Monthly Archives: December 2017

Loving Leia

tumblr_o0i9uy4g8W1v2fnuuo5_1280Our Princess passed one year ago. While she is mostly known for her role in Star Wars, Carrie Fisher was more than that. Outside of her character, she was a survivor. Carrie was a vibrant, witty, troubled woman who was fighting drug addiction and depression her entire life. A woman who pushed past her problems and made something of herself, instead of succumbing to severely crippling psychological disorders.

I met Carrie once, over a decade ago. Carrie was signing at the Big Apple Convention in NYC and was bored out of her mind. She was cranking out assembly line signatures to fans who were too afraid to say anything to her except, “Thank you,” if they even remembered to do that.

Aware of her fun side, when I got to my place in line, I spoke up.

“Hey Carrie, please sign it to Dr. Pornstar, and write something dirty, too.”

Carrie paused.  A smile began to creep over her face.
Her eyes twinkled.
“Mmmmm,” she said, inspiration taking hold.

Below is the result. Thank you, Carrie. Just as you live on in the Last Jedi, you live on in our hearts. You were and still are a beacon of hope.

Andrew E.C. Gaska

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Creative Kiss 101—An Empire of Nuances

CONTINUING A NON-SPOILER LOOK AT STAR WARS: THE LAST JEDI VIA ANALYSIS OF OTHER FILMS IN THE FRANCHISE.

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Many times, it’s the little things that push something over the top—for better or for worse. Just as the static and clumsy oversight of an incompetent creator can hinder any fictional endeavor, the subtleties perpetrated by a good director can augment one’s sense of wonder. The tools at any creative director’s disposal include more than the players and crew. Palette, scene composition, dialogue, and character idiosyncrasies are all key to telling a bigger story.

Irvin Kirschner was George Lucas’ film teacher. When George bowed out of directing the eventually titled Episode V, he asked the senior director to pick up the reins for him. What he did not expect was that Kirshner would create a superior product, elevating Star Wars out of Toyland and into film and franchise history. As director of the second Star Wars film, Kirschner jam-packed every shot in the Empire Strikes Back with details not readily noticed on a single viewing. Let’s take a single scene and break it down, shall we?

THE SCENE: LEIA KISSES LUKE TO PISS OFF HAN

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ACTION

The modern viewer is drawn, of course, to the incestuous brother/sister kiss which dominates the scene (Mr. Lucas seems to have glossed over this kiss and Luke and Leia’s awkward romance when he got lazy and decided not to follow the original plan.continue with Episodes VII VIII & IX in the eighties. According to Gary Kurtz, Luke’s actual sister was on the other side of the galaxy. After the Emperor’s death in Episode VI, Palatine’s essence would flee there to corrupt her. Luke would pursue the disembodied Emperor, ultimately finding his sister and encountering a whole new universe of threats. But I digress…)

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THE DEVIL, YOU SAY

It’s all about the details. Let’s take a look at the other particulars of this scene. Chewbacca, obviously, finds the entire affair amusing. Han is… well, look at Captain Solo’s face—obviously, he is disappointed and yearning as he watches Leia kiss her brother, wishing it was he she was kissing instead of Luke.

The best part is Threepio’s double take. He rushes up to see the kiss, then immediately turns to see Han’s reaction. As stupid as Threepio is, he knows.

When Leia pulls away from Luke and looks Han in the face, the smuggler quickly changes his visage to one of awkward nonchalance. He tries in vain to look nonplussed by it all and is unable to meet her eyes for long.

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WHY IT WORKS

Altogether a well-played amusing scene that gets better with subsequent viewings. There is always something new to look at in each revisit. Everyone in this one scene has their own arc to worry about. Each is in character and reacting according to who and what they arethe secondary characters aren’t just there to fill up space, even though they are reacting to something that has nothing to do with them. Compare that to the prequel trilogy, when character and dialogue exist merely to move the thinly contrived plot from point A to B to C. Everyone in Empire is alive.

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CONCLUSION

Irvin Kirschner was a civilized director for a more civilized age, and more modern directors would do well to tip their hats to the man. His attention to detail was something you that you simply don’t see in genre fiction anymore—and something that elevated Empire from a mere sequel ‘strapped to a one-hit wonder’ to art in and of itself. It’s easy to get caught up in the trappings of a galaxy far, far, away. Fans need to remember that just like a good book or anything else, a good film is good regardless of its genre. For all its potential and revelations, the Last Jedi is missing the nuances needed to make it so. That’s right, I made a Trek reference on a Star Wars post. You go and Live Prosper now, alright?

