No Ewoks, No Jar Jar: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016, directed by Gareth Edwards)


rogue_one_a_star_wars_story_posterA long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…

The evil Galactic Empire spent what had to be billions of Imperial credits to build the greatest weapon in the universe.  It was known as the Death Star and it housed a laser so powerful that it could blow up a planet with just one shot.  And yet, for all the effort and all the years that were spent building it, the Death Star had one glaring vulnerability, an exposed exhaust valve that the Rebel Alliance twice used to the destroy it.

For years, fanboys debated why the Empire would go to the trouble to build a super weapon with such an obvious design flaw.  I have to admit that I was often one of them.  No one else seemed to care but, to us, this was a huge deal.  If the Empire could figure out how to blow up a planet with one super laser, why couldn’t they figure out how to protect that one valve?

Now, thanks to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we have an answer.  We not only know why that valve was there but we also know what was meant in New Hope when the rebel general said that the plans to the Death Star had been stolen at great cost.

Rogue One is a fan’s dream, one that answers questions while expanding on the Star Wars mythology.  Unlike the previous prequels, it adds to the story without cheapening the original films.  In fact, of all the Star Wars films, Rogue One is the first to make the Death Star into a believable weapon of mass destruction.  When it appears over one planet, it blots out the sun.  When it blows up a rebel base, we see the destruction from inside the base instead of observing it from the safety of Death Star.  Director Gareth Evans does for the Death Star what he previously did for Godzilla.

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Unfortunately, like Godzilla, the action and the special effects in Rogue One are usually more interesting than any of the film’s characters.  Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Donnie Yen, Jiang Wen, Alan Tudyk, and Riz Ahmed are all good actors but they’re all playing underwritten parts.  No one steps up like Harrison Ford did in the original trilogy.  Commander Kennec, played by Ben Mendelsohn, has a little more depth than the typical Imperial villain but, for better or worse, the film’s most memorable performances come from a CGI Peter Cushing and James Earl Jones providing the voice of Darth Vader.

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Despite the underwritten characters, Rogue One is still the best Star Wars film since Empire Strikes Back, a return to the grittiness, the thrilling action, and the awe of discovering new worlds that distinguished the first two movies.  For once, a Star Wars film seems to have more on its mind than just selling toys.  Though we already know what is ultimately going to happen to the Death Star at the end of New Hope, Rogue One is a frequently downbeat film.  There are no Ewoks and, to great relief and rejoicing, Jar Jar is never seen.  The closest that Rogue One gets to comic relief is Alan Tudyk providing the voice of a cynical robot.  The emphasis is on the horrors of war and even the rebels are troubled by some of the things that they have done.  For once, the Rebel Alliance actually feels like a rebellion and the evil of the Empire feels real instead of cartoonish.

Rogue One is projected to be the first of many “Star Wars stories,” stand-alone film that will expand the universe and hopefully clarify some of the points that were left unclear by the original trilogy.  I think it’s going to be very successful very Disney.  I’m just dreading the inevitable Jar Jar origin story.

 

Sci-Fi Film Review: Return of the Jedi (dir by Richard Marquand)


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As you’ve probably noticed, we’ve devoted this month to science fiction here at the Shattered Lens.  Gary Loggins reviewed THX-1138.  Valerie took a look at everything from The Star Wars Holiday Special to Turkish Star Wars to Return of the Ewok.  Ryan the Trashfilm Guru reviewed such Italian classics as Cosmos: War of Planets and War of the Robots.  Patrick Smith reviewed a terrifying Christmas movie about Santa. Myself, I’ve taken a look at such films as Contamination and 2019: After the Fall of New York.  

We’ve reviewed a lot of science fiction and we’ve got a lot more left to go.  (Keep an eye out for my reviews of Starcrash and The Humanoid over the upcoming few days.)  However, from the beginning, this month has always been centered around Star Wars.  You may have heard that there’s a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens and it’s opening this week.  Apparently, a few people are excited about it.  Since we love reviewing little known art films here at the Shattered Lens, we decided why not review all of the previous Star Wars films during the week leading up to the release of The Force Awakens?  Jeff (a.k.a. the blogger known as Jedadiah Leland) started us off by reviewing The Phantom Menace.  Then Alexandre Rothier took a look at Attack of the Clones, followed by Jeff’s look at Revenge of the Sith.  Leonard Wilson was the next to step up to the plate, reviewing both A New Hope and The Empire Strike Back.

