Star Wars: The Last Jedi

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I’ve seen The Last Jedi twice so far. Yes, I loved it. Yes, I will spoil. You have been warned. Also, I have linked to a bunch of articles about The Last Jedi that I have found very interesting and say some of my thoughts better than I could.

Last chance.

Point of no return.

Okay. This is the longest Star Wars film to date. It didn’t feel that way. Time wise, this may be the most compressed of the Star Wars films to date as well. It basically starts where The Force Awakens ends: the Resistance is evacuating their base before the First Order comes and Rey has found Luke Skywalker.

There are basically three plot threads: Rey with Luke, Poe with the Resistance, and Finn with Rose on their mission.

Rey with Luke meant the most to me. Luke is grumpy. We see three different versions of at least a part of the reason why. Rey gets her cave moment, like Luke did in Empire, but it is much more ambiguous. I like Rey’s determination. Her decision to leave was not wise, but came from good intentions. Her relationship with Kylo Ren is very complex, which adds to it. Both actors do terrific. But the prize for acting here is Mark Hamill as Luke Skywalker. He shows us every Luke we have seen and more: whiny kid, wide-eyed earnest kid, wise Jedi-master, man full of regrets, grumpy-old man. His ending was a masterpiece and quite fitting I thought. Some of the articles I linked to go into why this was so.

Poe butting heads with Vice-Admiral  Holdo was on the one hand realistic. I liked seeing him grow. On the other, my one complaint would be they didn’t explain why Vice-Admiral Holdo wasn’t explaining what her plan was, especially as things got desperate. “Above your rank/paygrade” doesn’t quite cut it at that point. Her sacrifice was perhaps the most gorgeous thing we have seen in Star Wars to date. And yes, I know, it doesn’t even make entirely in universe sense. I don’t care. I also don’t care that flying Leia doesn’t make sense. It was beautiful, and I miss Carrie Fisher. Who Did an amazing job as well. No wonder she was able to create the Resistance from the ground up.

Rose is a great new character. Finn paired with her is great. He has learned to care about an individual, now he needs to learn how to care about the galaxy, and Rose is the perfect one to teach him this. Canto Bight looks amazing. Okay, so I didn’t care about their mission as I did about the Rey/Luke/Kylo storyline, but I think it adds a ton to the Star Wars Universe: that we don’t destroy what has hurt us and therefore we hate, but we protect what we love. That anyone can help, everyone is important. As for DJ, he added an important perspective.

John Williams did his usual amazing work with the soundtrack. No new standout themes to me, but loved the use of old themes.

I loved the themes of everyone having potential, learning from failure, and hope.

What I didn’t like: such little use of Captain Phasma. Better explanation for Vice-Admiral Holdo.

This movie overturned expectations. Snoke’s end. Rey’s parents. (Is that the whole story?) Luke throwing away the lightsaber. Aside from general themes (Light v. Dark, Rey v. Kylo Ren, Resistance v. First Order), I literally have no idea what they want to do with Star Wars IX. I love that director Ryan Johnson broke everything, and therefore is making us think. I can’t wait for the finale.

Thanks to The Last Jedi, We Finally Know What The Force Awakens Means at Tor.com

Worthy of a Jedi Master at Far Far Away Radio

In The Last Jedi, the Resistance Keeps Making the Same Tactical Mistakes at Wired

Star Wars The Last Jedi Is the Decisive Star Wars Film Fans Need Right Now  at NBC News

Star Wars 8 Suggests Darth Vader DID Bring Balance to the Force After All by Screenrant

Attack of The Last Jedi by Emily Strand at Hogwarts Professor

The Last Jedi Doesn’t Care What You Think About Star Wars – And That’s Why It’s Great at SlashFilm

Just How Seriously Should We Take this Star Wars The Last Jedi Backlash at Variety

Spoiler Alert! About Themes and the Beautiful Brilliance of the Ending of The Last Jedi at Roosterteeth

The Last Jedi: Lessons in Failure at Far Far Away Raido

The Force Reinforced: How The Last Jedi Reafirms the Values of Star Wars at Eleven Thirty-Eight

Luke Skywalker Ins’t Supposed to Be “Nice” – at Tor.com

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The Jungle Book

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So I finally got around to seeing Disney’s live-action remake of this classic. What to say?

