Comic Review: Star Wars (Original Marvel Years), Issue #108

Published: May 29th, 2019
Written by: various
Art by: various
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Marvel Comics, 48 Pages

Review:

I picked this up on a whim. The main reason was that I used to love reading the old Marvel Star Wars comics when I was a kid, even if they were a bit weird when compared to the rest of the canon Expanded Universe stuff that would come later. And frankly, the EU is still my canon regardless of what Disney says. But the old school pre-Dark Horse era of the comics were a very mixed and strange bag.

This comic really is no different, as far as being strange… as well as being a bit hokey and wonky.

It’s the 108th issue, as the original run ended at 107. But despite its efforts, it doesn’t quite feel the same. It’s kind of like when a modern filmmaker makes a slasher film that is an homage to the ’80s but no matter how hard they try, they just can’t get the tone or the vibe right.

At its best, this is an amusing homage but that’s all it is.

Not to say that this wasn’t a somewhat decent read for its 48 pages, all of which were put together by multiple creative teams. But this could have been a hell of a lot cooler if it didn’t read like a half assed anthology thrown together for a quick buck by artists and writers that had to find time to squeeze in their contributions between deadlines on their regular comic projects.

In the end, I just wish that Star Wars comics were in more capable hands than what Marvel is able to provide. To them, Star Wars seems like a guaranteed success that doesn’t require much effort on their part.

Rating: 5.5/10
Pairs well with: the old school, original Marvel run on Star Wars, which this is a continuation of.

Film Review: Body Heat (1981)

Release Date: August 28th, 1981
Directed by: Lawrence Kasdan
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan
Music by: John Barry
Cast: William Hurt, Kathleen Turner, Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, J. A. Preston, Mickey Rourke, Kim Zimmer, Jane Hallaren, Lanna Saunders

The Ladd Company, Warner Bros., 113 Minutes

Review:

“I’m really disappointed in you, Racine. I’ve been living vicariously off of you for years. You shut up on me now, all I have is my wife.” – Peter

Lawrence Kasdan is probably most known for being one of the writers that worked alongside George Lucas on the original Star Wars trilogy, as well as Raiders of the Lost Ark. But here, he not only writes but he directs. And it was his working relationship with Lucas that helped him get this film produced. In fact, Lucas put up some of the money himself, even though he’s not officially given a producer credit.

It’s interesting that Kasdan’s directorial debut was something so different than what audiences had known him for, which were primarily high adventure pictures. But Kasdan made a very true to form film-noir picture. But maybe it was too close and that worked against it; I’ll explain.

Kasdan’s story for Body Heat drew inspiration from the 1944 film-noir classic Double Indemnity. In fact, there are some pretty stark similarities but Body Heat is not a complete rehash and it certainly stands on its own, despite having very similar cues.

The film is really carried by the strong performance by William Hurt. Kathleen Turner stars alongside him as the typical femme fatale and while she’s pretty good, she comes off as more of a caricature of the femme fatale archetype than feeling like she is giving a genuine performance. But I don’t think that’s on her, as she’s proven how capable she is. I think it could be a combination of Kasdan’s direction and writing, as he was possibly trying to squeeze her into an image he had, as opposed to letting her put more of herself into the role.

Still, Hurt offsets the awkward clunkiness of Turner and the rest of the cast between Richard Crenna, Ted Danson, Mickey Rourke and everyone else, keeps the ship moving in the right direction.

The story is pretty good but it’s not anything new, especially if you’re a fan of the noir genre. Despite a few good twists and turns throughout this labyrinthine plot, nothing that happens is shocking and it is kind of predictable in retrospect. In fact, even though I enjoyed this, it didn’t give much of anything new to the genre it emulates.

In regards to it being a modernization of classic film-noir, it isn’t the first film to do that either. But if this is anything, it’s Lawrence Kasdan’s love letter to film-noir and for the most part, it’s a nice love letter that makes its point rather well.

Body Heat certainly isn’t forgettable but it’s a long way off from redefining what noir could be like Blood Simple and The American Friend did. But strangely, I did enjoy this a hair bit more than Blood Simple.

Rating: 7.25/10
Pairs well with: other neo-noir films of the era: Blood Simple, The American Friend and the remake of The Postman Always Rings Twice.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Empire’s End

Published: 1995
Written by: Tom Veitch
Art by: Jim Baikie, Dave Dorman (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 54 Pages

Review:

Well, this is the final part in the Dark Empire trilogy.

Sadly, this is also the weakest installment. I think that the reason why this doesn’t live up to the greatness of the two previous story arcs is because this one was limited to two issues, as opposed to six like Dark Empire I and II.

This does wrap the trilogy up, though. It gives a pretty definitive conclusion to the resurrected Emperor Palpatine story, even if his fate here is bizarre and underwhelming.

