Another Happy Landing: The Endings of Star Wars Films

One of my favorite things about Star Wars, ever since I first saw it when I was a child, was the endings of the movies.

As I got older, I saw the endings as slightly corny, but they still satisfied me. Why? Because while George Lucas created endings that were corny or too-nicely-tied-up-in-a-bow, there was a sense of hope and happiness…sometimes more weighted on one than the other – but still there, nevertheless.

With ANH, Lucas did not know if he would be able to continue Star Wars or if it would be a big flop. He opted to make a story that had a clear and decisive beginning, middle, and end. Sure, he left some ties open (we don’t know the fate of Darth Vader) but overall, the Rebellion won. It had hope and happiness handed to us on a silver platter. It was an ultimate feel-good ending.

I believe that ESB is the only film under Lucas’ hands that has the most question marks. We have no idea if Luke and Leia will be able to get Han back. We don’t even know if Han is alive. In a more subtle way, we don’t know if we can still trust Lando. What about Luke’s training on Dagobah? Will he go back? Is Darth Vader really Luke’s father? How did Leia sense where Luke was? Does she also have the Force?

Yet, despite all these questions, we watch Luke get a new hand and exchange smiles with Leia. They move to look out the window to an infinite galaxy. Threepio and Artoo stand on one side. It is one of my favorite shots of all time. Instead of looking at the camera, everyone is facing away, and it gives more credence to the loose ends of the movie. But it’s beautiful. And it’s an ending. When they look out into the galaxy, I have a feeling of hope and inspiration.

ROTJ is the corniest, in my opinion. Lucas thought this would be his last (or at least for a while – he did continue to have thoughts about telling Anakin’s entire story) Star Wars film and everything is nicely tied together in a bow. The Rebellion won (again)! Darth Vader was redeemed! Leia and Han are together! The Emperor was destroyed! We see almost the entire cast surrounded by dancing Ewoks and smiling benevolently into the camera. Happiness! Hope!

When Lucas filmed the Prequels, he continued his trend of concise endings, using the themes of hope and happiness.

With TPM, the ending is almost as exuberant as ROTJ or ANH. There are some lingering questions in the background presented by the Jedi at Qui-Gon’s funeral, but overall, the celebration of Naboo is nothing short of glorious. Everyone is looking at the camera and the corny level is quite high.

AOTC is the only film out of every Star Wars film under Lucas that strays furthest from the theme of hope. I think it’s happy, yes, but in a bittersweet way. You are happy for Anakin and Padmé but the hindsight you have as an audience member, pangs you with bitterness. I do not think hope is lost entirely however. It may not be the first emotion you feel, but you know this union is necessary because “a new hope” is what arises from this wedding. Without this marriage – there would be no Luke and Leia who end up saving the galaxy further on down the line. In some ways, I think the Jedi were headed towards combustion, Anakin was the catalyst, and I believe the wiping out of the Jedi had to happen. It was doomed. So knowing that Luke and Leia are coming out of this ill-fated love match is one of those strange things where hope is present in this scene, though it may not be dominant.

As an ending, ROTS leaves us complete only because we know the entire story already. The sunset gaze by Beru and Lars evokes hope and the weight of responsibility as well. Lucas deftly wraps it up with that Tatooine sunset and closes the film and saga with a sense of satisfaction. We see baby Luke and know that the new hope has arrived.

And where does this leave TFA and Rogue One?

TFA breaks the tradition. It’s such a small thing, the ending of a movie. Yet, if you think about it, you expect a satisfying ending to probably 95% of the movies you watch. There has to be a conclusion of some sort.

Disney leaves me a little jaded with TFA. Their over-confidence (…is their weakness) in knowing that they don’t have to really give us an ending frustrates me. Unlike the other films in the saga that were under Lucas’ direction, TFA does not leave me with hope or happiness. I’m not sure what feelings I take away from it now. It’s neither negative nor positive. I am apathetic for this ending that is not an ending but more like you are putting a bookmark in a book. I know Finn will survive because it’s too early in the Sequel Trilogy to kill him off. Rey is standing there with a strange look on her face and an outstretched arm to an older, grizzled Luke Skywalker who has an even stranger look on his face. Then we have this strange moment where the camera spins around them on the island where Rey is standing there with the arm outstretched trying to hand Luke his lightsaber. Too much movement compared to the other endings!

