James Cameron’s Story of Science-Fiction

DVD REVIEW: 

Street Date 7/28/20;
RLJ;
Documentary;
$34.97 DVD or Blu-ray;
Not Rated.
Featuring James Cameron, George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Christopher Nolan, Ridley Scott.

This six-episode documentary series hosted by filmmaker James Cameron should prove a fascinating viewing experience for any fan of the title genre, primarily due to the high-caliber talent on display sharing their insights on the topic.

The series is structured with each episode taking on a different topic within the genre: “Alien Life,” “Space Exploration,” “Monsters,” “Dark Futures,” “Intelligent Machines” and “Time Travel.” They run a shade over 40 minutes each on disc, long enough to fill an hour-long time slot when commercials are added in (the series originally aired on AMC in 2018).

Much of the series follows a typical documentary format tracing the history of the episode’s topic, with analysis from various talking heads in the form of critics, authors, actors and filmmakers. Particular emphasis is placed on the various social, political and philosophical underpinnings of various sci-fi stories throughout history. One primary thesis that arises is the notion that science-fiction isn’t about predicting the future, it’s about choosing our future — an observation that demonstrates why there’s still considerable value to older sci-fi tales that might otherwise seem outdated.

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But the heart of the program involves Cameron sitting for a series of one-on-one interviews with other high-profile directors as they discuss each others work (with no shortage of praise for one another, as could be expected). The stories the directors tell range from the oft-repeated tales that every fan knows, to interesting insights into what guided certain filmmaking decisions, such as how Steven Spielberg adapted much of his childhood into Close Encounters and E.T.

The discussion with George Lucas raises some eyebrows during the A.I. episode, when Cameron says so many movies depict the machines as bad guys, leading to Lucas stating that’s why he decided to depict robots as the good guys in “Star Wars” — the pair apparently sidestepping the fact that Lucas made three “Star Wars” films in which the good guys fought entire armies of evil robots.

Still, the conversations are fun to watch and the various TV and movie clips offer enough nostalgia that any viewer should find something to like.

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The bonus section includes extended interviews with Spielberg, Lucas, Ridley Scott, Christopher Nolan, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Will Smith and Sigourney Weaver. These run about three to four minutes each.

The Future of ‘Star Wars’ Storytelling Is Clear

The week of “May the 4th Be With You” has been a banner one for Dave Filoni, the longtime animation veteran who is now one of the leading creatives of “Star Wars” content over at Lucasfilm.

Monday, May 4, marked the triumphant finale of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” the CG-animated series executive produced by Filoni that was given a chance by Disney+ to finish storylines that were abandoned after Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012 and canceled the series.

Filoni later went on to earn praise from “Star Wars” fans for producing the likes of “Star Wars Rebels” and “The Mandalorian,” the latter alongside noted fanboy filmmaker Jon Favreau.

Having worked with George Lucas since before “Clone Wars” debuted in 2008, Filoni is something of a creative bridge between the Lucas and Disney eras of “Star Wars.”

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In the first episode of the new Disney+ behind-the-scenes series “Disney Gallery: Star Wars — The Mandalorian,” which premiered May 4, Filoni talked about learning about live-action filmmaking from Lucas and applying those ideas to animation. All he expected from his initial meeting about doing a “Clone Wars” show was a story he could tell in line at Revenge of the Sith about being in a room as George Lucas ruminated to him about the zen philosophies of the Jedi. Filoni ended up getting the job, implying it had something to do with Lucas enjoying his work on “Avatar: The Last Airbender.”

Yet when it came time to craft the sequels to Lucas’ films, the new regime turned to J.J. Abrams, not Favreau or Filoni. The new films have mostly divided fan loyalties over the creative direction of a franchise that seems to be in serious need of a producer along the lines of Marvel Studios’ Kevin Feige who can oversee the coherence of the shared universe, an element that was noticeably absent from the recent sequel trilogy.

In the second episode of “Disney Gallery” that premiered today (May 8), Filoni delivers a soliloquy that should cement his status as the person who should fill that role. In it, he analyzes a key plot point from 1999’s Star Wars: Episode I — The Phantom Menace from an angle many fans may not have approached it from before.

The “Disney Gallery” series features Favreu, Filoni and other filmmakers involved with the show and “Star Wars” engaged in a series of roundtable discussions about their approach to the material. At one point, the discussion turned to the nature of storytelling in the “Star Wars” universe.

“The prequels I thought were almost an impossible task,” Filoni says. “How do you tell the story that we’ve all grown up with, imagining who Anakin Skywalker was? You saw so many things in The Phantom Menace that you had just imagined, like the Jedi Council, and none of it really was what I had expected, but I know now that’s just like how creative George is, he just sees it differently.”

Filoni focuses on the climactic battle between Jedi Qui-Gon Jinn and his apprentice, Obi-Wan Kenobi, with Darth Maul, an agent of chaos working for the Sith Lord who would eventually become Emperor Palpatine.