And now, it’s my turn to add my thoughts to this project.  It’s time to review the 1983 film, Return of the Jedi.  And I have to admit that, when I first thought about what I wanted to say in this review, I was totally intimidated.  Unlike my fellow writers here at the Shattered Lens, I’m hardly an expert when it comes to Star Wars.  Don’t get me wrong — I know the basics.  I know that Darth Vader is Luke’s father.  I know that Han Solo flies the Millennium Falcon and that Princess Leia is in love with him.  I know there’s an evil Empire and I know that there are rebels.  I’m not a virgin when it comes to Star Wars but, at the same time, I’m definitely not as experienced (with Star Wars) as most of my friends and fellow movie bloggers.

"Dang, Lisa, get over it!"

“Dang, Lisa, get over it!”

So, late this afternoon, when I sat down to watch Return of the Jedi, it was with more than a little trepidation.  My obvious panic and welling tears convinced Jeff to watch the movie with me and I was happy for that.  He loves Star Wars so I knew he could explain to me what was going on.

Finally, we watched Return of the Jedi and I discovered that I was panicking over nothing.  Return of the Jedi may be the third part of trilogy and I may not be an expert on the films that came before it.  But, even with all that in mind, Return of the Jedi is not a difficult film to figure out.  As opposed to the finales of Harry Potter, The Hobbit, and The Hunger Games, Return of the Jedi keeps things simple.  A good guy has been kidnapped by a bad guy.  The other good guys come to the rescue and then go to another planet so that they can fight an even bigger bad guy.  It’s not complicated.

As I watched Return of the Jedi and realized that I was having absolutely no problem following the film’s plot, I also realized that the Star Wars films are such a huge part of our culture that, regardless of how many of them we’ve actually sat through, everyone has absorbed them by osmosis.  Bits and pieces of it are everywhere, showing up in everything from TV sitcoms to political commentary.  (Remember how everyone used to compare Dick Cheney to Darth Vader?)  The Star Wars franchise is almost biblical in that respect.  At the same time, the fact that everyone knows about these movies makes them a little difficult to review.  You don’t so much watch a Star Wars film as you join in a universal experience.  As a reviewer, you definitely find yourself wondering what you can add to a conversation that everyone else has already had.

As a stand alone movie, Return of the Jedi is actually three separate films mixed together.  The first film deals with Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) showing up at Jabba the Hutt’s palace and rescuing Han Solo (Harrison Ford), Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher), Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and two robots from being tossed into a creature called the Sarlacc, which is basically a giant vagina out in the middle of the desert.  The second film deals with the rebels teaming up with a bunch of teddy bears and fighting the Empire on a jungle planet.  And the third film features Luke and Darth Vader (body of David Prowse, voice of James Earl Jones, face of either Sebastian Shaw and Hayden Christensen, depending on which version of the film you’re watching) dealing with their family issues while the Emperor (Ian McDiarmid) cackles in the background.  Some parts of the film work better than others.  The end result is entertaining but definitely uneven.

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Jedi‘s heart belongs to that third film, the one dealing with Luke and Darth Vader.  I’ve read some pretty negative online comments about Mark Hamill’s performance in New Hope and Empire Strikes Back but, in Return of the Jedi, he brings an almost haunted intensity to the role of Luke.  In theory, it’s easy to be snarky about all the talk about the “Dark Side of the Force,” but, when you look in Hamill’s eyes, you totally understand what everyone’s going on about.  You see the fire and the anger but, even more importantly, you see the struggle between good and evil.  There’s a very poignant sadness to the scenes where he and his father prepare to meet the Emperor.

And speaking of the Emperor, he is pure nightmare fuel!  AGCK!

