Saturday, December 28, 2019

Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker

Originally written for OutLoudCulture.com

Spoiler warning.
Five years ago, the future of the Star Wars franchise was hopeful, and optimistic, and as  a fan of the franchise, I was  as well. Now I'm just tired. It's not that The Rise of Skywalker is a bad movie, by any means, but I can practically see J.J. Abrams' regret in every  scene of the film.  He probably didn't expect to be making this movie, since Colin Treverrow was originally slated to direct, and I'm going to bet that J.J. wanted to see what he'd come up with coming off the Episode VIII script.  I'm well on the record as not liking Episode VIII, and considering what J.J. had to do to even make this movie, it sure seems like he's losing his enthusiasm for it, as well. This film was put in such a bad position by easily correctable issues induced by the production of Episode VIII. For one thing, Princess Leia is the only character of the original trio who's still alive, despite Carrie Fisher being dead. This manifests as Leia having very little screentime, and her being killed-off rather unceremoniously. Normally, I'm not a fan of reshoots, but it wouldn't have been remotely difficult to edit Episode VIII to have Leia die, as she had a brush with death in that film, which, by all rights, should have killed her. It's not like the effects they used were bad, they hold up perfectly fine,  and whoever they got to voice-double Carrie Fisher is spot-on (If , indeed, they didn't feed archive audio into an AI or just reuse said archive audio the way they have a lot of archive footage), but the fact remains that Lucasfilm had more than enough time between Fisher's death, and the release of The Last Jedi to  perform the necessary reshoots. Indeed, that would have rectified one of the many issues I had with TLJ, that being, the Space-Leia scene. Instead, we have exactly what I feared would happen when they announced the plan to have Leia in the last film, most of her scenes are built around how they can use the footage they already had, leaving most of Leia's scenes fairly restricted in nature.   Some of the footage of Leia appears to be something akin to a DeepFake face-swapping technology, complete with the same strange facial animation on turning heads that currently plagues the Cats adaptation. One would think that Disney would have enough of a budget to  make this work well, and indeed, we've seen better effects in Rogue One, The Last Jedi, various Marvel movies, and even a couple of scenes in this film, as well. I suspect that any dodgy effects work may be down to the allegedly massive overhauls Episode IX has experienced during reshoots, as the film was rumored to involve time-travel at one point, and there have been numerous leaks of concepts and plot-points which appear to not have made their way into the movie which confirm some of my suspicions about the reshoots.
All of that aside, from a character and plot perspective, I like The Rise of Skywalker a hell of a lot more than The Last Jedi, although the two films share a handful of issues.  The Force-Teleportation and  other related powers introduced in TLJ have made their ways into this film, although Abrams  makes better use of them than Johnson did. The Last Jedi was very uncreative  in marrying its concepts with the film-making, and The Rise of Skywalker corrects that, allowing for proper integration of film and story.  Episode IX is also paced a hell of a lot better than Episode VIII was, and doesn't send characters off on pointless quests that take up far too much screen-time. Additionally, the dynamics of the three leads are finally cast against each other, and their  chemistry is brilliant. It's a shame that this is likely the last time Oscar Isaac, John Boyega, and Daisy Ridley will share the screen as these characters.
Daisy Ridley's performance as Rey, as always, is my favorite part of the movie. John Boyega's and Oscar Isaac's performances as Finn and Poe  Dameron, respectively, are no slouches, but  I like Rey, and I have since the start of this trilogy. Their chemistry as an ensemble is absolutely amazing, and it's really a shame that the previous films had the trio separated for so long, as the actors and characters bounce off each other in a way that I haven't seen done this well since Firefly, or the original Avengers movie.  The First Order has also gotten their act together at last, finally feeling like a competent foe, as opposed to the bumbling, overly-enraged idiots they were in Episode VIII, or the practically cartoonish villains they were in Episode VII.  Between Kylo Ren/Ben Solo (Played by Adam Driver)'s reforged mask, the set-construction of their conference room, and the cinematography of  scenes featuring The First Order, they come off as competent and imposing, while not also feeling like they're ripping off scenes from the Original Trilogy. Then, they rip off scenes from the Original Trilogy, right down to stealing the OT's primary antagonist. Kylo Ren grabs a doubter by the throat  during a conference and smashes him against the  ceiling of the room, a much more violent and dynamic version of what Vader tended to do, but  the additions do nothing to disguise the fact that it is blatantly ripping off a similar scene from Episode IV (As if they didn't do that enough in Episode VII.)
As far as inter-film plagiarism goes, though, it's not nearly as prevalent or blatant as it was in The Force Awakens or The Last Jedi, although there's one rather obvious scene lifted from the end of Episode VI that we'll get to later. The main plot of the film concerns  tracking down and stopping The First Order from joining up with The Final Order in a final effort to conquer the galaxy.  The Final Order (Surely they mean "Last Command?") is Emperor Sheev Palpatine (Played by Ian McDiarmid)'s new Imperial fleet. Yes, Palpatine's back. No, they never explained why. It's heavily implied that Snoke (Played by Andy Serkis) was a puppet of Palpatine, although I don't think it's ever truly explained why he's back, although, given this already happened  over twenty years ago in the 14-issue series Star Wars: Dark Empire, and what we see in the film, and the preexisting technology in the Star Wars universe, one can easily infer that cloning was involved somewhere along the line. That's kind of this film's biggest problem, and one that it shares in common with Episode VII.  Any Star Wars fan familiar with the Expanded Universe (AKA Legends) will be able to pick out the influences  a mile away.  There's Dark Empire, Knights of the Old Republic, The Force Unleashed, The Jedi Academy Trilogy, good god, it seems like we keep going back to most of the same old influences that they've been taking from since the start of this trilogy.
Anyway, apparently Palpatine's been using the Vader voice from the melted helmet Kylo keeps around to manipulate him, and why he thinks Kylo won't turn on him like he did Snoke is beyond me, but old Sheev decides it's a good idea to offer Ben a fleet of Death Star-equipped Star Destroyers in exchange for killing Rey, who's apparently his granddaughter. We finally get a good look at Rey's parents, and indeed, Palpatine's biological son. This could have been worse, but it would have made far more sense for her to either just be someone unimportant who rose to the challenge, or to just make her Luke Skywalker (Played by Mark Hamill)'s daughter or Obi-Wan Kenobi (Played by Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness)'s granddaughter. Hell, you could have crossed the lines a bit, have one of her parents be a Kenobi and the other a Palpatine. There's more than enough chance that Obi-Wan might have had a kid with Satine Kryze back in the Clone Wars, although it's probably more likely for Rey to be a great-granddaughter than a granddaughter of either of them. Now, one might think "Doesn't that make Reylo  incest?" but it's not. Palpatine is  NOT Anakin Skywalker (Played by Hayden Christensen)'s biological father, and the original script for Revenge of the Sith is incredibly clear about this. Though that doesn't make their relationship any less strange.