“I love the lightsaber fight with Darth Maul, not because it’s a lightsaber fight, but because George is so good at crafting why that fight’s important,” Filoni says. “In Phantom Menace, you’re watching these two Jedi in their prime fight this evil villain. Maul couldn’t be more obviously the villain, he’s designed to look evil.”

Filoni compares the emotional stakes of the battle with that of the fight between the older Obi-Wan and Darth Vader in the 1977 original movie before continuing.

“What’s at stake is really how Anakin’s going to turn out,” Filoni says. “Because Qui-Gon is different from the rest of the Jedi. You get that in the movie, and Qui-Gon is fighting because he knows he’s the father that Anakin needs, because Qui-Gon hasn’t given up on the fact that the Jedi are supposed to actually care and love, and that’s not a bad thing. The rest of the Jedi are so detached, and have become so political that they’ve really lost their way, and Yoda starts to see that in the second film. But Qui-Gon is ahead of them all. That’s why he’s not part of the Council.”

Filoni then references “Duel of the Fates,” composer John Williams’ signature track written for Episode I.

“So he’s fighting for Anakin, and that’s why it’s the ‘Duel of the Fates,’ it’s the fate of this child. And depending on how this fight goes, Anakin is going to, his life is going to be dramatically different. So, Qui-Gon loses, of course. … He knew what it meant to take this kid away from his mother, when he had an attachment, and he’s left with Obi-Wan.

“Obi-Wan trains Anakin at first out of a promise he makes to Qui-Gon, not because he cares about him.”

Filoni points out that when Obi-Wan first hears about Anakin, he considers him a distraction in the same vein as Jar-Jar Binks, and thinks trying to save the boy from slavery is a waste of time. In that sense, Obi-Wan shares the detachment from empathy that Qui-Gon worries has engulfed the Jedi Order.

“So he’s a brother to Anakin, eventually, but he’s not a father figure,” Filoni says. “That’s a failing for Anakin. He doesn’t have the family that he needs. He loses his mother in the next film. He fails on this promise that he made, ‘mother I will come back and save you.’ So he’s left completely vulnerable. And ‘Star Wars’ ultimately is about family.

“It’s everything the entire three films of the prequels hangs on, is that one particular fight.”

At that point, Maul’s role in the story has been fulfilled as disposable tool of the Emperor, who then turns his attentions to Anakin, eventually manipulating Anakin’s sense of loss to turn him into the evil Darth Vader by filling the fatherly void in Anakin’s life.

Filoni then turns to 1983’s Episode VI: Return of the Jedi, and the scene where Luke is tempted to join the dark side by killing the Emperor out of anger.

“The only thing that’s going to save Luke is not his connection to the Force, it’s not the powers he’s learned. It’s not all these things that are an advantage to him,” Filoni says. “That’s gotten him to the table. But what saves Luke is his ability to look at all that, and look at his father and say no, I’m going to throw away this weapon, I’m not going to do that, I’m going to let that go and be selfless. And he says ‘I’m a Jedi like my father before me,’ but what he’s really saying and why we connect, why I connect so powerfully to it is he’s saying ‘I love my father, and there’s nothing you can do that’s going to change that.’ And the Emperor can’t understand that connection. Why wouldn’t you take from the power of the galaxy? Why won’t you take this?

“And Anakin, in that moment, has to decide to be the father that he’s never had. He has to give up all the power in the galaxy and save his son. And that’s the selfless act that he does in return for his son. And that’s what saves him in turn. So the son saves the father, the father saves the son and it works out perfectly, and I draw that line all the way from The Phantom Menace to Jedi. That’s the story of ‘Star Wars.’”

The example, Filoni says, is emblematic of the core values that all “Star Wars” stories should strive for.

“It’s all part of the fated arc. It’s all part of why it works and why we care,” Filoni says. “It’s not about X-Wings. It’s not about all these things we decorate ‘Star Wars’ in. It’s important, it’s part of the genius of it, but we soulfully react to it. We don’t just want an action movie, we want to feel uplifted. And ‘Star Wars’ is an adventure that makes you feel good, you know?

“That’s what I always go back to with ‘Star Wars’ is this selfless act, this family dynamic, which is so important to George, so important to the foundation of ‘Star Wars.’”

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The ultimate lesson, Filoni says, is one he learned directly from Lucas.

“Remember to make these stories hopeful,” Filoni says, channeling his mentor’s words. “Remember to give that to kids because they really need it.”

After that kind of insightful analysis, is there any doubt that Filoni isn’t the true heir to the creative legacy of “Star Wars”?

Merchandising: Best Buy Continues 4K Catalog Push

With a modest slate of new releases hitting shelves May 5, retailers focused mostly on promoting catalog titles and more notable recent hits.

Best Buy in particular continued to offer deals on a variety of films on 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray.

The chain had a two for $30 deal on select movies from Paramount, including Ghost in the Shell, Interstellar, Saving Private Ryan, Gladiator, Braveheart, A Quiet Place, Mission: Impossible — Fallout, Overlord, Bumblebee and the 2009 Star Trek.