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As for the other two films to found within Return of the Jedi, the jungles of Endor didn’t do much for me.  Don’t get me wrong.  I thought the action scenes were handled well and, unlike apparently everyone else in the world, I was not annoyed by the inclusion of the Ewoks, the killer teddy bears who helped to the Rebels to take down the Empire.  I thought the Ewoks were cute and I actually got pretty upset when one of them was killed in battle.  If I had been alive when Return of the Jedi had been released, I probably would have wanted a stuffed Ewok and, I imagine, that was the main reason they were included in the film.  (I also imagine that’s the main reason why a lot of people can’t stand them.)

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So, no, the Ewoks did not bother me.  What did bother me was that under-construction Death Star floating out in the middle of space.  It bothered me because I really couldn’t imagine any reason why — after the first Death Star was apparently such a colossal failure — the Empire would insist on trying to do the exact same thing all over again.  This, along with the fact that they were rather easily defeated by a bunch of teddy bears, leads me to wonder whether the effectiveness of the Empire was just a little overrated.  I mean, the Emperor was scary but otherwise, everyone involved with the Empire was pretty incompetent.

Far more impressive, as far as villains go, was Jabba the Hut.  In fact, Jabba and his decadent entourage were so memorable and colorful and evil and icky that they pretty much overshadowed almost everything else in the film.  I mean, Jabba even had a blue elephant playing music for him!  And I know that I’m supposed to be critical of the film for putting Leia in that gold bikini but you know what?  Leia may have been forced to wear a gold bikini but she never gave up her dignity or her defiance.  And when it came time to take out Jabba, Leia used the tools of her oppression to do so, strangling him with his own chains.  In that one scene, Leia proved herself to be a true rebel.

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There’s a lot that’s good about Return of the Jedi but, as I said earlier, it’s definitely an uneven film.  Richard Marquand’s direction is perhaps the epitome of workmanlike.  It’s efficient and it’s dependable and there’s absolutely nothing surprising or particularly challenging about it.

It’s interesting to note that, before Richard Marquand was selected as director, the job was offered to both David Lynch and David Cronenberg, two directors who are all about surprising and challenging the audience.  What would David Lynch’s Return of the Jedi been like?  Well, here’s one possibility:

As for David Cronenberg’s Return of the Jedi, it might have looked something like this:

For better or worse, the world got Richard Marquand’s Return of the Jedi, which I imagine was pretty close to what George Lucas wanted the film to be.

As I sit here finishing up this review and wondering just why exactly I was so intimidated earlier (seriously, this turned out to be one the easiest reviews that I’ve ever written), I estimate that 75% of the people that I know are currently sitting in a theater and watching The Force Awakens.  Keep an eye out for Arleigh’s review in the next few days!

And in closing, here’s that blue elephant that I mentioned earlier.  Dance!

Maxrebo

Sci-Fi Review: Ewoks: The Battle For Endor (1985, dir. Jim Wheat & Ken Wheat)


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So one year later we returned to Endor to see the continuing saga of Wicket (Warwick Davis) and the family from The Ewok Adventure. What were those words Burl Ives left us with at the end of The Ewok Adventure again?

“Reunited, the families enjoy the simple pleasures of being together. Having learned something they already knew. That courage, loyalty, and love are the strongest forces in the universe.”

Well, those forces are apparently not that strong because this movie opens up with Cindel’s (Aubree Miller) family getting murdered. That’s nice!

I love that apparently Kilink’s ultimate weapon from Kilink vs. The Flying Man made it all the way from Turkey to the moon of Endor.

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During all this killing we meet the two main villains of this movie.

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This guy (Carel Struycken) who looks like every generic bad guy from ever fantasy adventure movie ever made. He wants some sort of device from a spaceship that he thinks will make him powerful.

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And this lady (Siân Phillips) who looks like she belongs in He-Man and The Masters Of The Universe.

After getting captured, then escaping, Cindel and Wicket do battle with something I’m pretty sure I once hit a golf ball into when I used to play miniature golf.

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While trying to escape that dragon via a hang glider, they crash. Then they meet this guy who is quite annoying throughout this film.

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I guess they figured since Wicket now speaks English, they needed something else small that doesn’t. That thing takes them to a house in the woods, but soon the owner comes home.