First, it is pretty faithful to the animated version. There are a few alterations. The beginning with Mowgli growing up with the wolf pack is shown more. Lots of wolves. And this is a good thing. We actually get a flashback showing how Mowgli is left in the jungle. The ending not only involves Shere Kahn and Mowgli, but pretty much everyone else, and it is stronger for this. Also, the very end is different – and is fitting. There are no singing vultures, or really any vultures.

This is not a musical, but “Bare necessities” and “I want to be like you” are refrained to good effect.

The CGI is amazing. I at least couldn’t tell CGI from Mowgli or the naturally shot part of the jungle. The animals talk, but otherwise are completely lifelike.

As for Mowgli himself, Neel Sethi does a good job making us care. And all the voice actors for the animals make us care as well, even though we are seeing, well, animals.

Mowgli is in real peril at several points and Shere Kahn acts like a tiger, so the youngest children may find this scary. If you enjoyed the animated version, this is a worthy adaptation to see.

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Cars 3

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What to say about Cars 3? I can’t compare it to Cars 2 since I never saw that one since I heard it wasn’t as good as the original. Yes, the original Cars is a hard act to follow, but Cars 3 compares favorably even if it doesn’t quite reach it’s heights. What is Cars 3 about? Basically Lightning McQueen has a mid-life crisis.

It all starts with these new cars with new technology. When Lightning McQueen is injured in a race, he decides that he still loves racing and wants to come back stronger than ever. Enter newcomer Cruz Ramirez, a trainer whose task it is to get Lighning McQueen back to and better than top form. Both learn some lessons. Cruz learns the value of older ways of doing things, and the value of her own dreams. Lightning gains some new perspectives on life and on racing. The end comes full circle with the first movie and is quite satisfying.

There are some heartwarming moments, and some great races. Children will enjoy this one, and fans of the original Cars will find much to appreciate as well. Another masterpiece from Pixar.

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Review of 2017

First of all, I see I haven’t posted anything since July. I apologize for this. This has been a difficult second have of the year for me, culminating with what essentially amounts to open heart surgery last month. The good news is that I am well on the mend and things will be starting to go back to normal with the new year. The bad news is that this surgery is only the first of two rounds, the second of which will probably be in February next year. But the prognosis is good.

This has been a year of health and personal challenges and a move. But my spirits are currently optimistic, as is my prognosis. Here is hoping that once I get past the second surgery, 2018 will be less “exciting”. The one good thing is that I have been able to spend a lot of time with family over the past seven weeks.

Still, 2017 has had some highlights.

I did two presentations at LTUE, a presentation at the Moab Public Library, and a presentation on my thesis at Mythmoot IV.

My move has been a positive thing. It is healthy for me to have a roommate again.

I have done a done of reading. Pro tip: Agatha Christie is great for when you are not feeling well. Some highlights:

Within the Sanctuary of WingsWithin the Sanctuary of Wings by Marie Brennan

Ghost Talkers by Mary Robinette Kowal

A Romancing Daphne, A Fine Gentleman and For Love and Honor by Sarah M. Eden (I promise I will get to My Dearest Love and Love Remains!)

The Lady of the Lakes and All That Makes Life Bright by Josi S. Kilpack

Thick as Thieves by Megan Whalen Turner

Before She Ignites by Jodi Meadows

I discovered author Henry H. Neff and read The Tapestry quintet and Impyrium.

Beren and Luthien by J.R.R. Tolkien and edited by Christopher Tolkien came out and was beautiful.

I discovered the series The Incorrigable Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood and hope to finish the series this next year.

I have read a number of religious/devotional books and discovered Dorothy Sayers Lord Peter Whimsy books. I read biographies of Isaac Asimov, Queen Victoria, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, John Quincy Adams, and James Madison, and The Quartet: Orchestrating the Second American Revolution by Joseph J. Ellis. I have begun working my way through the collected works of Louisa May Alcott.

I am discovering the delights of short stories. I also read several academic works on Tolkien and on Harry Potter.

Also, I caught up on a lot of Star Wars books (though I still have some left).