It also had a three for $35 offer on select Universal 4K movies, including Warcraft, Lucy, King Kong 2005, Get Out, Apollo 13, American Made, Straight Outta Compton, Fast & Furious 6, Furious 7 and The Fate of the Furious.

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Many promotions were also built around the annual “Star Wars” day known as “May the 4th Be With You.” Best Buy made “Star Wars” movies one of its weekly “Top Deals.” Target dedicated a full page of its weekly ad to “Star Wars” products, including the movies on Blu-ray for $19.99 each. And Disney offered the “Star Wars” movies through digital retailers for as low as $4.99 on May 4 only.

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‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ to Debut Early May 4 on Disney+

The final chapter of the Skywalker saga, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, will begin streaming two months early on Disney+ May 4 in honor of the day known by fans as “Star Wars Day.” For the first time ever, fans will be able to stream the complete nine-part Skywalker saga in one place, according to the studio.

Lucasfilm and director J.J. Abrams joined forces once again to deliver Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the climactic chapter in the Skywalker saga, bringing the struggle to restore peace and freedom to the galaxy to a conclusion.

The film stars Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid and Billy Dee Williams.

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker joins Disney+’s May 4 line-up including the premiere of the eight-episode documentary series “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian” and the series finale of the animated series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars.”

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In addition to new content offerings, Disney+ will also honor the artistry of “Star Wars” with a week-long concept art takeover on the service. Each film and series’ artwork will be updated May 4 to feature its original concept paintings from Star Wars: A New Hope to “The Mandalorian.” The updated art will feature work from artists such as Ralph McQuarrie and Academy Award-winning artist, author and production designer Doug Chiang. On the Disney+ home screen, the animated “Star Wars” brand tile, viewable on web and connected TV devices, will be upgraded with a new animation that honors the signature hyperspace jump.

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In the Netherlands, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker will launch on Disney+ May 5 due to the Memorial Day holiday.

‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ Tops ‘Watched at Home’ Chart for Third Week

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the final installment in Disney’s “Star Wars” sequel trilogy, was No. 1 for the third consecutive week on the “Watched at Home” chart the week ended April 18.

The film’s run at the top of the weekly chart, which tracks transactional video activity compiled from studio and retailer data through DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group, has been extended by the lack of any high-profile theatrical releases coming into the home video pipeline, due to the closure of movie theaters more than a month ago as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic’s stay-at-home orders.

The Rise of Skywalker vaunted into the top spot on the chart — which measures disc sales, digital purchase (electronic sellthrough, or EST) and digital rental — three weeks ago in the wake of its release on Blu-ray Disc, DVD and 4K Ultra HD.

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Sony Pictures’ Bad Boys for Life shot up to No. 2 from No. 4 on the “Watched at Home” chart, its popularity perhaps fanned by marketing in support of the film’s April 21 debut on disc. The third “Bad Boys” film was released digitally on March 31 due to the pandemic but had already grossed more than $200 million in North American theaters, making it the top box office earner in the franchise.

Paramount’s Sonic the Hedgehog slipped to No. 3  on the “Watched at Home” chart after two weeks in the second spot. The film, based on the iconic video game character, was another early digital release (March 31) and is scheduled to come out on Blu-ray Disc and DVD on May 21.

Universal Pictures’ Dolittle, a fantasy comedy adventure film about a veterinarian (played by Robert Downey Jr.) who can communicate with animals, slipped to No. 4 from No. 3, while Sony Pictures’  Jumanji: The Next Level remained at No. 5 for the second week.

Fox’s Underwater and Warner’s Just Mercy both debuted in the top 20 for the first time after they were released on Blu-ray Disc and DVD.

Underwater, which bowed at No. 13 on the “Watched at Home” chart, is a science-fiction horror film, starring Kristen Stewart, that grossed just over $40 million at the domestic box office.

Just Mercy, which entered the chart at No. 15, is a legal drama starring Michael B. Jordan and Jamie Foxx with a $50 million North American theatrical take.

Stay-at-home orders also appear to be making people rediscover older movies, as evidenced by the “Watched at Home” chart debut, at No. 20, of Harry Potter: The Complete 8-Film Collection, from Warner. The boxed set also is No. 1 on Amazon’s “Kids & Family” best sellers.

  1. Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Disney)
  2. Bad Boys for Life (Sony)
  3. Sonic the Hedgehog (Paramount)
  4. Dolittle (Universal)
  5. Jumanji: The Next Level (Sony)
  6. The Call of the Wild (Disney, 2020)
  7. The Gentlemen (STX/Universal, 2019)
  8. Birds of Prey (Warner)
  9. 1917 (Universal)
  10. Little Women (Sony, 2019)
  11. Bloodshot (Sony, 2020)
  12. The Way Back (Warner)
  13. Underwater (Fox)
  14. Knives Out (Lionsgate)
  15. Just Mercy (Warner)
  16. Ford v Ferrari (Fox)
  17. Spies in Disguise (Fox)
  18. Onward (Disney)
  19. Frozen II (Disney)
  20. Harry Potter: The Complete 8-Film Collection (Warner)

 

Source: DEG: The Digital Entertainment Group
Includes U.S. digital sales, digital rentals, and DVD, Blu-ray Disc and 4K Ultra HD sales for the week ended April 18

Disney+ Prepping ‘Star Wars Day’ May 4 With Original Content

Disney’s branded subscription streaming video service is readying the upcoming “Star Wars Day” (“May the Fourth”) with new original content, in addition to the service’s complete collection of “Star Wars” movies and shows.

