Darth Vader, his very pupil twisted by the dark side.  Vader is badly injured by the fire, burning up along the shore.  Padme dies in childbirth, giving birth to twins.  She names them both before she dies.  Luke was the first one and Leia was the second one.  Both of the children were separated.  Leia was taken to Alderaan and Luke was taken to Tatooine. Darth Vader was rescued by Darth Sidious and was placed in black armor, with a face mask and helmet to match.  The saga begins.

IV, V and VI are straightforward.  In IV, The rebel alliance find hope through Obi-Wan Kenobi, who trains Luke Skywalker to become a Jedi.  After fighting Darth Vader, Obi-Wan dies.  Luke uses a rebel X-Wing fighter to blast a proton torpedo into a small exhaust port leading to the Death Star’s reactor. In V, Luke trains under Master Yoda in the Dagobah system to become a Jedi.  He leaves without finishing his training, since he sensed that his friends were in danger.  Luke flies to Cloud City and Han Solo gets frozen in Carbonite.  Luke does battle with Darth Vader and discovers a chilling secret: Vader is his father.  Luke loses a hand and manages to escape, and is rescued by his friends on the Millennium Falcon, thanks to Leia being able to sense Luke being in danger.  In VI, Luke leads a rescue effort on Tatooine to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt.  Han is unfrozen and they escape. Leia is also rescued in the process.  Luke returns to Dagobah with a dying Yoda telling him that no further training is needed and that “there is another Skywalker”.  With another Death Star under construction, they travel to the shield generator on the forest moon of Endor to deactivate it.  The rebel group is captured by Ewoks and C-3PO shows off his divine powers, thanks to Luke’s use of the Force.  With C-3PO sharing the story, they agree to fight the empire.  Luke is apprehended by the Empire and enticed by Darth Sidious to join the dark side.  The rebels begin their fight against the stormtroopers and disabling the shield generator.  Luke resists the Emperor and Vader saves his son.  Just before the finishing bolts are delivered, Vader lifts up the Emperor and throws him into the Death Star’s power core/reactor shaft.  Luke has a nice father-son chat with Anakin before he dies. The Millennium Falcon destroys the Death Star’s main reactor and Luke escapes.  The Empire has fallen.  The entire Galaxy celebrates the victory.

So there’s the refresher.  And after 30 years, the story continues.  The Galactic Empire has dissolved, with the First Order rising from the remnants of the Galactic Empire.  Their mission is eliminate Luke Skywalker and the Republic.  With Luke in exile, nobody knows where he is.  Not even the Resistance. With that being the matter, the hunt begins for the very last Jedi in the galaxy.  This is the premise of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the long awaited sequel released by Lucasfilm Ltd. and Walt Disney Studios.

To start things off, Star Wars is an epic space opera centered around a film series created by George Lucas.  From its humble beginnings and phenomenal success, it has become an iconic franchise.  In just the merchandising sector alone, the Star Wars brand is worth more than $30 billion,  with $4.38 billion coming from the six films alone.  It is a cultural phenomenon that has started with the first film and has continued to this day.

But with George Lucas selling the franchise to Disney in 2012, a wave of uncertainty has come across many of the fans.  I for one am curious as to what move Disney is going to make.  Where is Disney going to take the franchise?  J. J. Abrams is the director of the new slate of Star Wars movies.  In his attempt to retell the Star Wars we all know and love, he has deconstructed everything in the past movies, and reassembled them, using his “Mystery Box” concept to add elements of surprise to shock and amaze fans both old and new.  How does Abrams manage to do this with Star Wars: The Force Awakens?  Is the Force strong with this movie, or has Disney and Abrams turned the franchise over to the dark side? Let’s find out.

The movie begins with a transport ship carrying a fleet of stormtroopers to Jakku, a desert planet.  It is darkly lit, with a suspicious looking stormtrooper aboard.  Could he be some kind of stowaway?  On Jakku, the exchange is made.  Resistance pilot Poe Damaron (Oscar Isaac) talks with village elder Lor San Tekka to receive a map containing Luke Skywalker’s (Mark Hamill) whereabouts.  Poe obtains the data and they leave the tent.