I didn’t notice the lack of an ending at first. In fact, the first time I watched it, I remember thinking as the shot spun around Luke Skywalker and Rey, “This had better not be the end because we just saw Luke for the first time.” But it was. I was discombobulated but I chucked it up to seeing the new Star Wars film and having a lot to think about.

Yet every time I watch it again, I get more annoyed and I blame Disney and Kathleen Kennedy for most of this. I did not realize how entrenched the Star Wars endings are in my psyche and how much I yearn for them until I compare the Lucas films to the new Disney films.

Rogue One has an ending, but I find it contrived and forced. A CGI Leia says, “Hope,” and it’s a good whack on the head of forcing us into what we should feel. Their effort on the ending of the film should have been less focused on a CGI Leia and more emphasis placed on a beautiful shot with a decent ending that evokes feelings instead of shoves it down our throat. You could argue that the hyperspace jump right after Leia says that is the shot but…it’s action. It’s not a still moment where we appreciate the end of a Star Wars movies.

When I compare the endings, I almost see George Lucas as a more humble director who wraps up each film nicely…just in case. Just in case no one wants to see another Star Wars movie or he never gets to do one again. He gave us a small moment at the end of each film to reflect on what we had just seen. There was no crazy spinning shot, no ships jumping to hyperspace – only his way of saying, “Did you enjoy my movie? I give you time to digest your thoughts and what you saw.”

We have now broken that with TFA and RO and I miss my feeling of hope and happiness at the end of a Star Wars film. I miss the ending being clear cut. I miss the beautiful, panoramic shots that were breathtaking. I miss that still, quiet moment of reflection.

Will we never have that again? Since Disney is planning on creating Star Wars films until I’m old and grey and no longer blogging, is their overconfidence going to extend to the point that we’ll never have that corny Star Wars ending again?

If so, RIP endings to Star Wars films that brought me hope and happiness. You will be missed.

 

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Haiku Me Friday! Krennic’s Obsession

 

Honor and glory
For me or for the Empire?
I’ll get what is mine

As much as I wasn’t a fan of Rogue One, I did love Director Krennic. I thought he was one of the best characters. Like General Hux, he is obsessed with the Empire and himself. The Empire is a way to bring him power, prestige, and honor so he exploits it and uses it to his advantage.

Both Krennic and Hux rise up through the ranks through their obsession for power. The loss of innocents doesn’t concern them or bother them as both have been in charge of mega battle stations with the ability to wipe out planets.

With Hux, I’ve already discussed that he was basically brainwashed by his father into believing the First Order was the “be all, end all”. Hux went through life replicating what happened in his life into the lives of the Stormtroopers legions he created. He took them from birth, brainwashed them with First Order doctrine, and they became loyal servants to the First Order (not FN-2187 but I guess not even Hux is perfect).

Krennic’s life was slightly different. He grew up in the age of the Republic and joined their Special Weapons group. He met Galen Erso during that time. When the Clone Wars ended, Krennic merged with the Empire and worked on the Death Star. There are a lot of nitty gritty details in there, but it seems like Orson Krennic became obsessed with seeing the Death Star through to completion. To Krennic, the Empire was merely a tool that helped aid him in bringing the beloved Death Star to life.

Though Hux and Krennic are different, they both are out to prove something and gain power. Hux was more entrenched in the doctrine of the First Order from birth, whereas Krennic didn’t seem to care about Republic vs. Empire, as long as whatever the reigning government was, it allowed him to work on the Death Star, and in turn, gain power and recognition for it.

Though I’m fascinated with both characters, I always found it hard to imagine being in their shoes (thank goodness). How are you able to destroy planets with thousands of innocent people on it with no hesitation?

In a way, these characters are only feeding their obsessions and working towards them with such a driving force that nothing gets in their way. They have no balance in stability. What they want, they will get.

With Krennic, we saw where that got him. His need to prove that the Death Star could blow up an entire planet and was the “ultimate power in the universe,” cruelly and ironically blew up in his face, LITERALLY YES PUN INTENDED.

But Hux? I’m interested to see what the end is for Hux, if there is one. I love Hux more than Krennic, though I find I’m an anomaly amongst other Star Wars fans. Where does his ambition for power take him? And will it be his undoing like it was for Orson Krennic?