Originally conceived as a fan-generated grassroots holiday, “Star Wars Day” has evolved into a celebration of the Star Wars franchise and saga. Disney will be streaming the conclusion of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” in addition to the global premiere of the new eight-episode documentary series “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian,” from executive producer Jon Favreau.

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The doc takes a look at the making of the series, which became a pop culture phenomenon after premiering in November. Each chapter explores a different facet of the first live-action “Star Wars” television show through interviews, never-before-seen footage and roundtable conversations hosted by Favreau.

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“‘Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian’ is an opportunity for fans of the show to take a look inside and get to see a different perspective, and perhaps a greater understanding, of how ‘The Mandalorian’ came together and some of the incredibly talented contributors throughout season one,” Favreau said in a statement.

Topics this season include the filmmaking process, the legacy of George Lucas’ “Star Wars,” how the cast brought the characters to life, the series’ groundbreaking technology, the artistry behind the show’s practical models, effects, and creatures, plus the creative influences, the iconic score, and connections to Star Wars characters and props from across the galaxy.

“Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian” will premiere three days after “The Mandalorian” will wrap its first season in the United Kingdom, France, Italy, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, Austria and Switzerland. New episodes of “Disney Gallery: The Mandalorian” will stream every Friday on Disney+.

After seven seasons, the CG-animated “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” will come to a close on May 4, giving fans around the world the chance to watch the finale together for Star Wars Day.

The Emmy award-winning “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” was created by George Lucas and Lucasfilm Animation with Dave Filoni (“The Mandalorian”) serving as Executive Producer/Supervising Director.

The highly anticipated conclusion to the acclaimed series explores the events leading up to Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith.

The Force Is With ‘Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker’ on Disc Sales Charts

Disney’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker scored a dominating debut on the NPD VideoScan First Alert chart, which tracks combined DVD and Blu-ray Disc unit sales, and the dedicated Blu-ray Disc sales chart the week ended April 4.

The concluding chapter of the nine-film “Skywalker Saga” earned $515.2 million at the domestic box office.

Blu-ray Disc formats accounted for 79% of the film’s total unit sales, with 24% of the total coming from the 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray edition.

Notably, a pricey boxed set of all nine episodic films, Star Wars: The Skywalker Saga, also placed in the top 10 on both charts, at No. 7 overall and No. 5 on the Blu-ray chart, selling about 3% as many copies as the standalone Rise of Skywalker (which was included in the set).

The 27-disc boxed set includes a 4K Ultra HD Blu-ray, regular Blu-ray and bonus disc for each of the films (Rogue One and Solo are not included), and is a Best Buy exclusive priced at $249.99. Unlike Best Buy’s recent $500 Marvel Infinity Saga 4K/Blu-ray set (which sold out during preorders and are now being sold for thousands of dollars on eBay), Best Buy stills has plenty of copies of the “Star Wars” boxed set available online and in stores more than a week after the March 31 street date, which may point to a combination of increased stock and lower fan enthusiasm for the Disney era of “Star Wars.” Best Buy brick-and-mortar locations are closed during the coronavirus pandemic but do offer curbside pickups.

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Otherwise, while physical disc sales have been declining for years, the recent shelter-in-place orders and store closures associated with the pandemic don’t seem to have tapered off disc sales on a week-to-week basis just yet, despite the expected boost for digital delivery and streaming by families looking for home entertainment options while stuck at home. Target and Walmart stores remain open as essential businesses, and Amazon still delivers (despite some politicians demanding retailers stop selling anything but food and household goods).

Sony Pictures’ Jumanji: The Next Level held onto the No. 2 spot on the overall sales chart for the week and slid a spot to No. 3 on the Blu-ray chart. The adventure sequel sold about 15% as many copies in its third week as the new “Star Wars” film did in its first.

The previous week’s top seller, Universal Pictures’ war film 1917, slipped to No. 3 on the overall sales chart and No. 2 on the Blu-ray chart.

No. 4 on both charts was Disney’s Frozen II, while the animated Spies in Disguise, from Disney-owned 20th Century Fox, was No. 5 on the overall sales chart and No. 6 on the Blu-ray chart.

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On the Media Play News rental chart for the week ended April 5, Jumanji: The Next Level returned to the top spot, pushing 1917 to No. 2.

Spies in Disguise stayed at No. 3, followed by Sony Pictures’ The Grudge again at No. 4, and Lionsgate’s Knives Out remaining in the No. 5 spot.