  • Star Wars: Guardians of the Whills by Greg Rucka
  • Star Wars: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn
  • Star Wars: From a Certain Point of View
  • Star Wars: The Legend of Luke Skywalker by Ken Liu
  • Star Wars: Leia, Princess of Alderan by Claudia Gray
  • Star Wars: Cobalt Squadron by Elizabeth E. Wein
  • Star Wars: Canto Bight
  • Star Wars: Bloodlines by Claudia Gray

Yes, I will be trying to catch up on the rest I haven’t gotten to yet (Rebel RisingAshokaPhasmaAftermath: Life DebtAftermath: Empire’s End).

I have also been able to watch a number of movies. Speaking of which, whoever came up with recliners in theaters was brilliant. One of the few activities I could do soonish after surgery was go to the movies. Some of the highlights:

  • Hidden Figures
  • Wonder Woman
  • Cars 3
  • Justice League
  • Star Wars: The Last Jedi
  • Finding Dory (yes, I know this came out in 2016, but didn’t watch it until this year)

TV wise I have been slowing down some, but I did see Doctor Who season 9, finished Star Wars Rebels season 3 and started Star Wars Rebels Season 4, and saw Supergirl season 1.

While I am done with my second masters, I did manage to fit in auditing “Tolkien in Context” and finished the course pack for “Taking Harry Seriously”. I also listened to Victorian BritainUnderstanding Japan: A Cultural History, and Effective Communication Skills from the Great Courses.

In some ways 2018 is going to be a quieter year for me. Sadly, LTUE and Mythmoot V will not be possibilities. I admit that I miss taking regular classes. There are several course packs I am interested in from Signum University, and in the mean time I have been greatly enjoying Mythgard Academy’s slow wander through The History of Middle Earth and the Tolkien Professor’s “Exploring The Lord of the Rings” (even slower – in a good way), among other free offerings.

I still need to see CocoThe Man Who Invented Christmas, and Goodbye Christopher Robin, and am looking forward to Black PantherA Wrinkle in TimeAvengers: Infinity WarSolo: A Star Wars MovieThe Incredibles 2Antman and WaspThe Crimes of Grindelwald, Aquaman, and Mary Poppins Returns.

Book wise, I am looking forward to more Brandon Sanderson (and catching up on his works – yes, I know I have been bad keeping up with him *hangs head in shame*), more Star WarsThe Rose Legacy by Jessica Day George, book 6 of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place by Maryrose Wood, more Proper Romance, and no doubt more histories, classics, and Tolkien.

Blog wise, I hope to start catching up on some of the most memorable movies and books I haven’t yet written up, and perhaps take it in some new directions. I also want to get back into writing. We’ll see.

2018 may be a year of change in some ways. But what ever it brings, I look forward to it.

An addendum to this post and the reason why it is posting late: My grandfather (father’s side) passed away December 31st at 90 years of age. Grandma finally came to take him dancing in the sky. He will be greatly missed.

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The Great Passage

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The Great Passage by Shion Miura has been made into a movie and an anime, and now the original novel has been translated into English by Juliet Winters Carpenter. Here is the blurb:

A charmingly warm and hopeful story of love, friendship, and the power of human connection, award-winning Japanese author Shion Miura’s novel is a reminder that a life dedicated to passion is a life well lived.

Inspired as a boy by the multiple meanings to be found for a single word in the dictionary, Kohei Araki is devoted to the notion that a dictionary is a boat to carry us across the sea of words. But after thirty-seven years creating them at Gembu Books, it’s time for him to retire and find his replacement.

He discovers a kindred spirit in Mitsuya Majime—a young, disheveled square peg with a penchant for collecting antiquarian books and a background in linguistics—whom he swipes from his company’s sales department.

Led by his new mentor and joined by an energetic, if reluctant, new recruit and an elder linguistics scholar, Majime is tasked with a career-defining accomplishment: completing The Great Passage, a comprehensive 2,900-page tome of the Japanese language. On his journey, Majime discovers friendship, romance, and an incredible dedication to his work, inspired by the bond that connects us all: words.

The Great Passage is the story of a young man, Majime, finishing growing up and finding his place in the world. It is the story of the power of words and the value of perseverance in projects that don’t see their fulfillment for years if not decades. It is the story of the people who intersect our lives and leave an influence, usually for good. There is little action, but there is plenty of drama, both in personal and professional lives. This is also a very interesting characters. Some find it harder to fit into the world of dictionary creation and editing than others, but in the end all find a niche and leave their mark. If you enjoyed the anime, this book is well worth reading. If you enjoy slow stories that take their time to develop, this book might be worth checking out. If you are looking for a novel from a different country, consider this one. If you love words, you will probably fit right in with Majime and his co-workers.