Under the command of Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) the stormtroopers destroy the village and capture Poe.  Before Poe’s capture, he places the map data into the droid for safekeeping and tells the droid to escape far away from there.  The droid escapes and finds Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger at a junkyard settlement. Stormtrooper FN-2187 frees Poe and they escape in a stolen TIE fighter.  Poe names the stormtrooper “Finn” (John Boyega).  They crash on Jakku and Finn ends up as the only survivor.

Finn meets up with Rey and BB-8.  With the First Order tracking them, they launch an airstrike.  Rey, Finn and BB-8 escape on a stolen rundown ship, the Millennium Falcon.

After the ship breaks down, they are found by Han Solo (Harrison Ford) and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew).  Being pursued by criminal gangs, the five escape to Takodana.

Maz Kanata (Lupita Nyong’o) helps BB-8 to reach the Resistance, and provides a way there. Rey is drawn to a safe and finds a lightsaber that belonged to Luke and his father before him.  Maz gives the lightsaber to Finn for safekeeping.

With the group en route to the Resistance, troubles await them.  Will they reach the Resistance?  Or will the First Order stop them?  And what will the Resistance do to stop the First Order’s Starkiller Base?  Will Luke ever be found? Watch the movie and find out.

In looking at the length of the movie, I thought that it was pretty balanced. The typical Star Wars movie is about this length, with the pacing being just right.  The plot progresses at a smooth pace, helping us to take in all the new scenery and characters.  And with the ending of the movie, you know that there’s going to be another Star Wars movie.  Episode VIII is slated for release in 2017.  The classic Star Wars score was great to hear again.  After all, it is the same one that scored all the other Star Wars movies.

In looking at the characters, I loved the variety of old and new.  The old characters were incorporated into the story in a way that we could become comfortable in getting to know the new characters.  It’s a delicate balance in phasing the old characters out while the new ones are brought in.  I loved seeing Han Solo and Chewy again.  Seeing Leia (Carrie Fisher) was amazing.  And yes.  Luke Skywalker is in the movie, and his appearance is epic.  I will not tell you where.  You’ll just have to find him by watching the movie…

The new characters were portrayed quite well.  We have Rey, which I really loved.  With her being strongly Force-sensitive, I feel like she will be a character that a lot of fans will love.  I liked seeing her growth throughout the movie and how she uses that growth to help her in the fight against Kylo Ren. We also have Finn, BB-8, Maz Kanata, Ben Solo (Kylo Ren) and Snoke (Andy Serkis), so name a few.  With the new characters, I feel like we will also grow to love them like we did with the Star Wars characters in the first six movies.

And what can I say about the nitpicks?  Perhaps the only thing that I would’ve wanted to see was a little more longevity with Han’s character.  In this movie, Han, after confronting his son, gets killed off.  It would’ve been nice to see a little more of Harrison Ford instead having him in just one movie.  In George Lucas’s treatment of the Episode VII screenplay, this probably would’ve played out a little different.  I also would’ve wanted something a little more familiar with the Starkiller Base.  I understand that it’s supposed to be the “Death Star” of the movie, but it would’ve been nice to make it look a little more like the Death Star.  This creation is a fusion of both Hoth and the Death Star.  Besides these nitpicks, this movie was brilliant.  An amazing new chapter in the Star Wars saga.