Redbox has apparently not yet stocked copies of Rise of Skywalker as the title is not listed at the vendors’ website or available in its kiosks (some Redbox users reported a landing page for the film to take reservations was taken down in the week leading up to its disc release). Since Redbox doesn’t have a distribution deal with Disney, it needs to purchase bulk copies of Disney discs from retailers to stock its kiosks — a task made significantly more difficult by store closures, shipping delays, capacity restrictions and inventory limits imposed as a result of the pandemic. (Redbox’s distribution deals for Fox titles were in place prior to Disney’s purchase of the studio.)

Top 20 Sellers for Week Ended 4-4-20
Top 20 Rentals for Week Ended 4-5-20
Top 20 Selling Blu-ray Discs for Week Ended 4-4-20
Top 20 Blu-ray Market Share for Week Ended 4-4-20
Sales Report for Week Ended 4-4-20
Digital Sales Snapshot for Week Ended 4-6-20

Playing in the Fanboy Sandbox

The home video availability of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker  is sure to rekindle discussions over the legacy of the “Star Wars” franchise and the latest film’s contribution to it.

Star Wars fans mostly agree that Rise of Skywalker is a disappointing final chapter of the saga, but are embroiled in an online debate over which filmmaker is most responsible for “messing up” what has been termed “Disney’s trilogy.”

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

Fans of J.J. Abrams will say that Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi deviated from the storylines set up in The Force Awakens, and that Abrams was merely doing the best he could with Rise of Skywalker. Johnson’s defenders will point out that Force Awakens was a superficial copy of better “Star Wars” movies, and Last Jedi at least tried to offer some depth to the new trilogy while simply extrapolating what was set up in Force Awakens. Last Jedi haters complain the film veers too much toward political messaging, and so forth. But it’s generally agreed upon that the trilogy as a whole suffers from a lack of planning a three-film storyline from the beginning of the production process. And this lack of planning has had a spillover effect on tie-in materials such as novels, comic books and reference books that suffer in quality for having to both explain the story gaps apparent in the new films, and exist with the new canon established therein.

Even the divisive qualities of the prequel trilogy haven’t sparked such animosity among the fanbase. So how did it come to this?

Certainly, the way the Internet tends to present some users with the false perception of expertise in any field of study has been a major contributing factor. But that’s true with just about any disagreement on anything these days. When it comes to the consideration of pop culture and fiction, there is definitely something deeper at play.

The reason that “Star Wars” endeared so many among the ranks of Generation X in the 1980s was the way it sparked our imaginations. Whether it was younger kids carrying on the battles between the Rebellion and the Empire on the playground, or older viewers pursuing careers in filmmaking and art, the franchise had an undeniable, tangible impact on the storytelling impulse of a generation.

There, in the backyard, we could swing our toy lightsabers to re-create epic moments of sacrifice; at the playground, we could chase each other with light-up blasters in pursuit of glory; in the sandbox, we could use our “Star Wars” action figures to continue the adventures of the characters we idolized on screen.

The unifying force through it all was the understanding that it was George Lucas’ story that was being told. He was the storyteller, and we were buying those action figures to play in his world. Even as some fans were disappointed by the prequels, there was still a grudging tolerance of them because Lucas had made them. Fans were willing to let him tell his story, absorb the lessons as they came, and react appropriately. And with many fans, they began to see the franchise in the new light of older eyes.

But the films of the Disney era are the first to be made by the generation influenced by the storyteller, not the storyteller himself.

As far as the fans were concerned, they had just as much a stake in the ongoing story as the likes of J.J. Abrams and Rian Johnson, who for all intents and purposes were just playing in the sandbox too. If they didn’t create the thing, then why should their interpretation of the stories be any more valid than any fan who had spent decades analyzing the franchise?

This potential perception of legitimacy makes it a smart move for any franchise to carry over creative forces from one regime to the next. So it’s not just J.J. Abrams working on The Force Awakens, but Lawrence Kasdan, one of the primary screenwriters Lucas worked with in creating the original trilogy. Or why the name of Dave Filoni, who worked with Lucas on the “Clone Wars” animated series, carries a lot of clout with fans.

Without the air of legitimacy in the fans’ eyes, subsequent adventures might seem like shallow re-creations of what came before.

Disney’s sequel trilogy itself offers a fitting metaphor for this phenomenon. Its villains, the First Order, come across as posers in their efforts to re-create the Galactic Empire, a generation of children seeking to emulate what their parents did, not unlike the way Abrams was just the templates of the earlier films without much regard to the lessons of them.

Johnson’s The Last Jedi, to its credit, pushes back on this a bit, allowing the characters to ruminate about the struggles of carrying on the legacy of the previous generation while recognizing the role their stories have in inspiring those who would come after them (symbolized quite literally at the end with a scene of kids on an alien planet playing with their own makeshift ‘Star Wars’ figures).

It’s Filoni, and even Jon Favreau to an extent, who are hailed by fans as the true heir to the “Star Wars” storytelling legacy, rather than the likes of Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy or Abrams or Johnson, who are more prone to complaints of appropriating the saga for their own purposes. Hence, “The Mandalorian” served as something of a calming salve fans could unite behind.