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Yep, it’s Wilford Brimley. According to IMDb, he and the Wheats didn’t get along, so the production designer Joe Johnston directed all the scenes with Brimley. How did that work considering Brimley is in the majority of this film. Well, unfortunately Brimley did not bring Remo and Chiun with him. That would have made for a very short film.

A large chunk of this movie can now be described as Brimley talks to Cindel, the bad guys talk amongst themselves, and Brimley and crew decide to seek out the bad guys. Oh, and this happens.

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Unfortunately, Chewbacca from The Star Wars Holiday Special isn’t around to tell little Cindel that something about this doesn’t smell right. Of course she pulls a switcharoo and kidnaps the kid.

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Now we get the annoying little creature, Wicket, and Brimley walking. For some reason we bump into a rock and get this shot of it.

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Looks like a slot machine to me. They finally reach the evil castle, and after girl talk…

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Brimley and crew scale the wall of the castle. Meanwhile, stuff is happening inside. Remember that whole Han and Greedo thing. Who shot first and all that. We can stop arguing about that. It’s time to start arguing over which one of these guys shot first.

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There really isn’t much to talk about now because after they break the good guys (other Ewoks and Cindel) out of the castle, the rest of the film is a run and gun battle. At least this time Endor doesn’t scream Northern California like it did in The Ewok Adventure. Now shots like this just scream EBMUD watershed lands and Redwood Regional Park in the Oakland hills.

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Eventually it all comes down to a battle between Brimley and the bad guy.

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If you strike him down, he will become a more powerful spokesman for diabetes testing supplies then you can possibly imagine. But before that can happen, Wicket throws something that hits a thing on the bad guy’s chest and this happens to him.

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With that done, it’s time for goodbyes and Brimley and Cindel leave the moon of Endor.

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The question is whether this is any better than The Ewok Adventure. I would say no. Sure Wicket can talk, it feels more like we are on a foreign world, and there’s a lot more action to it, but that doesn’t make it better. The Ewok Adventure was a serviceable, but forgettable children’s sci-fi/fantasy adventure movie. This feels like they were contractually obligated to make a sequel so they threw together as generic a fantasy plot as possible and paid Brimley a few bucks to be in it. It’s super forgettable.

Now I just need to rewatch my childhood favorite Warwick Davis movie Willow (1988) and hope that The Force Awakens opens with Wicket pulling a Star Destroyer out of the sky using the force.

Sci-Fi Review: The Ewok Adventure (1984, dir. John Korty)


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Yes, the Ewoks were cute, fun, and Warwick Davis, but did we need two movies devoted just to them? I guess so. This movie is about two kids who are separated from their parents after their spaceship crashes in Northern California where a bunch of little people are cosplaying as Ewoks. Or they have crashed on the distant moon of Endor as our narrator Burl Ives tells us. I believe Burl Ives was an afterthought as he actually barely narrates this movie. It begins when we see the parents at the crash site looking for their kids. A giant shows up and takes them away.

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Then the opening credits start. I swear you could put these over the start of a Davy Crockett movie and they wouldn’t look out of place.

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Next we meet the Ewoks. Two of the kids went out hiking in Marin County and haven’t come back, so it’s time to go hang gliding to find them.

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After the kid Ewoks are saved, we get introduced to the human children.

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This is Cindel played by Aubree Miller who just had a mirror put in front of her and realized she’s wearing that unfortunate headband.

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This is Mace played by Eric Walker who is doing his best impersonation of David Packer in V (1983).

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It’s actually kind of tough to talk about this movie cause there’s little to it. So let’s hit the main points here. Such as that we finally know where the llama at the gas station in Godard’s Film Socialisme came from.

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It came from the North Bay Area Moon of Endor. This is the first of several times you’ll see Earthbound animals that apparently exist on Endor too.

A bunch of this now is the kids and the Ewoks feeling each other out such as how to communicate, can they be friends, and will the Ewoks help the kids to find their parents. Cindel isn’t feeling well so the Ewoks and Mace go out to find some special medicine. And by that I mean we can have a scene where Mace almost gets his arm chewed off by putting it in a tree with this.

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Now Cindel is just fine.

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The kids try to sneak away, but they should be careful out there, it looks like there’s a werewolf howling at the moon.