After finding out Palpatine's still alive, the Resistance goes on a hunt for a way to locate him, heading first to some desert-planet that isn't Tatooine or Jakku, where Chewbacca (Played by Joonas Suotamo)gets captured by The Knights of Ren, and the gang finds a dagger  and meets Lando Calrissean (Played by Billy Dee Williams). They have to wipe C-3P0 (Played by Anthony Daniels)'s memory to get him to translate the message on the dagger, then they rescue Chewie and go to Endor, where they find the thing they need to find Palpatine, some kind of holocron thing. Then Kylo Ren shows up and breaks it with one hand. Rey mortally wounds him, but uses Force healing to save him, steals his ship, and returns to Ach-To to live as a hermit. There, Luke tells Rey to stop being Jake Skywalker and pilot the goddamn Eva X-Wing. An X-Wing still called "Red 5," which is a continuity issue I  didn't notice in Episode VIII, but has since been made  apparent. Anyone here remember Rogue Squadron? That was a thing as far back as The Empire Strikes Back. Luke's call-sign was "Rogue Leader" and Rogue Squadron remains a persistent aspect of the Disney Star Wars canon.  This error is inexcusable. It shows the distinct lack of care that has gone into the continuity of this trilogy, as if the entirety of Episode VIII wasn't proof enough that Kathleen Kennedy and the rest of Lucasfilm don't give a damn about the timeline.
After Kylo and Rey's showdown on Endor, Han Solo (Played by Harrison Ford) shows up in Ben's imagination, and Ben decides the best course of action would be to throw away his Lightsaber. Meanwhile, Rey leads what's left of the Resistance to Palpatine so they can take down the fleet. Palpatine then proceeds to rip off the ending scene of Return of the Jedi by showing Rey all of her friends dying.  Ben shows up, and is accosted by the Knights of Ren. This is a time when a Lightsaber might have come in handy, although, for the most part, Ben manages just fine without one.  I'm baffled as to why the Knights of Ren use traditional melee weapons, such as a halberd, mace, broadsword, etc, instead of Lightsabers or blasters.  Anyways, when it looks like Ben might lose, Rey teleports him the Skywalker Family Lightsaber, which he uses to kill the  Knights of Ren, and joins Rey in fighting Palpatine. Rey uses Leia's Lightsaber to fight Palpatine, though he drains their life-forces to power himself up, anyways. Then, all of the Jedi give Rey a pep-talk in her brain and she gets up and kills Palpatine, all while Lando leads in a ragtag fleet of people which includes none other than Denis Lawson as Wedge Antilles. And then, Ben gets up from the hole Palpatine threw him down, and finds Rey either dead or mostly dead, uses Force heal on her, they kiss, then he dies and becomes a Force Ghost. Subsequently, his mother, who has been dead for most of the movie at that point, also disappears. Fortunately, they remember that you don't take your non-biological parts with you, unlike Rian Johnson, who apparently forgot Luke had a robotic hand. Then Rey takes the Skywalker saber to Tatooine with Leia's, and buries them in the sand, ignites her staff as a Lightsaber without having been shown to construct it, calls herself "Rey Skywalker" when someone asks her her name, and the credits roll.  I skipped a lot there, but that's the basic summary.
All in all, the film's good moments ring hollow, and I should like it a lot more than I do. At its best, it's excellent. At its worst, I know it's working around the failures of The Last Jedi, but everything else just feels unearned.  A decent chunk of the awesome moments of the film seem like they're just there, because this film is attempting to pick up the pieces of a trilogy shattered by its middle installment. The fanservice is a nice touch in most places, but does nothing to distract from the dumb choices the film makes that are entirely its fault and the faults of the people who made it, not the fault of Rian Johnson and Episode VIII.  Attempting to follow Episode VIII was always going to present issues, but they could have fixed so much if, for instance, Ben didn't throw away his Lightsaber. Granted, they  at least make it look fairly cool, but merely "looking cool" isn't an excuse.  Honestly, this film reminds me a lot of The Empire Strikes Back, in a bad way. If you'll recall my rankings of the Star Wars films from a few years ago, I don't particularly like The Empire Strikes Back, partially because I see it as a "style over substance" sort of film, and  The Rise of Skywalker is a textbook example of that. Not that there's no substance to be had. The characters are good, the dialogue is good, it's just the framework which the characters operate in that's the problem.
While a lot of problems could have been solved by changes to the preceding film, there are too many issues that could have been solved simply by writing this movie better. There are times when characters act dumb, there are times when they pull Force powers out of their asses,  the Knights of Ren could have been replaced with random Stormtroopers for all the importance they have to the plot, the Resistance just so happens to have horses (or whatever they were) with them when they make their assault on the star destroyer that can disable speeders. It's all just so convenient, and it makes me sad and tired. I was hoping for better than this. I overlooked some of the conveniences in Episode VII, but it's just too late in the game to be relying this heavily on coincidence. There are also a number of interesting angles which barely get used, such as Finn's Force sensitivity, which was hinted at in the previous films, being finally confirmed. Granted, part of the problem with that is probably down to reshoots  and deleted-scenes. Star Wars has this issue (an issue it shares with the MCU), where most of the deleted-scenes do nothing but improve the final film immensely, yet they're left on the cutting-room floor regardless, and I'm going to bet that with all the reshoots this movie went through,  it's almost a guarantee that something was left out that makes the entire movie click. As it stands, I enjoyed the film while watching it, but after I was done, I didn't really care.
In the end, I give Star Wars Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker4/10. Could be better, could be worse, but outside of some interesting cinematography and visuals, there's nothing much special here.
A side note, and this doesn't really matter much regarding the quality of the movie, but I'd just like to point out that they've been using the Chrono Trigger font throughout most of the posters of the Sequel Trilogy. A similar font was used for the originals, but it was mainly used for the cast and crew, and Star Wars has since gained a standardized title font, which the Sequel Trilogy has never used, to my knowledge.