Even such a respite, however, has done little to stop the kind of playground bickering we’ve seen from fans online when considering the movies, as if reduced to 10-year-olds arguing over their action figures by shouting “you’re doing it wrong!” Only the Internet lets them shout this at the studio itself.

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But the Internet and the wide dissemination of information even down to the flimsiest of rumor has added a new wrinkle to the fans’ relationships with their favorite franchises. Instead of just going to see the new movie every few years, they now can follow nearly all aspects of the production, from casting news, to leaked photos from shooting locations, to potential in-fighting between producers and directors. The race to post spoilers is so intense that it seems some fans aren’t even going to the movies anymore to enjoy the films, but just to confirm that what they didn’t like in the production rumors they heard actually came to pass. And when the story being told doesn’t meet their approval, they will complain until the studio caves in, or they denounce the franchise as having lost its way, putting so much stock into fictional characters as if they don’t have anything else to fixate on.

And thus, we are left with a caricature of the modern fan who wants both to have the story told to them while also dictating the direction of that story.

It’s not unlike the phenomenon that impacted professional wrestling in the 1990s, when the Internet let fans in on all the behind-the-scenes details that flew in the face of the in-ring storylines, and rather than be turned off by the idea that wrestling was “fake” only became more enamored with it. As promotions began blurring the lines between their backstage and storyline realities, the fans who had been known in the industry as “marks” because they were meant to believe the in-ring story (generally referred to as “kayfabe,” a term that encompasses the fiction of the wrestlers’ characters), thus took on a new title, the “smart mark,” or “smark” — the fan who appreciates the in-ring performance as an exhibition representing the more complex realities of locker-room politics.

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Another venerable franchise continuation being torn apart by the fan base lately is the CBS All Access revival of “Star Trek.”

Thus far, the new shows include “Star Trek: Discovery,” a prequel to the original 1960s series, and “Star Trek: Picard,” a sequel to “Star Trek: The Next Generation.” There are also a series of tie-in short films called “Short Treks” that expand upon the canon of the new Trek era.

While the shows exhibit high production values and dazzling visual effects, response from longtime “Trek” fans to these new shows has been overwhelmingly negative. “Discovery introduced so many bizarre plot elements right off the bat that it was hard to reconcile the show existing in the same timeline as the other “Trek” shows. It then spent its second season walking back all its high-concept ideas in an attempt to better conform to established canon — but the show’s attempt at self-negation makes it seem largely pointless. About the only aspect of the two seasons fans reacted positively to was the addition of Anson Mount as Capt. Pike, reintroducing the character from the 1960s show’s original unused pilot episode.

“Star Trek: Picard”

“Picard” at least started with some sense of hope, anchored by the assured presence of Patrick Stewart returning to the title role. Yet the story-arc of the 10-episode first season quickly began to spiral out of control with slow pacing, poor character development, disparate story threads and a muddled attempt to add to established “Trek” mythology.

Despite the high budgets and production values, these shows just aren’t that good on their own, never mind how they’re supposed to fit in the franchise (though on this latter point, most fans agree they don’t fit very well).

Tonally, these shows stem from Abrams’ 2009 Star Trek reboot movie, an ill-conceived attempt to turn “Star Trek” into “Star Wars” simply to match Abrams’ own proclivities toward science-fiction. Much like Abrams’ “Star Wars” efforts, the reboot films were a shallow re-creation of established “Trek” lore and fizzled out once they squandered the audiences’ nostalgia for the property.

The new stewards of the brand who emerged from the Abrams films, such as Alex Kurtzman, aren’t even copying what “Star Trek” has done before as much as they are borrowing from other sci-fi franchises. The “Discovery” A.I. gone rogue plot smacks of “The Terminator.” And “Picard” bears similarities to the likes of “Blade Runner,” “Battlestar Galactica.” “Mass Effect” and even “Game of Thrones.” These connections are well documented on YouTube.

It is just another prime example of the gulf between audience expectation for a favored franchise, and the ability for new producers to deliver when they aren’t tied to the creative teams that gave life to the franchise to begin with.

The “TNG”-era shows of the 1990s, themselves viewed skeptically at first by fans of the original series, at least had executive producer Rick Berman, who worked with “Trek” creator Gene Roddenberry on formulating the philosophies of the new shows, and worked to maintain them after Roddenberry died in 1991.

At the very least, in the absence of a connective creative presence, fans at least want to think the new shepherds of their favorite franchises are just as much fans as they are. Part of the problem with response to Johnson’s Last Jedi is that it exposed a rift in the fanbase about the interpretation of the “Star Wars” mythology (and Rise of Skywalker’s attempt to placate once set of fans over the other didn’t do anyone any favors).

“Star Trek,” it seems, has had the opposite problem, with new writers and producers coming in claiming to be fans and yet demonstrating a serious ignorance of the sandbox in which they’re supposed to be playing, not so much from an interpretative point of view, but just details of the canon that should have some impact on the new stories.

