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.

Retro Relapse: The Soon-To-Be Forgotten History of Star Wars

RETRO RELAPSE is a series of older articles from various places where I used to write before Talking Pulp.

*Written in 2015. And looking at this now, I think I was right.

Tonight is the night where Star Wars: The Force Awakens opens in theaters. With the release of this film, everything we know changes for this franchise going forward. There is a lot of hype, a lot of hope and a lot of apprehension from those of us that never recovered from the awfulness of the Prequel Trilogy.

Fact is, there isn’t a single Star Wars fan that doesn’t want this to be as amazing as the original films. But we all thought The Phantom Menace, without question, was going to be an amazing film before we saw it. There really is no way to know if The Force Awakens will be as great as the Original Trilogy until we experience it.

Films with this much hype usually fail to live up to it. In my opinion, J.J. Abrams, the director, has a pretty crappy track record. He did destroy Star Trek for those of us who liked it when it was boring and mostly a bunch of talking to avoid conflict. But I get it, we can’t all be smart and Abrams catered to the broader, dumbed down audience. And well, he admitted that he wasn’t a fan of Star Trek and was really just a fan of Star Wars. Good for him.

But this isn’t about J.J. or my “lack of faith” in him. It is about what this film and Disney’s purchase of Lucasfilm has done to the vast wonderland that is the universe Star Wars exists in.

I was a huge Star Wars fan and I still am, even though I feel a bit of betrayal. Reason being, everything I have invested in the universe is mostly moot now, at least in regards to what the new owners of the intellectual property say.

Thirty-plus years of reading all the books I could get my hands on, playing all the video games I bought at hefty price tags and collecting all the toys and other random memorabilia and now, none of that fits into Disney’s vision of the franchise.

When they announced that they would be making Star Wars films yearly from now until the end of time, I knew that the Expanded Universe was dead. They didn’t come out and say it immediately, but knowing that an Episode VII just wouldn’t fit in anywhere with what was established in the books and video games of the Expanded Universe, I knew that Disney would take extreme liberties, ignore all that established mythos and just do what they want.

I understand why they have to do it but with as much as I love many of the stories and what the EU has become, there is that part of me that feels a stronger allegiance to it than to Disney, who really doesn’t give a crap about it. And this is the same Disney that keeps making mediocre Marvel films after buying them a few years earlier. They are on a mission to own and reshape my childhood. Once they acquire Hasbro and Nintendo, they will own the souls of every young boy who experienced childhood in the awesome ’80s.

If The Force Awakens is a stellar movie, I will accept it as the new canon. If it sucks, I will completely dismiss it and always consider the Expanded Universe to be my canon. I don’t have to turn my back on the EU just because Disney says so. It isn’t just Star Wars history, although soon-to-be forgotten, it is history for the millions of people who invested their time, heart and money into the Star Wars brand for several decades. And whether it is fair to Disney or not, people with knowledge of the EU will always compare Disney’s work to the tales they’ve held dear for years.

The EU fan base is certainly a small percentage of Earth’s population and Disney has to look at the bigger picture. And I guess all of us hoping for more movies one day, knew that something like this would have to happen, it just kind of sucks.

And it doesn’t suck in that the EU will be ignored and washed away, it won’t be for those of us who love those stories and characters, it sucks because there will be no new stories in the EU. It isn’t dying because Disney has to ignore it, it is dying because it can’t continue to live and grow going forward. What exists within the EU is all that it will ever be now. That world is cemented. That’s the hardest pill to swallow.

I know that a lot of the stuff in the EU was pretty awful. Many books were just bad or too bizarre or didn’t fit within the established mythos. Some of the earlier attempts at expanded fiction tales went in strange directions. Splinter of the Mind’s Eye, one of the first Star Wars books ever written, doesn’t make much sense. But it is the great stories and great characters that people cherish and there was a lot more good than bad in the Star Wars Expanded Universe.

So even if I dismiss the new movies, as I have dismissed the rebooted universe of Star Trek since J.J. Abrams took over that franchise, I still have nothing new to look forward to in the EU. Even if I were to treat the EU as my personal Star Wars canon till the end of time, it is dead. No more books to read, no more games to play and the fate of many characters will be unresolved.

Despite my reservations, I am going into The Force Awakens with an open mind. I am trying to keep my expectations at bay. I just want to sit there and experience it. And yes, it will certainly drum up some nostalgia, because that’s the point of carrying this franchise on, but I’m going to be as objective as possible.