How did Star Wars: The Force Awakens do?  Having reviewed the recent box office results, it’s doing phenomenal.  To put things in perspective, my hope was for it to gross at least $100 million on opening day.  It actually did more than this.  This movie grossed $119,119,282 on opening day.  The highest opening day total of all time.  On top of that, it grossed $57 million for the Thursday preview. With it currently being the fifth highest grossing movie of the Star Wars series, I am confident that this will reach number one very soon.  In rounding up the numbers from the past trilogy,  Episode I grossed a $64.8 million weekend gross.  Episode II grossed $80 million and Episode III grossed $108.4 million.  For The Force Awakens, the weekend domestic gross is a staggering $248 million.  The current domestic gross is $288.1 million. That pales in comparison to the $172.8 million that Revenge of the Sith made six days into its release. That’s over a $100 million difference between the two domestic totals.  In adding the foreign gross of $322.7 million, the worldwide gross stands at $610.8 million.  With a production budget of $200 million, it has made more than that in just one weekend alone.  And that’s just domestically.  This movie is well on it’s way to cracking the top ten, and could reach $1 billion by this weekend.  Casting my few nitpicks aside, I really loved this movie.  I loved the familiar style of scenes that were portrayed in this film.  Abrams was careful to not take the easy path with soundstages and actually film a lot of the movie on location, and using movable models for the ships, like they did in all the other ones.  Abrams has nailed it.  The force is strong with this movie, and it’s about to get stronger as many other other continue to see this movie. I would see it again, thus adding $7 more dollars to it’s total gross.  Star Wars is Lucas’s baby and Disney knows this. And with the franchise in Disney’s hands, I am confident that they will successfully continue the legacy that George Lucas has started.  The opening crawl and the breathtaking visuals create a truly unique Star Wars experience.  And with the new characters and a solid plot, I am certain that this will become a new favorite that will be admired by generations to come. I eagerly await Episode VIII and I give Star Wars: The Force Awakens a 5 out of 5.

Movie Review: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies

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We are now approaching the end of the road.  And like all roads, it will either lead us to a dead end or a wonderfully vibrant end full of life.  An end that is known better to the rest of us as a “happy ending”.

With Smaug ravaging an entire town, jealously defending his mountain containing his golden treasure, Bilbo Baggins watched the desolation from atop the Lonely Mountain.  Watching Smaug burn the poor and defenseless town to a crisp.  Who among the citizens could best such a terrible beast? One brave man stepped forward while the other dwarves were being led out on boat by a she-elf.  At this point, Bilbo has gone very far in his journey.  There was no way that he could turn back, until he finished his errand.  There was a battle to fight. And after this battle, his journey would end.  Clad with his treasure and memories that would last a lifetime, he would then make his journey home.  To the end.  To his cozy Hobbit hole where this story began.

Getting back to the battle, a brave man slayed Smaug.  He is Bard, the one that brought the sly Smaug to his glorious end.  With Smaug dead, there was no one to defend the treasure back at the mountain.  At Erebor.  The ancient Dwarven Land of old.  With the news traveling fast, everyone wanted a piece of that gold.  The citizens of Laketown wanted it to rebuild their settlement.  Thorin (Richard Armitage), going back on his promise, is determined to defend the gold that is rightfully his.  The elves assemble to recover a lost relic located in the Lonely Mountain of Erebor.  The orcs hear about Smaug’s demise and like all the other parties want the gold to rebuild their kingdom.

With everyone after this gold, the armies begin to assemble, and a great battle is fought for it. This is the premise of The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, the long awaited third part in the trilogy released by Warner Bros. Pictures and MGM Studios.

As we already know, Tolkien is the master behind this masterpiece, but Peter Jackson is the director that is bringing his vision to life.   But how does he deal with The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies?  Is the movie a victorious masterpiece or a slaughtered corpse doomed to rot and decay without proper burial?  Let’s find out.

The movie begins with Laketown being under siege, with Smaug burning every building in sight. Bilbo Baggins (Martin Freeman) and the dwarves get a front row seat to seeing all this happen.  There is widespread panic, while Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly) and the other dwarves escape in a boat.

After that, Bard (Luke Evans) breaks out of his prison cell and kills Smaug with a black arrow retrieved from his son Bain (John Bell).  With that, the Laketown survivors appoint Bard as their new leader.  As Bard’s first action, he leads the people of Laketown to the ruins of Dale for refuge.