Just as the other films in history’s longest trilogy, it’s devoid of the art of Empire. Does that make the Last Jedi a bad film? Probably not. I did enjoy it. It’s certainly not prequel bad. It’s just no Empire Strikes Back. But then again, what else is? Not much.

Class dismissed.

Andrew E.C. Gaska

 

TRIGGERED! THE LAST JEDI 99.999% SPOILER FREE TEASER REVIEW

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THE GOOD, THE BAD, THE UGLY AND THE SPOILED OF TLJ.

Note: Extremely minor non-plot and non-character spoiler towards the end of this post.

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THE GOOD

Cool critter and vehicle design plus incredibly epic and emotional scenes that are the essence of Star Wars, coupled with character revelations and plot twists that spin the franchise in new directions and force you to rethink what you thought you knew about a galaxy far, far, away.

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THE BAD

Excessive humor of a type inappropriate to the franchise, uninspired alien design, an prequel-esque planet, a ponderous plot, an unexpected and particularly off-putting SFX visual representation of a beloved icon that should work but just doesn’t, a few hammed-up performances and a series of contrived circumstances that rival the prequels in their ham-fisted execution.

Aliens

THE UGLY

Fanboy reactions and the fear that the next film will backpedal and transform TLJ’s spin into a crash and burn in order to get it back on its overwrought cyclical track.

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AND THE SPOILED

Space Walrus milk. Likely spoiled, definitely gratuitous.
Do not want.

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PROGNOSIS

Second viewing required. At the least.

Andrew E.C. Gaska

Empire Builder

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THIS ESSAY IS SPOILER FREE FOR THE LAST JEDI.

As we embrace and/or reject STAR WARS EPISODE VIII: THE LAST JEDI this holiday season, it seems appropriate to revisit Star Wars’ past for commentary—and not the least of which would be Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back. Empire is considered by far the best of the Star Wars films and is also the original game changer. It turned Star Wars on its ear and paved way for an expanding universe.

Empire, well, built an empire.

As the middle film in Disney’s new Star Wars trilogy, does the Last Jedi follow suit? Well, yes and no. It does successfully shake things up. It levels the playing field and disavows fan expectations—but unfortunately does so without the art, finesse, and excellence in storytelling that Empire provided.  Over the coming weeks, we will be diving deep into the Last Jedi. For now, let’s take a look at what Episode V did right to ensure an Empire of Star Wars.

When the original Star Wars came out, it stood precariously on a precipice.

It was a child-like adventure presented in an adult manner. Gone was the usual schlock of such endeavors, replaced with well-rounded performances, cutting-edge special effects, and witty dialogue and banter, punched up by none other than the late and great Carrie Fisher, Princess Leia herself.

At its core, however, the first Star Wars (1977) was as the original teaser presented it: The story of a boy, a girl, and a universe.

With its overwhelming success, a sequel was indeed called for. What direction such a continuation would go in, however, would prove to be crucial to its enduring ascendancy. Would Star Wars 2 follow the same formula as the first one? Would it be re-trend, or could it be something more? While we all know what did happen, it could have gone either way.

Originally, not only was Obiwan Kenobi intended to survive the first film, hanging around until its conclusion with not much to do (in order to train Luke in the next one), but so was the Death Star (!), denying the unforeseen blockbuster any resolution or success for its heroes. And in Lucas’ first cut edit of the film, Luke makes the Death Star trench run twice after missing the first time!  Intervention by the studio and Marcia Lucas (George’s soon to be exiled ex-wife) saved the feature from such an ignoble fate.

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With a sequel greenlit, would Luke, Han, and Leia face off against a second Death Star, or would this be an actual continuing story? Could Star Wars indeed become a saga?

Now, with George Lucas distracted by his impending divorce, as well as the founding of his soon to be legendary effects house, ILM, the chance for an actual continuation was born.

Science fiction luminary Leigh Brackett was brought in to flesh out a story from George’s extremely loose notes, with Lawrence Kasden following to work on subsequent drafts when she fell ill. The final pieces of the puzzle fell into place when Irvin Kershner was hired to direct in Lucas’ absence, and Harrison Ford’s suggestions on set–otherwise ignored in George’s presence–were taken seriously.

With the advent of Kershner and Brackett’s far superior the Empire Strikes Back, the Star Wars saga was officially catapulted from young adult science fiction fantasy head first into mature space opera.

Unfortunately, the scripting and direction of its sequel, Return of the Jedi, did not maintain this trend—defaulting to type with a second Death Star, as well as revisiting Luke’s desert planet Tatooine in the first act. George’s rational at the time: Do a better Death Star and “cantina sequence” (this time as Jabba’s palace) than he did the first time, to show how much his effects house had grown.