I want this new movie to be good. I want everything Star Wars to be good going forward. But I remember how I felt waiting for The Phantom Menace to start and how I felt after it and the next two films ended. Again, films with this much hype typically can’t live up to it but we shall see.

And maybe I will be pleasantly surprised to the point where the blow of losing the EU won’t sting as bad. I guess I’ll know in about twelve hours.

Comic Review: Star Wars: The Last Command

Published: 1999
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Edvin Biukovic, Eric Shanower, Ellie DeVille, Pamela Rambo, Mathieu Lauffray (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 149 Pages

Review:

This is the third and final installment of the comic book adaptation of Timothy Zahn’s fantastic Thrawn Trilogy. And just like the previous two entries into this series, this adaptation was well done and breathed new life into these stories.

Overall, this is probably the slowest of the three chapters. I find that surprising as it is the conclusion. But don’t get me wrong, the last issue is action packed and a great finale with a solid space battle and the defeat of one of the greatest Imperial threats of all-time, Grand Admiral Thrawn.

This also sees Luke and Mara’s story evolve past her wanting to murder him. She finds a peace that she has never had and eventually relents in her dark side fueled drive and decides to train and become a Jedi.

Additionally, this is a good resolution to the Noghri story, which I loved. They get their just desserts, just as we, the audience, did in seeing them get justice against Imperial oppression.

This is also the first appearance of the Jedi twins, Jaina and Jacen Solo. For fans of the Expanded Universe, you know how pivotal these characters were to the future of the franchise before Disney came along and said, “Screw these well developed, great, dynamic characters! We’ve got Kylo Ren now!”

Like the two previous adaptations of The Thrawn Trilogy, this one has some great art and looks fantastic and timeless. I love the art style that Dark Horse had in these ’90s Star Wars comics.

The Last Command is a great read for those of you who still prefer the EU to the new Disneyverse or whatever you want to call the new “official” continuity. I call it “poop” but I guess some of you like the new stuff for some reason.

Rating: 8.5/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire TrilogyThe Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.

Comic Review: Star Wars: Dark Force Rising

Published: 1997
Written by: Mike Baron, Timothy Zahn (original story)
Art by: Terry Dodson, Kevin Nowlan, Ellie DeVille, Pamela Rambo, Kilian Plunkett (covers)
Based on: Star Wars by George Lucas

Dark Horse Books, 149 Pages

Review:

Dark Force Rising is the second chapter in Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn Trilogy. It’s kind of like his Empire Strikes Back, as it builds off of what he established in Heir to the Empire and pushes things forward before the big crescendo that is The Last Command.

It’s really cool revisiting these stories and in comic book form for the first time. I love all the plot threads in this tale, especially in this chapter. I forgot how awesome the plot where Leia, Chewie and Threepio go to the Noghri homeworld was, as well as the team ups of Han and Lando, as well as Luke and Mara. Everything here is just a lot of fun. Plus, you get to see Thrawn up the ante on how sinister he can get.

I also forgot how much I liked the characters of Gilad Pellaeon and Talon Karrde, two men far from the New Republic side but, through this story, find ways into the former Rebellion, where they become strong leaders going forward.

A big part of the story here also deals with politics. There is a plant in the New Republic that is working to disrupt and distract them while Thrawn moves in against them, squeezing his fist of power around the fledgling government. I would point to how politics are handled and presented here, as a better use of political storytelling than what everyone complains about with The Phantom Menace, which had a convoluted political narrative that made most people want to hit their heads against the theater chair in front of them.

The art in this was solid and I liked it better than the work in Heir to the Empire. Also, the lettering was much more legible, as the writing style of the letters in the previous chapter had stylized “H”s that looked like stylized “U”s, which slowed you down as you read.

I like this act in the trilogy better than the previous one but just slightly. Things start to feel more real with this chapter, the ante is upped and you truly start to see why Thrawn is such a formidable foe for the heroes and maybe more so than any other Grand Admiral in the history of the Galactic Empire.

In all honesty, it’s just a delight to revisit these stories, as Disney has pretty much created a new canon that I don’t want anything to do with. This is and will always be my official canon.

Rating: 8.75/10
Pairs well with: Other Dark Horse Star Wars comics from the same era: the two other Thrawn Trilogy stories, as well as The Shadows of the Empire Trilogy, The Dark Empire Trilogy and the Rogue Squadron series.