After this, the dwarves all reunite at the Lonely Mountain.  The ones that escaped Laketown join with the ones that were with Bilbo.  During the reunion, Tauriel decides to investigate Mount Gundabad with Legolas (Orlando Bloom).

With Smaug fallen, the Battle of the Mountain begins.  The victor gets all the gold that is in the mountain.  And with Thorin back at Erebor, he is not about to give up the gold so easily.  Inflicted by Smaug’s “dragon sickness”, Thorin goes mad and begins a mad pursuit for the Arkenstone.  Little does he know that Bilbo has it.  Will Bilbo risk his life and confess to Thorin the truth?  Will the “dragon sickness” overtake Thorin, son of Thrain?  Which army will win the mountain and the gold inside it?  Will it be the Orcs?  And what about Gandalf (Sir Ian McKellen) and Radagast (Sylvester McCoy)?  Do they ever escape Dol Goldur?  Watch the movie and find out.

The length of the movie was a little shorter than the last one, and I thought that the plot progressed pretty smoothly.  With almost two and a half hours to work with, that was plenty of time to have the Battle of the Mountain and Bilbo’s return to the Shire.  The music was pretty good, although there wasn’t really anything noteworthy like the first movie (The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey).  The ending was good, and it ties really well to The Lord of the Rings.

Getting to the characters, they were all portrayed faithfully as they were in the book.  There’s Bilbo, Gandalf and the dwarves from the last movie.  Thorin was the star of this one and is what made the movie for me.  Tauriel makes a return, which I will discuss a little bit later.  Legolas was once again oddly present.  Dain (Billy Connolly)  makes an odd new appearance in the movie. Odd inclusions aside, I thought that all the other characters were portrayed well.

The movie had a great number of nitpicks.  So many that I could write a book on them.  The first one is the one that I hated the most.  It was the inclusion of Tauriel in the movie.  Nowhere in The Hobbit OR Lord of the Rings universe is there a She-Elf named Tauriel!  Alongside Tauriel was Legolas, who had no place in the movie at all.  Furthermore, he made the plot useless.  He was not even in The Hobbit so he shouldn’t be in the movie.  To expand the plot from the last movie, Galadriel (Cate Blanchett) helps Gandalf escape and gets possessed by Sauron.  Being tempted by him, she resists and casts him away to Mordor.  This does not happen in the book at all!  Kili never confesses his love to Tauriel with a special stone because there is no Tauriel!  Azog existing is a contradiction in itself.  He was in the Battle of Azannulbizar, which was 150 years before the events of The Hobbit! He was killed by Dain in that battle.  And for some reason, they decided to include him in the movie too!  Azog is already dead so he has no place in The Hobbit at all!   Then they has the audacity to make this big final battle scene with Azog!  Thorin kills Azog but is mortally wounded.  He does die in the book but not from Azog!  I could go on and on about this, but to be honest, this is all that I can stand.  These changes were made to make the movie more appealing to casual audiences, and I thought that it was unnecessary.  Why did they have that final battle with Azog?  This was an addition that I hated the most.  Even more than Gandalf going to Dol Goldur from the last movie.  Even more than Boromir taking Frodo and Sam to Osgiliath in the Two Towers.  This subplot was totally made up and only served to fill in the two and a half hours of time that Jackson had to work with.  If any of these nitpicks were not there and the adaptation was closer to the book,  the movie would’ve been way better.