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Scratch that! It’s one of those Rodents Of Unusual Size that Wesley fought in the Fire Swamp.

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They find something on the creature that leads them to believe that their parents are still alive. Now it’s time to go out and hunt for them. But first we need to hand out special items to the members of the caravan that will go to search for the parents.

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Mace gets stuck with a rock. That’s no good. The rock arcs over anything you throw it at.

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How is Mace supposed to save his parents from Jason Voorhees? Now they head out and make me depressed that I can’t go hiking right now.

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Next Mace makes a rookie mistake that people who approach California ponds frequently make. He gets really close to the water when…

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suddenly he is erased from the frame leaving only his reflection in the water…

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before we cut to him trapped under the water like he’s under ice.

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It could have been worse. It could have been this pond just a few miles from my East Bay California home.

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After he’s rescued and some more travel, we get to the next plot point. Nukie flies by the tent.

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Actually, it’s a bunch of light that is collected and turns into Mace’s own personal little fairy.

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Time for more walking. They finally arrive at “The Dreaded Forbidden Fortress Of The Giant Thorax (???)”.

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Good thing Ives told us that because otherwise I thought they arrived at the poster for The Keep (1983). Now we find out what the rock from earlier was about. Turns out it’s hollow.

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Inside is an arrowhead that was clearly placed inside there by some Native Endorian Indians. The arrowhead flies toward and underneath a rock. The kid blows the rock away with his gun. Inside, Mace decides to leave Cindel behind for her own safety. Now the Ewoks mean business. This one puts on its Thor helmet just in case they run into Vincent D’Onofrio and don’t have the money they owe him.

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Now they reach a cavern, but unlike Indy, they have a web they can climb across.

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They fight a huge spider, which falls down the cavern, then magically pops up again before getting defeated.

Now we finally get a good look at the creature holding the kids’ parents.

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After a battle that takes the strength of all of them working together, they defeat the monster who also falls down the cavern, then is magically back at the top of it before ultimately being stopped.

They all make it out alive. Mace lets the fairy thing loose and Cindel gets her wings.

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This is when Burl Ives comes back to leave us with these parting words: “Reunited, the families enjoy the simple pleasures of being together. Having learned something they already knew. That courage, loyalty, and love are the strongest forces in the universe.”

And when those don’t work, just shoot lasers…

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and throw hatchets.

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This is a harmless little 80s children’s fantasy/sci-fi movie. The thing is there are better films of this sort from that same time period such as Labyrinth (1986), The Never Ending Story (1984), and Willow (1988). I’d say this is for Star Wars completionists only.

Sci-Fi Review: Return Of The Ewok (1982, dir. David Tomblin)


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Apparently, David Tomblin, who worked as an assistant director on Return Of The Jedi, thought it would be fun to shoot a little behind the scenes movie back when they were making the film. This short ~25 minute movie was first seen at conventions in 1999 according to IMDb. Now it’s still a little obscure, but I was able to find a copy. This is what the holiday special should have been like in my opinion.

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The movie opens up and we meet young Warwick Davis, barely a teenager, deciding it’s time for him to make a name for himself. This first takes him to see if he can be a training partner for Dave Prowse, the “Undefeated Weightlifting Champ”.

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As you can see, that doesn’t work out for him. Insert your own joke here about Warwick Davis, Dave Prowse, and this scene from A Clockwork Orange (1971).

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Next Davis spots a sign from the Chelsea Football Club for a “First Team Goalkeeper”. This is when Take The Long Way Home by Supertramp kicks in as we see Davis trying to play goalie.

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But Davis was destined for other things. Such as intersecting with stock footage from the Star Wars movies. I love that we have Luke fighting Vader.

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Then Luke gets pushed back by Vader into the street.

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Davis gives him some words of encouragement,

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then Luke goes back in the door…

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and flips right back into the stock footage to finish the fight.

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Now Davis is off to be an actor! But first he has to deal with those pesky elevators with their buttons that are too high to press. Davis is clever though. He calls someone on the floor he needs to go to and fakes a voice to get them to come down so he can go up. He makes it to an agent.

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The agent tells him the movie he’s currently working on is Revenge Of The Jedi. Says he’s got a box of costumes, so go try something on and let’s take a look.