Unlike the kind of pass-the-baton storytelling fans didn’t like about the new “Star Wars,” the new “Star Trek” seems to have too many runners. The abundance of creative minds, very few of which having actually worked on “Star Trek” before, and some of which have hardly worked on anything good before, just leads to muddled story arcs, resulting in several attempts to retooling the show to respond to poor feedback and backlash.

“Star Trek: Picard”

“Picard” comes off as a bizarre appropriation of canon, excising what would be appropriate and fan-appreciated references to specific, relevant story points, in exchange for vague generalities about how established characters progressed from where we last saw them to where they are on this show.

Nostalgia, it seems, is the only thing keeping “Picard” afloat, but it’s hard to say how long that will last.

Without a course correction to deliver the type of “Star Trek” fans can enjoy again on a consistent basis, these new shows might end up tipping the scales the other way, enticing fans to tune in simply out of sheer morbid curiosity to see how bad it can get, almost to the point of wanting something to complain about if only to appreciate the earlier shows more (not unlike how the “Star Wars” prequels have earned a bit more appreciation from fans disenchanted by Disney’s sequels).

The ironic twist in all this, of course, is how the long (and overstated) rivalry between “Star Wars” and “Star Trek” fans would find itself defused by J.J. Abrams, uniting them over a shared distaste for his efforts to restart both their beloved franchises.

‘Stranger Things’ Takes Top Spot on Parrot’s Originals Chart for Seventh Week; ‘Mandalorian’ No. 2

Netflix’s “Stranger Things” remained No. 1 on Parrot Analytics’ digital originals rankings the week ended March 28, its seventh-consecutive week back in the top spot.

A “digital original” is Parrot’s term for a multi-episode series in which the most recent season was first made available on a streaming platform such as Netflix, Amazon Prime Video, Hulu or Disney+.

“Stranger Things” registered 69.4 million average daily Demand Expressions, the proprietary metric used by Parrot Analytics to measure global demand for TV content. That was up 0.3% compared with the previous week.

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The Disney+ “Star Wars” spinoff “The Mandalorian” rose to No. 2 with 57.5 million expressions, up 6.3% from the previous week. The show received some publicity in the past week over reports that Rosario Dawson had been cast to play the live-action version of fan-favorite character Ahsoka Tano in season two.

Speaking of Ahsoka Tano, the animated Disney+ series “Star Wars: The Clone Wars,” which is in the midst of showing an Ahsoka Tano story arc, slid to No. 3, dropping 0.2% in expressions to 55.3 million.

The CBS All Access series “Star Trek: Picard” climbed to No. 4 with a 15.2% jump in expressions to 47.6 million. The finale of the show’s first season debuted March 26.

Netflix’s “The Witcher” rose a spot to No. 5, with expressions down 4.3% to 42.7 million.

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The Demand Expressions metric draws from a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

Media Play News has teamed with Parrot Analytics to provide readers with a weekly top 10 of the most popular digital original TV series in the United States, based on the firm’s  proprietary metric called Demand Expressions, which measures global demand for TV content through a wide variety of data sources, including video streaming, social media activity, photo sharing, blogging, commenting on fan and critic rating platforms, and downloading and streaming via peer-to-peer protocols and file sharing sites.

Star Wars: Episode IX — The Rise of Skywalker

BLU-RAY REVIEW: 

Street Date 3/31/20;
Disney/Lucasfilm;
Sci-Fi;
Box Office $515.2 million;
$29.99 DVD, $39.99 Blu-ray, $39.99 UHD BD;
Rated ‘PG-13’ for sci-fi violence and action.
Stars Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Naomi Ackie, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Lupita Nyong’o, Keri Russell, Joonas Suotamo, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Billy Dee Williams.

In the wake of divisive fan response to Disney’s approach to “Star Wars” since its purchase of Lucasfilm, the studio turned to J.J. Abrams to deliver a final chapter to the nine-episode trilogy of trilogies that has been dubbed “The Skywalker Saga.”

Watching Rise of Skywalker, however, it quickly becomes evident that the studio and the creative team in place to make these new “Star Wars” films had no firm plans in place for the overarching story they were trying to tell, let alone connecting them to the previous six chapters.

The resulting concluding chapter, while a fun, entertaining, grand-scale adventure filled with franchise references for fans to enjoy, still comes across as a bit of a disjointed mess, picking and choosing which story threads from the previous films to carry through (if not outright retconning them) as if on a whim, while introducing vast and sometimes bizarre new ones that don’t stand up to too much scrutiny (or, worse, require fans to turn to myriad tie-in books to explain it). While the “Star Wars” franchise has never been a stranger to these kinds of strained plot mechanics, the rumored behind-the-scenes troubles at Lucasfilm have made the seams of Rise of Skywalker especially noticeable, and the accompanying plot developments rather jarring.

So there are two ways to look at Rise of Skywalker — it’s fine for what it is, and there’s plenty to like in it, but it’s also a reminder of what could have been.