Image from Impawards.com

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Joker (2019)

    I know I haven't written a review in a long time and I've still got a rather long list of movies and games to get to, but to hell with it. I've been thinking about Joker a lot since I watched it and I'm damn well gonna talk about it, even though I haven't reviewed (or at least haven't published reviews) of the last few DC movies I've watched.
    Joker is one of those things that fell victim to a monstrously uninformed media outrage campaign, supposedly about "glorifying violence" and whether or not it would inspire violence itself, etc, which caused me to sigh in resignation upon hearing about it because I'm a gamer and anime-far, and I can remember a time before six months ago. When two of the hottest shows on TV were The Sopranos and Breaking Bad, series with protagonists who'd be villains in any other story. It doesn't help that most of the people spinning bullshit about Joker were doing so based solely on trailers and not having actually seen the movie. Having seen the movie myself, I determined (predictably) that everyone who claimed it would "inspire violence" were full of shit. Like Mortal Kombat, Manhunt, Grand Theft Auto and any number of other violent media subsequent or prior, the accusations lacked substantial credibility upon actually participating in the media in question. Besides, Eric Kilmonger and Thanos were both sympathetic villains and they haven't inspired people to take up their causes. No sane ones, anyway.
    And that's the crux of the matter, you're not going to inspire an otherwise normal person to violence, murder or genocide by depicting it in a movie. At worst, it'll inspire an absolute nutjob to something like that, but that's not the responsibility of the people who created the work. Whackos will find inspiration for their insanity in any medium, regardless of content, and that's especially ironic considering the context of this nontroversy, and the knee-jerk reactions only get more retarded the further into the film you get.
    Joker is about a potential origin for Batman's archrival, starring Joaquin Phoenix as Arthur Fleck, the titular Joker. Arthur is a mentally-unsound man who works as a clown by day and takes care of his ailing elderly mother by night. One day, which sign-spinning outside a store, some hooligans abscond with his sign and he tries to get it back. They lead him on a merry chase through the streets of Gotham before whacking him with the sign and beating him up. In response to this, one of Arthur's co-workers gives him a gun to defend himself, which later gets him fired when it falls out of his pants at a children's hospital. On his way back via the subway, Arthur gets picked-on and beaten up by a trio of rich assholes, whom he kills in self-defense. Well, the first two were self-defense, the last one he just runs down and shoots because fuck 'em. Not that someone who runs around on the subway assaulting random people gets much sympathy from me. And at this point, we're halfway into Arthur's body-count. Yes, that's right. Throughout this movie Joker only kills six people directly. Three in self-defense, and two more who one could argue kind of deserved it. The Joker kills fewer people in this movie than Batman does in The Lego Batman Movie. Yes, the R-rated drama kills fewer people than the lighthearted toy tie-in even with the additional five or so kills done by people other than The Joker.
    Anyway, the killings of the assholes, who happen to work for Thomas Wayne, causes something of a revolutionary uprising similar to that of the Batmen from The Dark Knight. A bunch of people don clown masks, makeup and attire and cause trouble. Arthur struggles with the consequences of what he's done, finds out Thomas Wayne might be his father, finds out he probably isn't and that his (Potentially) adoptive mother was abusive, delusional and somewhat psychotic (Which lends some credence to the idea that he might be the child of her and Thomas Wayne because he has delusions of his own that are explored throughout the movie in a similar fashion to Fight Club.) kills his mother, kills the guy who helped get him fired from his job, goes on the TV show of his hero who mocked him previously, kills him, gets arrested, and subsequently freed by his fanclub, and... Maybe locked up and evaluated? The ending is somewhat unclear.
    All in all, the film is very entertaining and the performance by Joaquin Phoenix is fantastic. The performance is somewhat unconventional, given that most interpretations of the character are more bombastic and deeper/raspier-voiced, though one can definitely see shades of Ledger's Joker towards the end of the film. I like the choice to make Arthur something of a soft-spoken introvert at the beginning of the film and have him transform into a more bombastic force of personality as the story progresses, it helps provide contrast between the pitiful creature he is at the beginning and the monster he becomes.
    Now, to break down the finer details of the plot and cast. First off, I generally like how the plot plays-out. If I was writing the film, I'd have placed Joker's "I used to think that my life was a tragedy...but now I realize...it's a (fucking) comedy." line more towards the end of the film, when he's on Murray Franklin's show, I feel like it would have had more punch there. Secondly, I like how after Arthur stopped taking his medication he becomes more lucid. Throughout the movie, Arthur has a few delusional experiences, and after he goes off his medications the delusions go away, implying that he actually becomes saner by degrees. In fact, I've subscribed to the concept that Joker has a form of hypersanity, where he is fully aware of the meaninglessness of death and existence within his world/universe/multiverse/etc, and as such really doesn't care about killing people, which feeds into an interesting idea about the shared delusions of the other characters in the futility of their own actions, given the fact that superhero comics always seem to press the "reset" button as soon as any of the so-called "permanent" consequences of a storyline become inconvenient.
    Now for the nitpicks. One of Arthur's delusions is that he has a love-interest in one Sophie Dumond, and while the realization that the version of her we see throughout the film is a mere phantasm, if she'd been real, and her actions more than a figment of Arthur's imagination, she could have functioned as his Harley Quinn, a mutually-corrupting force that drives him towards where he ends up at the end of the movie. For those not in the know, Harley Quinn is a character from Batman: The Animated Series who made it into the comics eventually. She's a former psychologist who was assigned to study The Joker, but wound up falling in love with him. Their relationship is somewhat one-sided in most depictions, with The Joker manipulating her affections for his own gain, but, at least in some continuities Harley eventually becomes, as Suicide Sqaud says, crazier than The Joker, going so far as to become one of the reasons he remains a mad mass-murderer. I understand why they didn't take this route, since it's more about the psyche of Arthur than anything else.
    Another issue is in the casting of Thomas, Martha, and Bruce Wayne, and Alfred Pennyworth. Gone are the most-recent actors to play the roles, Jeffrey Dean Morgan, Lauren Cohen, Brendon Spink and Jeremy Irons, replaced by Brett Cullen, Carrie Louise Putrello, Dante Pereira-Olson, and Douglas Hodge respectively. Not that any of them do a bad job as their respective characters, but as the portrayal of Thomas Wayne is more of a charismatic, morally-ambiguous type, I would have preferred to see Morgan in the role. Though Cullen wasn't the first choice for the role either, as it was initially offered to Alec Baldwin, who I can see giving a much better performance in this role than Cullen did, not that Cullen's was bad. Indeed, Thomas Wayne in this movie appears to have been explicitly written for Baldwin, and his replacement even resembles him to a large degree. While I can't fault them for casting a similar actor when the one they wanted was unavailable as I have literally done that with a production of my own, I'm disappointed in the lack of crossover between this and the DCEU, even if Warner Bros. has basically killed it. Yes, this is probably a different universe entirely, but the film ends with a half-assed recreation of the murder of Thomas and Martha Wayne, and it feels like it was put there out of pure obligation rather than as a part of the actual vision of the film. Granted I am somewhat biased, but I felt like Zack Snyder did a way better job with the murder of the Waynes than almost anyone, even Christopher Nolan. Plus, recreating the Wayne's murder from Dawn of Justice would have added a bit of bittersweet irony to Bruce's quip about clowns in that movie, especially if the film ended with Arthur pulling the trigger on them rather than some random whackado in a Joker mask, though that would be getting a bit close to the origin-story from Tim Burton's Batman.
    I also have a bone to pick with Joker's portrayal of Alfred Pennyworth, as a man who barely fights back when Arthur grabs him in the film. Alfred is a badass in almost every portrayal of the character. I guess that's why they didn't get Jeremy Irons, because even if they de-aged him he'd still look like he could take Arthur in a throwdown. That brings me to another point about the casting, even if Brendon Spink was too old to play an appropriately-aged Bruce Wayne, everyone else could have reprised their roles. DC de-aged Temeura Morrison, Nicole Kidman, Willem Dafoe, and Patrick Wilson for Aquaman, they clearly have the technology to do so. Someone just didn't want to do it I guess.
    To the bleating morons who spun the bullshit about this film (Some of whom work for CNN, a sibling company of Warner Bros.) congratulations, you managed to make it even more popular. Don't know if that was intended or not, and I frankly don't care. If they legitimately thought their outrage would make the film less successful, they're idiots. A modicum of pattern recognition could have told you that. If this was some kind of guerilla marketing technique, then it's been a resounding success. Hell, even if WB were the ones started it, there were plenty of people who picked up the baton and ran with it legitimately.
    All in all, nitpicks aside, I heartily recommend Joker. It's interesting, deeply introspective, and darkly hilarious at times. Despite the quibbles, it deserves a 9.8* rating. I'll be back someday. Meanwhile, check out my latest work, Neon Genesis Evangelion Alternative Saga!