Tom Veitch did a good job with the trilogy as a whole but this final chapter kind of felt like it was just thrown together to end the whole thing. It also read like this script was written rather abruptly just to get the final chapter of this trilogy out of the way.

It lacks the personality and depth of the previous ones and it relies heavily on the reader to have read those. So if you picked this up and it was your first Dark Horse Star Wars comic, you probably would have been confused by it. Granted, a resurrected Emperor should inspire the reader to go back and get the previous story arcs.

The art this time was done by Jim Baikie but it matches the previous two Dark Empire books pretty well.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Dark Empire Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Thrawn Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Documentary Review: Spielberg (2017)

Release Date: October 5th, 2017 (New York Film Festival)
Directed by: Susan Lacy
Cast: Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Francis Ford Coppola, Martin Scorsese, Brian De Palma, Richard Dreyfuss, John Williams, J.J. Abrams, James Brolin, Bob Balaban, Tom Hanks, Drew Barrymore, Peter Coyote, Leonardo DiCaprio, Harrison Ford, Oprah Winfrey, Frank Marshall, Christian Bale, Liam Neeson, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Laura Dern, Jeff Goldblum, Robert Zemeckis, Cate Blanchett, Holly Hunter, Dustin Hoffman, Daniel Day-Lewis, Sally Field, Tom Cruise, Eric Bana, Daniel Craig

HBO Documentary Films, Pentimento Productions, 147 Minutes

Review:

This was a pretty stellar documentary for fans of not just Steven Spielberg but filmmaking and film history in general.

It reminded me a lot of the 2001 documentary Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures, in that this spent a lot of time breaking down most of the key movies in Spielberg’s oeuvre.

Every segment here was rich, detailed and featured interviews with some major directors, actors and producers. But the film also gets into Spielberg’s personal life and how real life experiences influenced his movies.

This was a lengthy documentary, just as the Kubrick one was and rightfully so. In fact, this could have been the length of a ten part, two hour apiece Ken Burns documentary and I still would have been fully engaged.

Spielberg’s career has been long and full of at least a dozen classic films that will be remembered forever. Each segment could’ve been it’s own documentary film and it actually kind of sucks that a few films were mentioned but not given as much detail, most notably A.I.: Artificial Intelligence, the Jurassic Park sequels and some of his production work like Back to the Future.

Still, this is pretty thorough and there is so much to unpack and take away from this. It is one of the best documentaries on a filmmaker’s life and career.

Rating: 9/10
Pairs well with: other documentaries on specific directors but this reminded me a lot of Stanley Kubrick: A Life In Pictures.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Empire II

Published: 1994-1995
Written by: Tom Veitch
Art by: Cam Kennedy, Dave Dorman (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 162 Pages

Review:

I love this era of the Star Wars Expanded Universe, between this, The Thrawn TrilogyThe Jedi Academy Trilogy and all the great Rogue Squandron stuff, Disney’s new version of what they call “official” canon can’t hold a candle to these solid stories.

This picks up right after the events of the first Dark Empire and this also features the birth of Han and Leia’s third child, Anakin Solo.

The Empreror still has a presence despite the outcome of Dark Empire I and Luke and his allies must work towards stopping him once and for all while protecting Leia’s newborn child from the mad Sith’s grasp.

What’s really great about this story is that it also establishes what will become a new order of Jedi under the tutelage of Luke Skywalker.

I love Cam Kennedy’s art style and it just fits this story and this era very well. It’s simple, gritty but colorful and full of life. Here, Star Wars still feels like the “aged future” that George Lucas so carefully crafted with the Original Trilogy but then sort of dismissed with his Prequel films.

I especially love all the dark Jedi stuff here, as well as the bits with Boba Fett just being a mysterious badass. You have to remember that this came out when no one knew who Boba Fett was. He was still a masked bounty hunter with ties to Darth Vader. But here, we start to see depth added to the character, as he is shown to work specifically for money and not the Empire. He also shows glimmers of being a man with some sort of code and morals.

Man, this was just so much fun to read and revisit, as I’ve gotten to the point where I just don’t care much about Star Wars anymore, which was something I obsessed over in my youth and well into my twenties.

Rating: 7.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Dark Empire Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Thrawn Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Empire

Published: 1991
Written by: Tom Veitch
Art by: Jim Baikie, Cam Kennedy, Dave Dorman (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 155 Pages

Review:

If you follow the Star Wars Expanded Universe continuity, which I do because fuck Disney, this takes place about a year or so after The Thrawn Trilogy. This is also the first part of The Dark Empire Trilogy, which also featured Dark Empire II and Empire’s End.

This is the story that people are citing whenever they talk about how Luke Skywalker once fell to the dark side and joined the Emperor. Well, while there is some truth to that, it’s a bit more complicated than Luke just becoming Vader Jr.