 

Ranking the Soundtracks

I’ve been sitting on writing this post for a while.  I thought it would be fun, in follow up to the post I wrote years ago on the best compositions in Star Wars (here and here), to instead write my rankings of the soundtracks.  Instead of individual pieces, I wanted to look at the soundtracks as a whole.  Which do I think are the top and which do I think make it to the bottom?

The only reason I’ve been sitting on it for so long is because IT’S SO HARD.  It changes often but I wanted to imagine someone asking me to give my final answer, as if I were playing Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, and something was on the line.

After much thinking (like two months, seriously), here is my own personal Best of Star Wars Soundtracks list:

8.  Rogue One.

I’m not sure if it’s the fact that I didn’t really like Rogue One as a movie or it’s the fact that John Williams did not write the soundtrack that caused this movie to be on the bottom, but there you go.  The second time I watched it, I did come away feeling slightly more kind towards the music, but I think both having a different composer and not enjoying the movie was a double whammy that landed this at the bottom of the list.  Plus, it never had the wonderful themes that we love so much played enough throughout it.  I am planning on listening to it more, but for now, it ends up on the bottom.

7.  Attack of the Clones

One of my favorite pieces is Across the Stars.  It wows me and moves me every time I listen to it.  But as a whole, AOTC is slightly underwhelming.  There are probably about 2-3 tracks that I would want to listen to that on the soundtrack and if I were being perfectly honest, none of them stand out like Across the Stars.

6.  A New Hope

Agh, I hate even ranking this soundtrack so low because A New Hope introduced the world to Star Wars music.  Some of my favorite tracks of all time are in ANH.  But if I was looking at it as a whole, ANH involves too much brass in it’s soundtracks to make me rank it any higher.  The staccato, brass music is not my style and I don’t like listening to it too much and often skip most of the tracks.

5.  The Force Awakens

Number 5 and 4 are in close competition.  I love Rey’s theme and it was my top listened to track of 2016 (according to Spotify).  Currently, my most listened to track is The Jedi Steps.  Clearly, I love some of the pieces.  March of the Resistance and Kylo Ren’s theme (okay not really called that but it’s played whenever he comes on screen) are also really well done.  I originally did not like the soundtrack that much but as time has gone on, I have listened to certain tracks at least once a week.  I love it, but the reason it’s still ranked lower than most is that I believe I love it because I’m a Star Wars fan.  When leaving the theater, there were not many pieces that made me want to run home and figure out which music was playing when.   My love affair with the TFA soundtrack grew over time as a fan, but I don’t think there is anything in the soundtrack that stood out to the casual viewer.

4.  The Phantom Menace

I love TPM’s soundtrack.  It was a fresh new sound to the Star Wars music and set the Prequels off on the right foot.  The Naboo Palace was one of my favorites, and I loved the battle droid music.  Anakin’s theme was softer than expected but had hints of darkness at the end.  Duel of the Fates is unbeatable and is still one of my favorite tracks of all time.  I probably also rank it higher because it was the first Star Wars soundtrack I ever owned (on cassette!) so nostalgia plays a big part in this decision.

3.  The Empire Strikes Back

There are some great pieces in ESB, namely of course, The Imperial March.  That track is SO GOOD.  I love the Imperial March and could listen to it over and over again.  I also love Yoda’s theme and the music played throughout Cloud City at the end of the soundtrack.  The Asteroid Field and Han and Leia are excellent tracks that round out this soundtrack and brings it to the next level.  I feel like this soundtrack is balanced well, but again, not something I could probably listen to over and over again.  The key pieces are amazing but there are some others in there that bore me.

2.  Revenge of the Sith

I think ROTS is one of the most underrated soundtracks out of all the Star Wars movies.  The expanse of what the soundtrack covers is breathtaking.  Some of the most moving pieces in the Saga come from ROTS.  Battle of the Heroes is the most prominent track, but Padmé’s Ruminations still stands up there as one of my favorite compositions of John Williams.  Every time I listen to it, I actually DON’T want to listen to it because of the breadth of emotions it pulls from me.  I think General Grievous’ theme is brass done well.  The soundtrack flows in a way that even without seeing the movie, you can follow along with the music and feel your soul move.  It starts out fast, clipped, and semi-dangerous.  By the end, your heart is broken and full of foreboding.  If I had never seen the movie, I would still be able to feel the emotions I am supposed to.