Sunday, July 1, 2018

The Incredibles 2

Originally written for OutLoudCulture.com

    The Incredibles 2 has been teased ever since the cliffhanger at the end of The Incredibles back in 2004. I'm 21 years old at the time of writing, and it's been almost 14 years since the first movie in the series was released. I have literally been waiting for this film for two-thirds of my life. Finding Dory only took 13 years, Monsters University took 12 years, meanwhile Cars sees a new movie every 5-6 years. I have a DVD copy of the first movie I've been watching with my parents about every six months since it came out that's older than some of the children in the audience for this movie. It's become a family tradition to watch the first movie and I can quote back almost every line in the movie as rote. Needless to say, that makes me fairly qualified to tell you, the reader, whether or not this movie is any good. Thankfully it is. I wish we'd gotten it 11-12 years ago, but it's a solid installment and a worthy follow-up to one of my all-time favorite movies. Now we just have to hope it won't take another 14 years for them to make an Incredibles 3.
    Before we start talking about the movie, I'd like to go over my theater experience first. I try and keep comments about the theater experience out of the review, but there were a few egregious problems with the showing I went to at The Grand 18 in D'Iberville, Mississippi. First off, there was a string of commercials for apps and augmented reality games played with cellphones before the movie, and then when trailers started, they told everyone to put away their cell-phones. Then there was the fact that the screen had clearly been cleaned improperly as there was this shimmer effect I've begun to notice on a lot of poorly-maintained projection-screens. Then there's the fact that there was a speck of dirt on either the projector, the window the projector was projecting through, or there was a much larger spot of dirt on the projection screen itself. Not enough to be detrimental, but enough to be unprofessional. Add to that the fact that the recliner seating was a tad difficult to adjust properly and my theater experience wasn't quite perfect.

Spoiler warning for the movie.

    As one would expect given the ending of The Incredibles, The Incredibles 2 picks up immediately after the first film's cliffhanger ending. The Incredibles and Frozone manage to take on The Underminer (John Ratzenberger) and win, but The Underminer escapes, The Incredibles (Bob, Helen, Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack Parr, played by Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Sarah Vowell, Huck Milner and Eli Fucile respectively) are picked up by the police because superheroism is still illegal, Frozone (AKA Lucius Best, played by Samuel L. Jackson) is given a business proposition by a superhero fanboy who isn't a complete psycho (Winston Deavor, played by Bob Odenkirk) and the guy Violet asked out, Tony gets his memory of her erased. The Superhero Relocation Program, which was established fifteen years prior to clean up superhero messes and keep heroes under wraps whenever possible, gets shut down, and the Parrs have two weeks to sort their situation out or they're homeless, since their house was blown up in the previous film. Fortunately for them, the offer Deavor extended to Frozone is extended to Bob and Helen as well, and the three of them go to Deavor's place where he introduces them to his sister, Evelyn (Catherine Keener) who invents the stuff his company sells and markets. The idea is to hire Helen to be the "pilot hero" to get the public convinced that Superheroes are a positive influence rather than a negative one. Bob, who's spent the last fifteen years seething over the stupidity of the public and government, is naturally cheesed by this. If one can recall the first film as well as I can, then one remembers how Bob jumped to do hero-work, because it's an inherent part of his being. He's supportive of his wife, but it gets to him that he's not out there doing hero-work. Granted, someone has to take care of the kids and that duty falls to him.
    Elastigirl is given a new suit and motorcycle for use in superhero work while Bob is stuck trying to figure out why they changed math and how to organize all of the children, which is pretty relevant for fans of the first movie since they're old enough to have kids of their own and wonder what the hell is going on with Common Core now. Which on reflection, is probably why this is in the movie at all.
Helen goes to one of the big cities to monitor crime and winds up stopping a runaway train hijacked by a new supervillain called "ScreenSlaver." ScreenSlaver uses hypnosis on the engineer to make him run the train backward, but Elastigirl manages to avert disaster. This grants her a lot of good press, and an interview with the local news. Meanwhile, Jack-Jack has a fight with a Raccoon and Bob finds out that Jack-Jack has powers. For those of you wondering why they didn't know he had powers, it's because he was too far up when he was going lead-baby, human-torch and demon-baby for them to see it properly, Kari probably got her memory erased of the entire incident, and Syndrome is dead, so nobody else really knew he had powers. Speaking of which, as part of the project, Winston lets the Parrs stay in one of his extra houses, a mansion I suspect he bought from Syndrome's estate-sale given the technologically-advanced gadgets, the secret entrances, the hidden trap-doors, and all of the other crap in the house. There's nothing in the movie to confirm or deny that, but it makes perfect sense.
    During the interview, ScreenSlaver hijacks the signal and the helicade of a foreign ambassador who was leaving the studio. Helen manages to save the Ambassador and the studio, then concocts a plan to track down ScreenSlaver with the help of some tech from Evelyn. She tracks him to his lair, and he puts up a pretty good fight, but Elastigirl apprehends him. Something I feel I should comment on is the fact that the theater had posted notices that the movie contained sequences of rapidly-flashing lights and I was not prepared for how rapidly they would be flashing. I'm normally unphased by strobe-effects in films and real life, but this gave me a headache to watch. I'd like to request that Pixar tone down the flashing for the home-media release, but I won't be too put-out if they don't. It's very brief, but for the number of times I know I'm going to watch this movie I get the distinct feeling that I'm either going to get used to it or it'll become the single most irritating part of the film that I'll dread every time I watch it.
    Elastigirl's capture of ScreenSlaver is celebrated, and helps to spur the re-legalization of superhero action. However, at the victory party, Helen starts analyzing the footage captured from her body-cam and realizes that ScreenSlaver had tapped into her bodycam, and may indeed have just been mind-controlled as well. Evelyn confirms this when she slaps mind-control goggles into Helen to keep her from breaking the story. I have to admit, I didn't see that one coming. I thought the brother was gonna be the villain.
    Evelyn explains that she basically sees her father's Superhero obsession as the thing that killed him, and she despises how her brother obsesses over them, and she sees the heroes as a crutch that humanity is expected to lean on when she thinks that humanity needs to move on otherwise we'll be held back. So she's basically Lex Luthor. I have a feeling that she and Syndrome would have gotten along very well.
One may also note some similarities between this scene and a scene from Fantastic 4, but since this is the better movie and indeed the better movie series and also Fox is soon going to be owned by Disney, there's not really much to say about that here.    She calls Bob to lure him to the ship the superheroism legalization accord will be signed on, so Bob calls Lucius to watch the kids while he goes after Helen. Evelyn sends a bunch of rookie heroes her brother found and she subsequently mind-controlled, to apprehend the kids, but between Lucius and Dash summoning Bob's Incredibile, the kids manage to escape, but Lucius gets mind-controlled. Bob faces off with Helen, but Evelyn uses the mind-control to catch Bob off-guard and mind-control him, so it's up to Dash, Violet and Jack-Jack to save the day.
    Evelyn has the Supers issue a threat to the world after the accords are signed, but Jack-Jack frees Helen and Helen frees Bob and Lucius. They face off with the other mind-controlled heroes, and Winston disables the mind-control screens on the boat. Helen takes out Evelyn while Bob and the kids stop the boat crashing into the city. Evelyn is arrested, and The Incredibles are hailed as heroes once more.
    If like me, you've waited a long time for this movie to come out, it may be worth seeing in theaters, but if you suspect you'll have a similar theater experience to the one I had, I'd recommend waiting for The Incredibles 2 to come out on 4K and spending what you would have spent on the tickets on that. It's easily as good as the first one, so one will certainly wish to watch it again and again, and unless you catch it at a dollar theater you're likely to pay just as much, if not more for tickets for the whole family as you would to just buy the 4K version. If you absolutely cannot wait, then go for it, but you'd probably be better off waiting for the 4K Blu-ray release.
Speaking of which, why exactly was The Incredibles $30 on 4K? It's a fourteen-year-old film that everyone owns on either DVD or 2K Blu-ray, so Disney shouldn't be expecting to make their typical amount on it. It's not like the old VHS releases, or the first DVD releases of most of their films, the remastering was already done back when they issued the DVD and Blu-ray versions. Why exactly do they think they'll make the asking price on this? For $30 I'll wait until it's discounted or stick with the DVD version I've had for the last fourteen years.
    All in all, this movie did everything it needed to as a sequel. It had new ideas left and right, wasn't just a straight carbon-copy of the first film with minute differences and managed to capture the heart and soul of the original. What they need to do now is make another movie before all of the actors are dead, because almost all of the cast is getting up there. That brings me to something I feel I should mention. Aside from Helen, Lucius, and The Underminer, the only voices that don't sound like they've changed are Dash and Dicker, the two who had to be recast because the voice actors were either too old or dead respectively. The returning cast sounds generally like they are who they're supposed to be, but Craig T. Nelson's voice has aged more audibly than Albert Brooks's had in Finding Dory, and Sarah Vowell sounded like she was straining to maintain her Violet voice throughout the first two-thirds of the film before settling back into the groove by the end of the film. In fact, Craig T. Nelson also sounded like he'd figured it out by the end as well and that made me wonder why they didn't go back and retake the rest of their lines. You know you could have just pushed it back another few months to clean up the voice-acting, right Disney? You made us wait fourteen freaking years for the movie as it was, you could have made us wait a little longer and we wouldn't have hated your guts any more than we already do. Although there's a reason for it being somewhat rushed, considering the fact that Toy Story 4 got pushed back and The Incredibles 2 had to fill its release-date. I'm actually surprised the shaky voices are the only problem with the movie given that it had to be released an entire year earlier than planned. I was somewhat disappointed there wasn't much Underminer in the movie, but I was satisfied with the film we got.
    As with the last film, Michael Giacchino's score is absolute perfection. Best work from Giacchino since his Doctor Strange score. Would definitely listen to on its own given the opportunity.
In the end, it's a solid installment that I wish I hadn't had to wait two-thirds of my life to see. As a suggestion, maybe they could make an animated TV series out of the Glory Days from the first movie? They briefly namechecked some of the events of the Glory Days, and I think there's a lot that could be gotten out of the pre-Relocation days. All I want is more of The Incredibles in my (and preferably the actors) lifetimes.