I don’t necessarily want to spoil the story in regards to Luke’s journey but he does receive help from Leia, who, in this story, is my favorite version of her character. She’s got some Jedi skills, uses the Force and wields a lightsaber like a pro. She’s just a badass and ready to take part in the action, head on. This isn’t Leia, protected by layers of steel and an army, as she barks out orders from the safety of a command post. Granted, this is just six years after Return of the Jedi unlike the sequel films. But I feel like a Leia trained in the Jedi arts would have been a different character, entirely.

Frankly, Dark Empire is a clear reminder that Disney dropped the ball in regards to things they could’ve explored with their sequel trilogy.

The Emperor is also in this story. But, wait?! He’s dead, right? Well, not really and that’s all explained here. And honestly, the Emperor’s powers make sense when you really understand the scale of how strong he was in the dark side of the Force.

Now there are a few bits that create some continuity issues. I’m not talking about with Disney continuity, as that shit doesn’t matter, I’m actually talking about things that George Lucas did in the prequels that makes some bits of the plot not work here. I can excuse this stuff though, as Lucas claimed to care about his own continuity but by the time he made the prequels, there were too many details to sift through. Also, this story came out really early in the development of the Expanded Universe. But it’s nowhere near as contradictory as Splinter of the Mind’s Eye or the comics Marvel put out in the early ’80s.

Tom Veitch wrote a good, engaging story. He’s a comic book writer that I feel doesn’t get enough respect or notoriety. He would write a lot of early Star Wars comics while at Dark Horse in the ’90s. He also worked on other major comics like Animal ManKamandi and Superman.

I thought that the art was pretty damn good for an indie publisher in 1991. The color is very muted and this almost looks like it’s colored with watercolors and marker. It gives it a really unique feel and the color style works but it may look pretty dated when open next to a more modern Star Wars comic. One thing’s for sure, though, this miniseries had some incredible covers.

But even with its flaws, which there aren’t many, this stands head and shoulders above the Star Wars comics that have come out since Disney took over the franchise.

Rating: 8/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Dark Empire Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Thrawn Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Film Review: Captain EO (1986)

Also known as: Captain EO and the Space Knights (working title)
Release Date: September 12th, 1986 (Walt Disney World – Epcot Center, Florida)
Directed by: Francis Ford Coppola
Written by: George Lucas, Rusty Lemorande, Francis Ford Coppola
Music by: James Horner, Michael Jackson
Cast: Michael Jackson, Anjelica Huston, Dick Shawn, Tony Cox, Debbie Lee Carrington, Cindy Sorenson, Gary DePew

Three D D D Productions, Eastman Kodak Company, Lucasfilm, Walt Disney, Buena Vista Pictures, 17 Minutes

Review:

“Now listen, the command considers us a bunch of losers, but we’re gonna do it right this time because we’re the best. If not, we’ll be drummed out of the corps.” – Captain EO

Captain EO is a pretty bizarre short film but it wasn’t made to be viewed in a traditional sense or to even have a traditional narrative. It was made to be an attraction at Walt Disney World and Disneyland. Being an attraction it had to be short enough to keep the asses moving in and out of seats.

It was also made to be 3D. While that was hardly a new concept in 1986, it was a concept that had sort of faded away and was somewhat new to a generation of ’80s kids that weren’t old enough to go to the theater to see things like Friday the 13th, Part III in 3D.

However, this was actually promoted as being the first film in “4D”, as it used special effects, lighting, smoke and lasers within the physical theater to enhance the overall viewing experience in the theme park.

The film does start out like a fantasy sci-fi space opera but quickly evolves into an extended music video for the Michael Jackson song “We Are Here to Change the World”. It also ends on another, more famous Jackson tune “Another Part of Me”.

Now this came out when Michael Jackson was literally the biggest thing in the world, so a partnership with Disney was huge in 1986. Add in the fact that this film was directed by Francis Ford Coppola, written by George Lucas, whose Lucasfilm provided the effects, had costumes designed by the team behind Cats and had it’s makeup overseen by the legendary Rick Baker, this project was a pretty big f’n deal.

Also, James Horner, just coming off of his success with Star Trek II and III, provided the orchestral score for the film.

Production was a bit of a clusterfuck and the process took a lot of time with several different groups trying to fix some of the film’s issues but on screen, most of it came off well.

The narrative is pretty incomprehensible and you have to severely suspend disbelief when Captain EO uses dancing and singing to turn an evil space queen and her minions into nice people but when I was a kid, I totally bought into it and it worked. Seeing this again, as an adult, it’s a pretty wonky and strange narrative but I can’t deny the commanding presence that Michael Jackson has on screen. It’s not too dissimilar from his music video for “Thriller”.

Captain EO is a unique experience. It might not be a great one but it’s certainly interesting enough to sit through for just 17 minutes.

Rating: 6.25/10
Pairs well with: Michael Jackson’s Moonwalker and lengthier music videos like Thriller and Ghosts.