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Warwick decides Boba Fett isn’t for him cause he wants to play a good guy. The agent suggests an Ewok. Neither knows what that is, but it pays, and the costume fits! So off he goes to try and find the studio.

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The cab driver asks for his fare, but Davis tells him Ewoks don’t have money. Next let’s prank Harrison Ford.

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Ford doesn’t know where he’s supposed to go so it’s time check in with Hamill.

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When Hamill doesn’t know, then it’s time for Carrie.

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Nice to know that Carrie just hung around in the bikini whenever she felt like it. She tells him to go Jabba’s palace so off he goes!

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Davis runs into C-3PO, R2-D2, and Chewbacca. He asks for directions, but they get scared and run away. He finally makes it to the palace.

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This is a great little scene where Davis interacts with the puppets, dances, and talks to the choreographer. Now Davis finds himself on the Death Star and narrowly escapes Boba Fett.

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Davis thinks he’s found Frank Oz’s office, but whoops!

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Now we see C-3PO being an annoying jackass. Luckily, Davis is here to show how to handle him. Just turn him off.

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And with C-3PO turned off, let’s turn him into a lamp.

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But Davis still doesn’t know where to go. That means it’s time to turn to Yoda.

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Yoda tells him he needs to go to Endor which is in a galaxy far far away. Davis asks him how to get there. Yoda says on the table is his passport and ticket. So Davis is off to the airport. He first tries to get aboard the plane as an Ewok, but it’s a no go, so he goes undercover as Warwick Davis instead.

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Finally Davis makes it to Endor. This part makes up the last 6 minutes or so of the movie. Davis basically wanders around Endor with a little interaction from the characters. The best part is when he runs inside the little fortress with a bomb and blows it up.

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His job done, Davis leaves to go into the forest of Endor to meet back up with his parents.

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They have a humorous little discussion about him wandering off, that sure he was just in a movie, and about how much it costs to take a rocket ship.

I was born the year The Return Of The Jedi came out so obviously I wasn’t there to see the holiday special when it aired, but I’d bet people were expecting something more like this movie. This was fun, it had it’s own original storyline that still interacted with the films, featured the actual actors, and more than anything, the actors actually look like they had fun making this. To my knowledge this still isn’t something that is out there widely available. That’s sad. If you can find it, watch it!

Japanese Trailer of Star Wars: The Force Awakens Even Better


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Just a couple weeks ago saw the release of the first and last official trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It was teasers before that one. The official trailer was suppose to keep the Star Wars fandom sated until December 18 (or earlier for those willing to brave the early advance screenings before midnight). It pushed all the right buttons to keep the fandom happy and wanting more.

Out of the blue, this morning saw Disney release without any fanfare a new trailer but one cut and edited for the Japanese market. It’s a trailer that includes scenes and images already seen in the previous official trailer and two earlier teasers, but also happened to include newer scenes (that still doesn’t spoil what the film will be all about) involving BB-8, Kylo Ren and more Princess Leia and Chewie.

So, it would seem that when Disney said that the trailer released a couple weeks ago would be the one and only trailer for the film it would seem they meant it would be the only domestic trailer. Sneaky, sneaky there Disney.

Plus, I rather prefer the Japanese trailer. Once again proves the Japanese gets the cool things.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Breaks The Internet


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It’s not hyperbole when I say that Star Wars: The Force Awakens broke the internet tonight. Fandango announced pre-sale of tickets early by accident which caused the massive Star Wars fandom to rush on-line to be able to buy tickets before they ran out for the early showing on December 17, 2015. Well, this hasn’t gone down well with many who thought the pre-sale orders were going to go up after the trailer debuts during halftime of Monday Night Football.

I was one such out-of-luck individuals, but I remembered my days of youth when pre-ordering tickets to such event films meant going to the theater itself and buying them in person. This I did and I’m blessed to have gotten all the tickets I need.

Thus, despite Star Wars: The Force Awakens breaking the internet it would seem doing things the old-school way still rewards those who still thinks in analog and not just digital.

Now, let’s watch the latest trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens over and over before it premieres on December 18, 2015.