Apparently, George’s mantra had become effects over story, despite his words to the contrary in many an interview.

This repetition was a detriment to the concept of an actual saga, but by that time the damage was done: Star Wars was forever ingrained in American popular culture.

Empire Strikes Back was indeed the lynchpin that made Star Wars more than a one-hit wonder.

Vader’s transformation from the Empire’s goon/thug into a maniacal calculating menace, Han Solo’s growth from selfish pirate to a man with something worth fighting for, and Luke’s trials and disastrous face off against the Sith Lord all made the saga we know and love today a reality.

Without Empire’s adult attitude, dark themes, complex story, fascinating compositions, and three-dimensional characterizations, Star Wars would likely be forever remembered as a successful curiosity of the summer of 1977, and nothing more.

Instead, it is a cultural phenomenon spanning decades.

And it’s all thanks to a bold new direction in science fiction and fantasy filmmaking, as well as the love of a universe by those other than it’s creator.

Viva la Empire.

Andrew. E. C. Gaska

 

A Comic with Conscience

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Just as I owe my imagination to a movie trilogy and a role-playing game, I owe my social values to a comic book and a television series.

G.I.JOE: A Real American Hero (said aforementioned comic) and Star Trek (the previously referred to television show) together helped shape my conscience as a child and early teen. As Trek has been discussed at length by me elsewhere, I’ll discuss JOE here.

My first taste of G.I. JOE was in 1982. It was not an action figure but was instead a friend’s comic tucked inside a textbook and covertly read during class in the fourth grade.

For those of you who never experienced it, that comic is not what the general public perception of JOE is.

While the eventual cartoon was ultimately sci-fi driven kids’ entertainment, for over a decade Larry Hama’s G.I. JOE comic series was grounded in a near reality full of mature themes and concepts—and I don’t mean of the rated R variety. The comic taught a ten-year-old me about racial and sexual equality. It taught diversity, honor, and the difference between doing what you are told to do and the right thing to do.

Through its characters’ past in Vietnam, it showed me that war was a terrible thing that no normal person wants to go through. It satirized real-world political and social situations, providing an unwitting me a glimpse at policy, bureaucracy, diplomacy and even economics. It showed me people can judge for the wrong reasons and can lose their way over legitimate issues. It taught me what freedom of speech meant. It taught me sacrifice and it taught me loyalty.

Finally, for a boy who was ostracized for his imaginative and intellectual pursuits, it taught me acceptance.

While Snake Eyes, the de-facto star of the series, was white (like me), his best friends—two other main characters—were Asian and Black. Snake Eyes had suffered through Vietnam and emerged from the war with his family dead. He wasn’t considered a hero by the public but was instead labeled a baby killer for nothing more than being a soldier in a war he never wanted to fight. He soon found himself without any direction. He was taken in by his friend’s family and trained by them in special skills until tragedy struck there as well—causing a schism of hatred between two men who previously thought of themselves as brothers.

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With nowhere else to go, Snake Eyes returned to the military—the only life he knew—and soon took an engine blast to the face when saving a fellow member from a helicopter crash. He was disfigured and rendered mute—unable to express his pent-up emotions and frustrations—and wore a mask to hide his scarred visage.

And yet he was loved, both by his friends and the highly skilled strong woman he had saved during the helicopter accident. She loved him for the man he was underneath that black mask. Constantly in physical and emotional pain, he didn’t make it easy for her. She loved him for his tortured heart and his personal code of honor.

Heavy stuff for an insecure outcast kid who thought of himself as ugly. Surely if Snake Eyes could find love and acceptance, one day I could as well.

Ironically, my mother originally wanted to keep me away from G.I. JOE because she was afraid it would lead to me wanting a life in the military. My father was an NYC Police Officer, and the idea of her son being professionally in harm’s way as well was something she didn’t want to deal with.

It was the colorful, racially diverse cast of characters (along with my persistent nagging) that made her change her mind. At first, I was only allowed to get the figures that “didn’t look army”—Snake Eyes, Scarlett, the Cobra Troopers, etc.—basically anyone who wasn’t wearing green.

Finally, when she figured out I’d been buying the comic behind her back with any spare change I could scrounge up, she conceded.

Even got me the U.S.S.Flagg Aircraft Carrier.

G.I. JOE spurred both my creativity and my sense of social justice.

Thank you, Larry, for helping set me on the right path.

Andrew. E. C. Gaska

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