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Instead of flowing from the natural plot implications of the previous episode, The Last Jedi (which, contrary to the vocal complaints of a few haters, were abundant enough to fuel a decent third act, as evidenced by the earlier script drafts floating around the Internet), the new film decides to drop a plot nuke right at the beginning: Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) never really died and has been manipulating things the whole time. Leia’s Resistance, still recovering from the previous film, then turns its focus on fighting Palpatine, sending Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), Poe (Oscar Isaac), Chewbacca, C-3PO and BB-8 on a mission to find a device containing the location of the Emperor’s hidden base. Meanwhile, Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) wants to eliminate Rey in exchange for the Emperor’s powers. Be prepared for some big reveals.

While reintroducing the Emperor, who was the underlying threat for the first six movies, is as good enough a reveal as any for how the Empire returned in the guise of The First Order for these films, its sudden inclusion in the third film without any clues planted in the previous two just calls attention to the lack of planning. For example, a properly planned trilogy with Palpatine as the hidden villain wouldn’t have bothered to make Snoke an actual person in the second chapter when the hologram form he displayed in the first movie serves as the perfect cover, a la The Wizard of Oz.

There’s also the fact that the Emperor’s return smacks of similarity to storylines from the “expanded universe” of “Star Wars” books, comics and video games that the studio and Abrams had very publicly said were no longer canon. If the end result is just going to borrow ideas from them anyway, why not adapt them outright? The problem with trying to replace them with something new usually means that if whatever you replace them with isn’t better, fans aren’t going to be too happy.

The big wrinkle in the plan, of course, was the unfortunate death of Carrie Fisher after the filming of Last Jedi. With Leia poised to play a significant role in Episode IX, original story plans were scrapped, and a new screenplay was constructed to build scenes around unused footage of Fisher shot by Abrams for 2015’s The Force Awakens. The obvious limitations of this had a ripple effect on the rest of the story, while Abrams’ presence in the director’s chair was meant to assure fans that the saga was in good hands, given how much of a box office hit Force Awakens turned out to be.

Of course, the dirty little secret that many fans didn’t want to admit about The Force Awakens when it first came out was how, as a shallow remake of the original 1977 movie, it wasn’t a very meaty beginning for a new trilogy meant to continue the larger story. For all its faults, Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi at least tried to be about more than the sum of its parts, while re-framing the franchise for a new generation.

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Abrams’ return to Rise of Skywalker means the film, at the very least, benefits from his strengths of striking visuals and dynamic action. There are some great scenes in the film that will make fans smile, and truth be told, it’s a more enjoyable viewing experience than Force Awakens simply for being bold enough in its own right and not just wholly remaking an earlier film. However, when adding Rise of Skywalker to the context of Abrams’ whole career, it’s clear he talks a better game than he delivers.

This is readily on display in the two-hour The Skywalker Legacy behind-the-scenes documentary included with the film’s home video presentation. The program is a masterstroke in editing as it contrasts scenes being filmed for Rise of Skywalker with similar scenes from the original trilogy, complete with new and archival interviews with the same actors discussing their roles and the saga in general. It’s a fascinating piece filled with wonderful nostalgia, but also serves to highlight what a lesser copy these new films have been to those of the George Lucas era.

Speaking of which, for a film meant to conclude a nine-chapter saga, Abrams’ films are rather devoid of references to the prequels, despite where revisiting them would make more sense for the story. But, really, who can blame him for focusing almost all the screentime on the new characters he created for this new trilogy, since he was given the chance to do so? In Rise of Skywalker, Abrams even introduces a new little droid called D-O that looks like it was made from a desk lamp, which he himself voices as the droid comments on the scene going on, as if telling the audience how they’re supposed to feel about it (literally saying “sad” or “happy,” etc.).

In addition to the visual candy, the film’s most reliable highlight, as usual, is the score by John Williams, who does his level best to inject depth into the proceedings through his music. His efforts are the focus of an 11-minute digital exclusive featurette, but there’s also a segment about his work in the feature-length documentary. In his cameo as an alien bartender, Williams is surrounded by mementos of the first 51 of his Oscar-nominated scores. His 52nd nomination came via Rise of Skywalker itself.

The remaining extras are all behind-the-scenes featurettes, the best of which is “Warwick & Son,” a five-and-a-half-minute look at actor Warwick Davis’ previous roles in the franchise and how he was joined by his son for a cameo in Rise of Skywalker.

Other featurettes include a 14-minute look at filming a speeder chase, a six-minute video about creating an alien celebration in the deserts of Jordan, a five-and-a-half video about the creation of D-O, and an eight-minute look at the puppetry and makeup effects used to create the film’s creatures.

Vudu offers a couple of additional videos: a three-minute “Legacy” trailer and an eight-minute “End of the Saga” featurette.

It’s a bit disappointing that there were no deleted scenes included, given how much the filmmakers have been discussing in promotional interviews all that was cut from the film, but don’t be surprised if those and additional extras, like an audio commentary track, are one day included in an expanded home video release.