1.  Return of the Jedi

I place ROTJ first because it’s a soundtrack where I like almost every single one of the compositions created by John Williams.  Not only does it flow well, but it mixes some of my favorite music throughout the entire soundtrack.  We have the Force theme, the main theme, Luke and Leia, the Emperor’s theme, some of the Imperial March, the second Death Star battle, the Ewok’s forest battle music, and the celebration at the end.  It’s bittersweet in some places, we find resolution in other pieces, there is fear, hope and tension woven throughout the soundtrack.  If I had to listen to one soundtrack from the Star Wars universe for the rest of my life – it would be this one.

 

I’m surprised that I picked ROTJ as my favorite of all time (for now).  I didn’t expect it when I first started out with this project.  Yet out of all the movies, it’s soundtrack has most of the compositions that I enjoy.

 

If you had to – how would you rank your favorite Star Wars soundtracks?

Fan Art Friday! Death Star Showdown

A few administrative items right off the bat.

  1. I’ve been very sick for the past week so if my post seemed a little grumpy yesterday – I apologize.  I don’t mind May the 4th that much, but I am beginning to get a little tired of it as it does not seem to really correlate with true Star Wars dates.  That said, I do try to celebrate it and find it cute that I have a lot of friends text me.
  2. I will be traveling internationally next week (Croatia!) and some of the following week and won’t be blogging.  BUT never fear! I wrote a lovely guest blog for The RebeLibrarian which should be going up next week.  I will try to reblog it here when I return.

Now, onto Fan Art Friday which I do with Mei-Mei every month.  Except months I forget, lol!  (I’ve gotten better because I now put it in my calendar with a reminder, good job Kiri).

I want to apologize to Mei-Mei because I found this picture to be incredibly boring.  I saw it while flipping through after I had re-watched Rogue One and thought it was appropriate.  But it very repetitive and I had to force creativity on it which was fun, I suppose, but still not fun enough.  Most of the time I like the mendalas because you’re not constrained by how things should look, but this month’s was a bore.

All that aside, when I Forced (omg I just capitalized Force out of habit but it’s too funny so I’m keeping it like that) my creativity into this picture and did a bunch of different colors, I found it to be more fun.

I kept the Death Star and TIE Fighters industrial grays, the X-wings are red (for obvious reasons), but then I switched up all the other colors.  There was really no rhyme or reason to the green, orange/yellow, and blue.  I just kind of went with what I thought would be fun.  I added pink and mahogany to the little circles but did not find that to be a good choice.  The circles are positioned too close to the red X-wings so it clashes a bit.

Can’t wait for next month’s as this one was a huge yawn.  Don’t forget to check out how Mei-Mei interpreted hers!

Jyn Erso: So Much Potential, But…

I watched Rogue One again two weekends ago.  I really wish I could say that I came away from it better satisfied than the first viewing, and while there were parts that did not irk me as much (such as Darth Vader on Mustafar), I found that I still had major issues with Jyn.

The problems I have are not so much with her, but more with Disney and how they decided to create her character.  I read an article a few years ago when the Hunger Games first came out – critics, especially female critics, were using the Hunger Games as an example of how movies with female leads can crush the box office, despite the fact that Hollywood bigwigs thought that men in leading roles would do better (i.e. make more money).  Hunger Games really broke the mold when it came to the leading female in an action movie and I think we have seen a good amount of movies since then that also prove that.

But this line in one of the articles has stuck with me ever since.  The author said something along the lines of,

Do not write strong female characters.  Instead write characters for women. The strong aspect will fall into place if it’s necessary.

I wish I could remember the article and link back to it, but alas, that was five years ago.

The author was saying that if you focus too much on creating a physically strong character, that character will lack the depth that makes people attracted to movies to begin with.  When we look at Katniss, whom her article was based off of, we see a young woman whose strength comes out of necessity to keep her family safe.  She taught herself how to hunt with a bow and arrow so that she could sell her food on the black market and feed her family.  Her love for her sister is what pushes her to join the Hunger Games.  Her feelings for Peeta is what forces her to turn the games on its head at the last minute and best President Snow.  By creating these driving forces within her, a strong character was created.

This is my first problem with Jyn.  We don’t see any character to her.  And you guys can all preach to me as much as you want that there are more in the books, but if a movie is to be good, you shouldn’t need to read a book.