Image from impawards.com

Monday, June 4, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story


Originally written for OutloudCulture.com
    Solo: A Star Wars Story is an odd duck of a movie, and continues a trend started by the previous standalone film in the series, Rogue One. Namely, a lot of reshoots. The difference between these two films is that Rogue One's director wasn't fired when the movie was mostly done and replaced by somebody else to shoot the remainder of the film, along with reshooting the entire rest of the film.
Despite this, Solo doesn't come off as a movie that's clearly been pieced together from a far different original vision. One would hope that eventually the original version of the film can be put out on home media, much like the original version of Superman 2 was. It might not be any good, but it'd make for a great special feature or something like that for the home version of the movie.
After The Last Jedi failed to capture the hearts and minds of the Star Wars fanbase, myself included, I was more hesitant than I would have normally been going into this film. Between the production issues, the fact that most of the contenders to play young Han Solo looked nothing like Harrison Ford, and the fact that it followed on from the single worst Star Wars film ever made, I was skeptical. But a lot of that skepticism was abated by the fact that the replacement director was none other than Ron Howard, a director I hold in high regard. Howard was George Lucas's original choice to direct the prequels, and I was glad to see him take up the reigns finally. If I was someone in charge at Lucasfilm or The Walt Disney Company, my first act would have been to immediately turn the sequels over to Ron Howard. Even when working with less than adequate material, Howard always manages to turn out a decent film. And I'm happy to say that's what he's done for Solo.
    Solo: A Star Wars Story at its most basic level is a compressed and heavily bastardized version of The Han Solo Trilogy, although by this point I'm not even remotely surprised to see plots, characters, and entire scenes lifted from the EU. This film is about as obvious with its plagiarism than The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi were. Characters names are changed, and some of the fine details are different, but in the end, this movie is basically The Han Solo Trilogy given life as a film.
The performances from all involved are spot-on. Alden Ehrenreich imitates Harrison Ford's mannerisms as the dashing rogue Han Solo without missing a beat. His voice is slightly different than I would have expected, but considering this movie is set approximately fifteen years before the events of A New Hope, that's perfectly forgivable. Donald Glover though, manages to not only look, but sound his part as Lando Calrissean. I have to hand it to Glover, he did a damn good job as everyone's favorite scoundrel. The only complaint is that his hairdo is a little too different, a little too much like the haircut Will.i.am has in real life. Lando has curly, slicked hair in The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi. He didn't have a right-angle cut into his hair. I don't know why this bugged me, maybe it was the fact that it looks a little too modern to fit in with the overall look of Star Wars as a franchise. Ehrenreich and Glover reportedly both consulted with Harrison Ford and Billy Dee Williams respectively when researching their roles, and both of them manage to capture the essence of their characters without actively seeming like impersonators. The other actors turn in good performances as well, especially Woody Harrelson, but there's a certain character who irritated the hell out of me and didn't even need to really be in the film, but that's spoiler territory.
Just listening to the score of this movie, I think it's got some of the best music out of the series in recent years. That may be due to the fact that it relies heavily upon previous musical cues, but even putting that aside, the music flows with the scenes the way the music flowed with the scenes in the first six films. There are a couple of tracks I find a bit odd, but the music is more memorable than it was in Rogue One and more unique than it was in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. This is likely due to the fact that the composer, John Powell, was a member of Remote Control Productions, the studio Hans Zimmer co-founded, and was a frequent collaborator with Zimmer and other members of the studio. Hans Zimmer is one of a very few composers who can give original Star Wars series composer John Williams a run for his money in terms of quality, and I think that the only better choice to do the score would have been Williams or Zimmer themselves. Maybe even together.
Spoilers for the movie and the books begin here.
The most obvious details of the movie that have been lifted from The Han Solo Trilogy are Han's backstory as a ruffian who escaped Correllia by joining the Empire, and eventually deserted to become a smuggler. The details differ in that Han's girlfriend, Qi'ra (played by Emilia Clark) comes up with him in the underworld rather than being an aristocrat, that the reason they're separated is because she gets caught when a corrupt Imperial soldier sells them out, and not because Han was being chivalrous, and the fact that Qi'ra is an unknown quantity with deep ties to Han, just like Han's girlfriend in the novels, Bria Theran. In fact, if they chopped out one of the characters that shows up later in the movie, they could have just called her Bria and nobody would have blinked an eye. In fact, this is something of a trend with Disney's Star Wars films, they tend to have too many characters. Not the way a Rolland Emmerich movie has too many characters, more like one or two extraneous characters along the way. Not unexpected from Star Wars, but at least in the past, previous films were aggressively edited and examined for extraneous scenes and characters. Yes, this did lead to a fairly important section of A New Hope being basically lost to time, but it also meant that there were never any subplots that didn't go anywhere, or characters who could have just been removed entirely.
The next major section of the film that has been altered from its source material is the fact that Lando cheats in his first game of Sabacc with Han when the Falcon is on the line. Lando's not exactly known for cheating, and in fact, didn't like cheaters at Sabacc. Not to mention the fact that cheating at Sabacc carries heavy fines in some parts of the galaxy, and the death sentence in others, making it heavily out of character for Lando to risk such consequences when he's known to only take risks when he has to, as demonstrated in Episode V when he joined the Rebellion. Why would he stick his neck out to win at a card game? In the books and previous movies, Lando was known as a man of his word, only breaking it when absolutely necessary. That was how Han won the Falcon in the trilogy, by holding Lando to his exact words. Hell, we've even seen this side of Lando recently in Star Wars Rebels. He's a scoundrel, a smooth talker, a wheeler and a dealer, a ruffian, but he's not a cheater and he never goes back on his word when both sides keep their end of the bargain. We'll come back to this later on.
Something which really irritated me about this film was that it started off with still screens of expositional text rather than the traditional title crawl. Unlike Rogue One, I could add a title crawl to Solo without even needing to edit the film much. Rogue One started off fairly quick, and despite the fact that it could have easily had one with a bit of editing, didn't really need one. This film on the other hand eschews series tradition much in the way The Clone Wars animated movie and series did, despite the fact that they'd greatly benefit from the added extra touch. At least The Clone Wars had the excuse of needing to communicate the setting and previous events to the audience quickly so as to fit into a half-hour timeslot, but Solo doesn't have that excuse because the text remains on screen for about as long as the equivalent title-crawl would have. If you're going to include text in the opening sequence to a Star Wars movie, make it crawl for god's sake!