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The Dark Prophecy

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The Dark Prophecy is the second book in The Trials of Apollo series by Rick Riordan. Here is the blurb:

Zeus has punished his son Apollo–god of the sun, music, archery, poetry, and more–by casting him down to earth in the form of a gawky, acne-covered sixteen-year-old mortal named Lester. The only way Apollo can reclaim his rightful place on Mount Olympus is by restoring several Oracles that have gone dark. What is affecting the Oracles, and how can Apollo/Lester do anything about them without his powers? After experiencing a series of dangerous–and frankly, humiliating–trials at Camp Half-Blood, Lester must now leave the relative safety of the demigod training ground and embark on a hair-raising journey across North America. Fortunately, what he lacks in godly graces he’s gaining in new friendships–with heroes who will be very familiar to fans of the Percy Jackson and the Olympians and Heroes of Olympus series. Come along for what promises to be a harrowing, hilarious, and haiku-filled ride. . . .

Where to start? Each chapter begins with a haiku by our favorite god turned mortal Lester, aka Apollo. Let’s just say that Lester may currently be mortal but he hasn’t lost his touch with haiku^^; This time, Apollo has Leo and Calypso as traveling companions as they search for the next Oracle. The bad news? The Roman emperors are still after Apollo, and have some evil plans that still must be stopped. The good news? Our heroes meet some unexpected new allies along the way. Oh, and Lester is still quite worried about his master Meg…

The new characters have an interesting story, Leo and Calypso make good teammates (and don’t give Lester much slack), and we deal with a different evil Roman emperor. Lester isn’t quite so whiny this time around, which is all to the good. He has actually learned a few lessons, though it is clear he has a ways to go yet. Also, this time when we learn his backstory and why this particular emperor hates Apollo, we really do have to feel for the sun god. In this case, at least, he really was between a rock and a hard place with no good choices. If you liked the first book, you will enjoy this one too.

 

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Wonder Woman

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I finally had a chance to see Wonder Woman last weekend. Short version, I loved it.

Okay, now for the long version.

Prefaced by some context.

I don’t really like dark stories. Yes, I saw and enjoyed Batman Begins, but have yet to see Dark Knight, and it took some persuading to finally see Dark Knight Rising. I tried Arrow, but found it too dark. The tone of The Flash was much more to my tastes.

Man of Steel had its problems, but overall I quite enjoyed it. Then we got Batman v. Superman. I heard about how dark it was and how violent it was, and didn’t bother seeing it. I had even less interest in seeing Suicide Squad.

And now we get to the wonder that is Wonder Woman.

First, the tone was perfect. Do tragic things happen? Sure. Themyscria is attacked. Then Diana is thrown into the horrors of World War I. But over all, Diana is a hope filled person, and this was maintained through the entire movie.

Second, this is a colorful movie. Themyscria is particularly vibrant and gorgeous, but even London and the front lines find ways to add color.

The humor compliments the tone and the visuals perfectly. There are plenty of opportunities for humor too, as Diana and Steve Trevor often misunderstand each other as they come from completely different backgrounds. And the secretary is hilarious.

All the characters are interesting. The crew that Diana and Steve end up with to go into Belgium is quite a collection, each with their own backstory that is subtly hinted at. Amazon society indeed feels like it has been going on for centuries or millennia, with undercurrents only hinted at.

The music is amazing. Where an edge is needed, such as in battle scenes, there is an edge to it. Lyrical scenes are lyrically rendered in music. It all fits together.

Speaking of battle scenes. I actually loved the trench scene. And I am happy to report that, unlike Man of Steel, nothing felt over the top or over done.

Diana leaves Themyscria with Steve Trevor because she believes Ares, god of war, is the one causing the Great War (what World War I was known as at the time). And let’s just say Diana is right, but not in the way she thinks she is. And we get a chance to see her full power.

Is Wonder Woman a perfect superhero movie? Perhaps not. But to date, it is DCs best modern offering yet, and with it DC has reinvigorated the franchise and is back on track. Okay, okay, when you make your version of a Batman movie, it probably should be dark, but more like this please!

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