We know Jyn saw her mother die and her father taken hostage.  We eventually learn that she was raised by Saw.  But because she has no character depth, I don’t understand her motivations.  When she figures out that Cassian had orders to kill her father, she is upset.  She rages at Cassian.  This all makes sense…though Jyn lacks character, anyone can relate to losing a parent; especially in her situation where the loss was not ideal (is it ever an ideal situation?).  Yet within a few minutes, she has joined the Rebellion and trying to convince them to find the Death Star plans on Scarif. 

What?  You want to join the team that blatantly lied to your face about killing your father?  They said he would be unharmed but then Cassian was going to kill him?  You know Cassian didn’t think of that on his own, he pretty much implied he was under orders.  So let’s hold hands with the Rebellion and let bygones be bygones, right?  Phssshhhhh.

Those are my first problems in a nutshell.  I can’t understand Jyn’s motivations and she doesn’t seem to have much of a personality.  And of course I could read the book!  I know!  But if you think that, you’re missing the point.

Now we are onto the second, larger problem I have with Jyn and Disney’s writing of her/the movie.

Disney goes out to make this strong leading heroine (yay!)…but this strong, supposedly capable woman always gets rescued.

Okay read that again.

She. Always. Gets. Rescued.

I’m not sure why I missed this the first time I saw it in theaters.  But watching it again, I can count on my hand three major times that she gets rescued.

The first time is when she meets up with her old foster father, Saw.  He shows her the hologram of her father, Galen Erso, and she is spellbound.  She hasn’t seen her father in years and he’s all of a sudden there calling her by her nickname “Stardust” and telling her about plans to destroy the Death Star.  Meanwhile, the Empire decided to use that exact moment to blow up NiJedha/Holy City. She falls to her knees in shock as the cave begins to crumble…and who comes running around the corner?  Cassian.  Because Cassian got himself out of a cell on his own and ran to get her.  If not for Cassian, Jyn would have been dust and pieces just like Saw Gerrera.  I don’t remember Jyn getting herself out of a cell or handcuffs.  NiJedha/Holy City is exploding, the ceilings are caving in, and Jyn sits there looking at a blank hologram until Cassian forces her to move.

The second time, again, has to do with her father, Galen.  Galen is blown up/shot on Eadu where Jyn had been watching everything, hidden.  She runs to his side, to possibly save him if she can, while trying to hear his last words.  Meanwhile, Rebellion X-wings and TIE fighters are having a full on battle and she’s sitting on the most obvious place (a platform that awkwardly juts out) any X-wing would want to shoot down.

Oh and while she’s sitting there crying over her father, who comes to extract her from this dangerous situation?  I remember – Cassian!  That guy who always seems to be most helpful in these situations where Jyn has high odds of dying.

And then finally, the third time, which is sadly the most unforgiveable.  Jyn and Krennic are face-to-face on the top of the tower at Scarif.  He has a gun.  It’s pointed at her.  How in the world will she get out of this situation?  Hmmm…why not use her brains and figure a way out?  Or not.  Remember that guy Cassian I keep talking about?  He somehow regained consciousness from when he fell, climbed all the way up a tower, just in time to shoot Director Krennic so that Jyn can upload the plans.

If Jyn had managed to get herself out of other situations before, this last rescue would not be so challenging in my eyes.  But she didn’t and never will.

Here’s where I pick my other gripe with Disney.  This would not be as big of a problem if they did not surround Jyn with an all-male cast.  If Jyn was consistently rescued by another women, not only would it show amazing teamwork within females (I think Hollywood likes to pit us females against each other in a petty fashion a bit too much), it would show us that girls can get out of situations on their own.  I’m not saying the entire surrounding cast has to be women, but it would have been helpful to have Cassian be played by a woman.  His character is easily interchangeable with a female lead.

In my point of view, this is why Rey succeeded so well in The Force Awakens and why Jyn’s character was such a failure in Rogue One.  They made Rey a young woman that could fight, cry, laugh, and empathize with others.  They made a character who turned about to be strong.  With Jyn, we get almost the same character throughout the movie and who does not seem to be able to get herself out of tense situations.  She constantly needs to be rescued which does not look good for a female lead, especially one they are hyping up to be battle hardened and tough.  This time, Disney made a strong female without any character.

 

Do you agree or disagree with my rant?  Am I too narrow minded and missing something important that would change my entire argument?