All of that text has to exist to explain what Han is doing and why he wants to leave Correllia. Han and his girlfriend, Qi'ra work for some kind of snake creature stealing things. Han gets ambushed while on a job for the snake and barely escapes with his life, his enemy's speeder, and a piece of merchandise. Han manages to escape the den of thieves with Qi'ra, but rather than line up a black-market trader to get the full value for it and not having to rely on the corruption of Imperial forces, Han just trades the fuel to the Imperial official, which gets Qi'ra captured. Han joins the Imperial Academy to become a pilot, but for some reason becomes a foot soldier for the Imperial Navy due to being expelled from the Imperial Flight Academy. Okay. Not like that's something interesting we'd have liked to see. Even if it was only ten, fifteen, twenty minutes long it would have been cool to see. All it would take is a little bit of creative writing and direction, which I know the team behind this movie can do, and the smash-cut to the warzone would have still worked. In this scene, we find out the origins of Han's name. It's a nickname given to him by the Imperial Recruiter since he doesn't have a last name. Even though we find out he had parents and actually knew them.
In the warzone, Han meets Tobias Beckett (Woody Harrelson) who's posing as an Imperial officer. Beckett manages to save Solo's unit and Solo pegs him and the other members of his crew as thieves when he notices a few things wrong with them. For one thing, Beckett's uniform is heavily damaged. The pilot, Rio Durant (Jon Favreau) is an alien, and Beckett's wife, Val (Thandie Newton) is quick to jump the gun. When Han calls them out and tries to get them to let him join them, Beckett gets the Imperials to toss Han into a cage with none other than Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) who Han convinces to help him escape. Compared to how they met in the books, this is more spectacular, but less meaningful. It's a lot like the Harry Potter films in that regard, but a lot better.
Han and Chewie escape the prison and join up with Beckett to help him rob a train. They mostly manage to pull the heist off, but a band of marauders try to hijack the train from them. Rio winds up being shot, so Han has to take the controls, and then Val dies blowing up the bridge and taking out the Imperial forces. Han winds up having to ditch the train car to save their necks, and gets chewed out by Beckett, since the product of the heist was promised to crime-lord Dryden Vos (Paul Bettany) of the Crimson Dawn. Couldn't have been Prince Xizor of Black Sun? Oh well, whatever.
Beckett apologizes to Vos for losing the fuel, while Han runs into Qi'ra, who's Vos's... Wife? Right hand girl? Concubine? Hitwoman? I don't know.
Han suggests to Beckett and Vos that they steal unrefined fuel instead of refined fuel, since the fuel mines on Kessell will be easier to rob than another Imperial transport train. Since the unrefined fuel is unstable, they need to get a fast ship. Since the fastest ship in the galaxy is owned by Lando Calrissian (Donald Glover) Han gets Qi'ra to front his buy-in to the Sabacc table Lando is playing at and manages to almost get the ship, but an awkward cutaway shows us that Lando used a Mission: Impossible gadget to swap out his cards. If they'd cut this shot out, and left the reveal for the end, it would have increased the impact of the final scene of the film. Then you've got the fact that Han basically had enough money to either buy a similar light freighter and modify it for the job, or pay Lando to rent the Falcon for the job and still have plenty left over to buy a ship. That's part of what makes this sequence kind of dumb, on top of Lando being out of character. The other part is the fact that they didn't show us many of the details of Sabac as a game. Han's clearly a card-shark, so if we got a bit of internal monologue like we did in the books, we might have more context. I know I'm basically asking Ron Howard to insert an episode or two of Yu-Gi-Oh! into a Star Wars movie, but The Last Jedi was two and a half hours long, if Ron Howard had made Solo three hours long I'd have still sat through it. Even if you allowed fifteen minutes each for the three years Han supposedly spent in the Imperial Academy, and fifteen more minutes for Sabacc, the movie would only be about five minutes longer than TLJ. Hell, if you cut out Lando's annoying droid sidekick you'd save about three minutes of the movie, maybe even more.
Lando's droid sidekick and navigator, L3-37 (Phoebe Waller-Bridge) is one of the single most irritating characters in the entirety of film, right up there with Sam Witwicky and Lucas Flannery from the live-action Transformers movies. And like Lucas, I was incredibly glad when she died, despite the fact that the film clearly wants me to feel bad for Lando that his friend is dead. L3 loves to go on about droid's rights, something which nobody cares about and really didn't even need to be in the movie. We know droids are discriminated against in Star Wars, they've made it impeccably clear in every single film, book, game, and audio drama in the franchise. This kind of thing should have been a passing joke made by a side character, not a supporting character who's fairly important to the story. Not that she needed to be important to the story, since everything she does could have been done by a voiceless R2 unit, or a member of the crew. Not to mention the fact that she steals a bit of Han's thunder when she frees all of the slaves herself, which sort of undermines what Chewie owes Han since, in the book, Solo was the one who liberated the slaves, and Chewie's family in the process. Thankfully she's only around for a few minutes. Compared to L3, Rose Tico is actually important to the plot. And the most prominent comic-relief character in the series, Jar-Jar Binks is downright serious by comparison. At least he was integral to the plot, at least he couldn't have been replaced by Woody Harrelson and a better navicomputer. At least The Phantom Menace would have gone down drastically differently without him. At least Jar-Jar was funny and endearing. We already know about the plight of droids. Darth Maul: Shadow Hunter, Revenge of the Sith, A New Hope, hell most of the installments in the series show how bad droids have it in a far more serious light. The punchlines suck and take away from the serious nature of the issue. Plus the character being irritating as all get-out doesn't help her cause. I don't even know why anyone thought this character up. One would hope that Phil Lorde and Chris Miller, the original directors of this film did something different with this character, but considering she's in and out fast, I guess I can't complain too much. One last strange thing about her character is that she seems to have a big crush on Lando that she's not hiding particularly well. She seems a bit too quick to say it won't work, and a bit too quick to say that a human/droid relationship can work. That was actually a somewhat funny joke, to be honest.
They load the fuel into the Falcon, but Lando is wounded and L3 is destroyed. Han tries to fly them out, but they stumble on an Imperial blockade. Solo takes the shortcut that lets him take the Kessel Run in 12 parsecs, but they're ambushed by a space-monster. Han manages to get the monster stuck in one of the Maw Cluster black-holes by ejecting the Falcon's escape-pod. They plug L3's brain into the navicomputer to chart a course out of the Maw and a drop of the unrefined fuel to boost themselves out of the black-hole. They get the fuel refined, but the Marauders from the heist ambush them and Lando abandons them. For some reason, the marauders manage to convince Han to give them the fuel, but they still have to turn something over to Vos. So Han puts together a plan where the Marauders have an empty box as bait in case someone betrays the plan, and he can take the regular fuel in to Vos. Sure enough, Beckett sells them out to Vos, but Han and Qi'ra manage to fight him off, and Han kills Beckett in the best shot of the movie. Han expects Qi'ra to join him, but she takes Vos's ship to meet with her true boss, Darth Maul (Voiced by Samuel Witwer from The Clone Wars and Rebels, and physically portrayed by Ray Park, the actor who played him in The Phantom Menace) on Korriban. No I don't know why Maul is here, but I'm intrigued and wish to know more. Then Han and Chewie go back to Lando, Han steals the cards Lando used to cheat, and wins the Falcon with a Full Sabacc, roll credits.