How did The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies do? Looking at the box office results,  it’s doing okay.  The expectation was for it to gross $70 million during the opening weekend and it did just that.  In one weekend, it grossed $56.2 million during its opening weekend.  Its five-day opening was $90.6 million, placing it behind The Desolation of Smaug’s $100.2 million five-day opening.  Even with a modest opening, it is still the sixth highest grossing movie of the Lord of the Rings/The Hobbit series.  Fellowship of the Ring grossed $47.2 million on its opening weekend.  The Two Towers grossed $62 million and Return of the King grossed $72.6 million.  Last year, The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug grossed $73.6 million during its opening weekend. Two years ago,  The Hobbit:  An Unexpected Journey grossed  $84.6 million during its opening weekend.  The current domestic gross of this year’s movie is $90.6 million.  In adding the foreign gross of $265 million,  the worldwide gross stands at $355.6 million.  That’s $100 million more than the $258.3 million that The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug grossed last year at this time.  With a production budget of $250 million, it easily made it back.  With all the nitpicks aside (and there were many this time), I really enjoyed the movie. I loved the visuals and I loved the battle scenes near Erebor and Bilbo’s trip home.  Jackson has done it again.  Although it is a masterpiece, he needs to stay true to the book more.  The unnecessary additions of out-of-place characters made the plot a little confusing for me.  With the differences aside,  the success continues.  The formula was implemented again.  The finale could have been better had he stayed true to the book.  As with every story that arrives at the end of the road, this story accomplished this, and has tied the story to The Lord of the Rings smoothly.  For this prologue to be better, I advise that Jackson abstains from making tweaks that are too out of place (like he did last time), as this alienates the fans of Tolkien’s masterpiece prologue.  Nobody should ruin a masterpiece.  Jackson really should’ve avoided doing this to part three of this story.  I give The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies a 4 out of 5.

Music Review: Mandatory Fun

 

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Are you all ready for “Mandatory Fun”? Even if you’re not, tough. You must have fun, and that includes reading this entire review from beginning to end. The Honorable Chairman Al Yankovic demands it, and we must all listen to him like the pathetic peons we are.

So what is Mandatory Fun? If you don’t know, where have you been? Under a rock or something? Mandatory Fun is Weird Al Yankovic’s 14th studio album, released on July 15, 2014, the same day he rose to power and took the nation by storm with his new policies on how everyone will forced to have fun, even if they don’t want to. It’s a splendid regime. A regime built on fun and accordions. Chairman Mao, eat your heart out.

Fascist jokes aside, this 14th album is quite bittersweet since this 14th album is his last album. And with it being the last album, it better be good. Does Mandatory Fun live up to its name, coercing everyone into a perpetual state of fun and happiness, or is this album nothing more than propaganda full of lackluster songs conveying fascist patriotism put out by Chairman Al himself? Let’s find out.

By looking at the cover art, the appearance is quite shocking. Mandatory Fun features Al dressed up as a communist dictator, bent on conquest, standing tall above his army. Has Al gone off his rocker? He outcommunists the communists by constructing a regime built on fun. Fun that you must have, even if you don’t want to. Are we having fun yet? You better. For all I know, he could be watching us right now. Upon seeing that cover art, it made me all the more excited to buy this album. Either that, or I was brainwashed by the magnificent Honorable Chairman Al. I believe it was the former.

Still not having fun? Let’s look at the album and see what it sounds like. The album kicks off with the rather strong track “Handy”, a parody of Iggy Azalea’s “Fancy”. This song was recorded just a month before this album released. I liked the catchy beat and lyrics in this track, and it perfectly displays Azalea’s style in a humorous portrayal of a handyman that acts like a braggart. I love this track. Having listened to it recently, it still isn’t old. And with the funny music video to match, this track wins on so many levels.

After “Handy” is “Lame Claim to Fame” a Southern Culture on the Skids style parody that lists a bunch of name-dropping with the character bragging about having marginal associations with famous people. This song was pretty good, but not as good as the first one.

“Foil” is next in line, a parody of “Royals” by Lorde. While I liked the parody a lot, it was too short, as it omits the bridge and final chorus that was in the original song. I liked the contrast between the first and second verses, but the song could’ve been complete and true to the original. The song was good, but fell short due to the short length.