Spoilers end.

All in all, I liked this movie. I think it's well worth the sit if you had a bad taste in your mouth after the failure of The Last Jedi. It's kind of funny, since there are a few little things in this movie that make TLJ a bit more sensible, but not enough to redeem its failure. If you hated The Last Jedi because it crapped all over the legacy of the original trilogy, and every other film in the series that came before it, you'll find that this film doesn't do that quite as much. There's only one major aspect of the film I disagreed with, but overall I found it a very entertaining movie. And to the people who said that the audience needed to lower their expectations going in, you're wrong. This movie stands up alongside the other good Star Wars movies with its head held high. It's a bit shorter than its older siblings, but it's far and away better than The Last Jedi and Revenge of the Sith were. Don't lower your expectations going in, you'll be more than happy with this film if you've never read the superior books it's obviously based on. And if you have read the books it's based on, you might want to cut the movie a little slack. After all, the movie did have to be almost entirely reshot by a different director. Hell, they couldn't even keep the same guy playing the villain, Vos. Michael K. Williams played a far different version of Vos in the Lorde and Miller version of the movie, but the role had to be recast for the reshoots.
Despite the troubled production, this film turned out pretty good. It makes me wonder how Ron Howard would have handled the prequel trilogy, and indeed it makes me wonder why Disney didn't immediately turn the sequel trilogy over to him. Ron Howard did a better job picking up the broken pieces of a film someone else wrote than Rian Johnson did directing a movie he wrote. So go see this movie. Bring your friends. It's doing way worse at the box-office than it should, and I think that's to do with the fact that it's following on from last year's lackluster main installment. The final score I give for the movie is an 8.0*