“Sports Song” takes the gridiron next, which I find odd since this is nowhere near the halftime of this album’s “game”. This track spoofs college fight songs, making the association that their team is “great” while the other team “sucks”. Not being a big fan of sports, I find this song slightly better than mediocre. Despite my opinion, I can definitely see it as a popular track to play during college sporting events in the fall by Weird Al fans everywhere.

“Word Crimes” is next, clearly evidenced by the crew touting their poor grammar. This is a parody of Robin Thicke’s “Blurred Lines” . Weird Al sets the record straight, giving the blockheads a crash course in Grammar 101. This song, along with the music video will be an effective teaching tool for English teachers everywhere this fall. It was written in a rather clever manner, and it keeps me on my toes for not making any grammatical mistakes. Another win for this album. So far, so good.

“My Own Eyes” greeted me next, leaving an impression on me that I can’t change. I can’t un-hear this song with “my own ears” This song is a style parody of the Foo Fighters, which I can clearly see (or hear) since I have heard a few of their songs before. Very catchy and very humorous. Another rather good track.

After “My Own Eyes” left, the final polka medley took the stage. “Now That’s What I Call Polka!” Now that’s what I call a clever stab at EMI’s endless series of compilation albums! This polka medley featured eleven artists, including Miley Cyrus, Psy, Carly Rae Jepson and Daft Punk, to name a few. This medley was really good, with only one song that I didn’t know (but for the sake of this review, I recently listened to it).

Some other songs that were included on this album consisted of “Mission Statement” (a style parody of Crosby, Stills & Nash), “Inactive” (a parody of Imagine Dragon’s “Radioactive”) and “First World Problems” (a style parody of Pixies). I liked the ambient tones of “Mission Statement” and the hilarious arrangement of “Inactive”. “First World Problems” is a hit, even though I have never heard of Pixies.

The last two songs were “Tacky” (a parody of Pharrell Williams’ “Happy”) and “Jackson Park Express” (a style parody of Cat Stevens). “Tacky” was awesome, and was the first song that I was spoiled about. I received the album the night before the release and I had to keep all TV’s off since I intended to hear the album the night of the release. I only knew the parody’s song, but not the name of it. Upon hearing it, it was pretty clever. I love all the tacky references that Al makes in the song. Listening to it makes me glad that I’m not “tacky”.

For the “Jackson Park Express”, it was an awesome finale. “Jackson Park Express” is a nine minute bus ride full of excitement, humor, romance and delusions of grandeur. The rider on this bus fabricates hilarious scenarios with the woman that he is sitting next to, all without saying a single word to her. His esteemed feelings for her take place inside his head, resulting in him making ridiculous guesses as to the words she’s implying when she carries out mundane tasks like looking at him, reading, smiling, sighing, crinkling her nose and so on. The song is warm, funny and satisfying. I enjoyed the song and it deserves a well earned spot in Al’s Extended Play Collection. It’s right up there, joining the ranks of “Albuquerque”, “Genius in France” and “Trapped in the Drive-Thru”.

So how was Mandatory Fun? In putting honesty first, I believe that this album achieved its purpose. Whether your intentions are to have fun or not, you will have fun listening to this, like it or not. With a lot of solid hits, Weird Al Yankovic finished well with his final album. While there were a couple of weaknesses, the strengths greatly outweigh them. With more than ten hits, the songs have grown on me, with each of them unique in their own right.

Mandatory Fun was indeed fun. So much so that I want every one of you to buy his album. With it debuting at number one on the Billboard 200 chart of best-selling albums, you can’t go wrong. Just click on this link to buy it. Or, if you are impatient, get it at the store or buy it on iTunes. What are you waiting for? This is 45 minutes of explicitly unrefined fun, and you would be crazy to miss it. And while Al is done with albums, he’s not done with music. He will release singles and EP’s in the future, so we can get his music on a more immediate basis. With this in mind, we can be confident that Weird Al will continue to reign as the king…or should I say communist leader of parodies. I give Mandatory Fun a 5 out of 5.