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Image from impawards.com

Saturday, February 3, 2018

Revisiting Star Wars: The Old Republic

    If you've been wondering where I went for the last year or so, sans the occasional post and video every now and again, I've been enrolled in college. All of my time has been taken up by schoolwork, honors projects, and time at the gym. This left me with absolutely no time to request new games to review, to play the games I already have, or to really sit down and write a review. The largest break I've had up until now was a month-long stretch during the summer, and then it was right back to the grind.
    When my first semester started, I decided I should probably get a new computer, as the one I had been using for the last five years was starting to get slower and slower to do just about anything. Rather than just buying a new consumer-level PC, I opted to research getting a decent gaming laptop so I could have a good mobile recording station. Naturally, I haven't had a good chance to test it out in that capacity since I got it, but I've been able to bring some good gaming out of it in the minuscule bit of downtime I've had. One of the first things I figured I'd do is install the first game I played on the old eMachines rig I had and see how it fared on my new, roided-out rig. It'd be a great benchmark for the difference between the two systems. Considering that Star Wars: The Old Republic practically killed my old rig when it was new, so if I was able to get it running well on this new PC, then I'd be plenty happy. Given that my current PC is massively overpowered even now, ten-some months on down the line from when I purchased it, I figured I'd have absolutely no issue running this game at maximum settings, and for the most part, I was right. The very first thing I did after the game finished downloading, because even after AT&T upgraded my internet connection it still didn't want to download at anything resembling a reasonable speed was crank the graphical settings all the way up. For the most part, everything worked fine at first, but my keen gamer's eye started noticing a lot of issues. I started out as a Sith Juggernaut, because I played a Jedi Consular the last time I had this game and I remembered how much banal bitchwork I had to go through, so I picked the opposite end of the spectrum and decided to play against type for once. I was going to be a Machiavellian manipulator and merciless destroyer of worlds.
    As I traipsed around the starting planet, I started to notice a bunch of graphical issues. I'm almost certain there isn't a single curved line in this game. Everywhere a curve should be, it's either a blown-up texture that looks blurry, or a hard angled polygon that's probably supposed to be a curve, but clearly is not. Take a look at the hologram projector in the background of this screenshot, and the console to the right of my Jedi Consular. It's not like I went looking for these issues either, I wasn't playing in first-person mode and zooming in tight on a wall, this is something I noticed from the widest third-person camera angle available, and on the character-select screen as well. Every road, stairway, pathway and remotely curved object in the game is made up of obvious polygons. In addition to that, some of the textures in this game look like badly-sourced JPEG's, with obvious lossy compression artifacts that by all rights shouldn't be in a game like this.
    This particular texture to the left reminds me of some recycled textures I saw in some of the Resident Evil games on sixth-generation consoles where Capcom re-used a number of door textures from the G5 games upscaled and then recompressed. Some of these textures look like they were ripped from Knights of the Old Republic and re-used. Given how long this game takes to download on even decent internet connections, why do the textures look like overcompressed JPEG's? Some of the textures in this game look like the portrait sprites from Dragon Ball Z: Extreme Butoden. I see large, jagged edges surrounding any angled line with a drastic color shift between the line and the surrounding color. It sort of looks like what happens when someone's trying to photoshop an element into a picture that doesn't have a transparent background and screwed up the blending. Given a couple of minutes in Paint.net I could fix that without even needing access to the multi-layer master files, and without redrawing much of the texture.
    In addition to the texture issues, some of the Imperial officers have their ranking squares drawn onto the texture of their uniform, but others have them modeled onto their uniforms. Some of them even have both, like the characters weren't originally modeled with the ranking squares as part of their clothing, but had them added in later as some sort of graphical upgrade, but then someone forgot to edit the textures, leaving the old ones behind. The game was a good five years old when I got to it, and to my knowledge this issue hasn't been fixed, but then again in this game, you hardly ever visit the same planet and NPC's more than a few times, so for all I know they could have patched it out in the time since I've seen those NPC's. Not that that would have excused it being there in the first place. I know this is a massive game, but something this obvious should have shown up in testing, or during the process or creating the character models.
   The next big issue we see is the animations. I wouldn't be the critic I am if I didn't bash on about this for a while, considering the rather large amount of stick I gave the original Splinter Cell for its jerky animations several years back, and I'm going to have to give The Old Republic quite a bit of stick as well, because this game was released a good thirteen years after Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time, and the animations look bloody dreadful. It's patently obvious that Bioware just uses a series of stock animations for every single character in the game regardless of body size or attire, which leads to situations where my Master's solid metal epaulets were stretching and warping like they were made from rubber, or where my character's beard clipped through the strap of one of the helmets I'd found, or the times when the lower section of my flight-helmet clipped through some box that was on the chest of my upper-body armor. The animations also have a rather irritating habit of being entirely screwed up by small things. In this game, you get a rather impressive selection of useless clothing which can be either sold off for cash or used to customize your companions and when I gave my Twi'lek girlfriend a nice hooded robe to wear, the hood clipped into her head-tails, sending the jiggle-physics into an absolute fit. They'd vibrate, but only when she was standing still. If she was moving, her head-tails would trail behind her without clipping into her clothing. I'm glad I didn't make a character with long hair because his ponytail probably would have kicked around like a snake someone had grabbed by the tail.
    To some extent, I hate to state the obvious, but most of the characters in this game have a serious case of the Bioware Face about them, failing to communicate much in the way of emotion unless it's exaggerated. Again, Metal Gear Solid and Ocarina of Time succeeded at this thirteen years prior, and neither of them nearly broke my computer to get running. Even without complex facial animation, both of those games were able to convey more emotion through far smoother motion than this game does. When it comes time for the characters to make expressions, they typically wind up looking a lot less natural than the facial-animations in Metal Gear Solid 2 did.
    Then there are the issues with pop-in. As I said before, I've got a beast of a computer, and I set the graphics settings to maximum, but that doesn't stop the game from forgetting to render textures to polygons, which usually happens whenever I get off the turbolift into my hanger. For a good several seconds after I enter the hanger, my ship won't appear until I get a few meters away. There was also a time when I was in the Abandoned Mine on Quesh, and most of the walls, some of the ground textures, and all of
the enemies and containers, generators and other stuff on the floor and walls, including a giant rock in the center of the cave didn't load up in the space of less than an in-game meter. This isn't Silent Hill and I'm not playing this on an original PlayStation, why does this game keep failing to load objects? The last game I played that had the kind of issues this game sometimes has was Alien: Isolation, and I was running that game on an Xbox 360. I have sixteen gigabytes of DDR4 RAM in this computer, paired with a GTX1050 GPU, and an Intel Seventh Generation 7700 quad-core CPU. This game came out six years before my PC was even built, and it still has these hiccups and even some slowdown at times, especially if the shadow resolution is set at anything resembling reasonable.
    Take a look at this screenshot of my Imperial Operative on the character-select screen. My Sith Juggernaut and my Jedi Consular have smoother shadows on them than she does. The shadows on her all look like a cloud of insects due to her attire. Her hair has a cloud of shadows on it, her tiara has one, and the curve of her jawline appears to cast a rather rough shadow as well. I don't really know what, either. I thought I'd reset the shadow resolution somewhat higher than the default was, but the smaller the shadow which is cast, the worse it looks. Not to mention the shadows cast on the skin of almost every character look like they were rendered in the late 1990's for a backdrop in a Resident Evil game, but for some reason, it looks even worse on the fair-skinned Operative than it did on my tanned Consular.
    After an update back in July of this year, I started to notice the single most pervasive issue of the time I've played this game. Diagonal screen-tearing. No, not your typical, run of the mill horizontal screen-tearing caused by typical v-sync issues, but diagonal screen-tearing. This issue wouldn't show up when I tried to take a screenshot, it wouldn't show up in the video I captured with OBS, so I had to take out my cellphone and take an old-fashioned camera-on-LCD screen video of it to get the picture I used to report the bug. Months on down the line, this issue hasn't been fixed. I've updated my graphics drivers, tried to force V-sync through the Nvidia control-panel, tried turning it off, nothing really seems to work except recording my screen with OBS throughout the entire game, and that's not something I really want to do, because lately, I don't have a whole lot to talk about, and that's the whole reason I'd even bother recording in the first place. Plus at this point, I've basically finished the game, so it wouldn't really go along with the other Let's Plays on my channel.
    Taking all of these issues into account, I can't really fathom why this game wouldn't run well on my old PC. The graphics at their best look like someone added better lighting to a Wii game, and at their worst look worse than the best-looking PS2 games, and my old PC was capable of running most PS2 and PSP games with a bunch of bells and whistles added. Considering the performance issues I saw even on this PC, I'd hate to think about what kind of computer one would need to run it with shadow resolution dialed all the way up. I keep coming back to games like Metal Gear Solid 2, or ever MGS3, MGS4, Skyrim, Fallout 3, Bioshock, there are so many games that came out before this one that had better graphics on far less capable systems, even games within the same franchise had better graphics. Star Wars: The Force Unleashed might not have been a sprawling MMORPG, but it looked way better back in 2008 than this did even in 2011. Star Wars Jedi Knight II: Jedi Outcast might not have been entirely technically superior, but the graphical fidelity was at least more consistent than it is in this game, not to mention the fact that in 2002 it was graphically impressive as well. Even the original Mass Effect was better looking than this game is, even if the animations were a bit dodgy for a game not developed in the early 90's.
    But hey, graphics aren't all that make a game, so let's move on to the rest of the game, shall we? As I mentioned towards the beginning, I decided to play against type, opting for a brutal Sith Juggernaut character rather than my typical lawful good Paladin-esque choices, partially because I wanted to mess around with the Dark Side, but also because the character I created the played to my typical desires had a boring time of it. Fortunately, the Sith Juggernaut gets into action and political intrigue right off the bat. I was sent off to retrieve a lightsaber from a tomb, introduced to my first companion, told to bomb out some creatures, and kill my rival and former master within a short period of time from creating my character. I was even able to leave the starting world before the game was entirely done downloading. It was at this point where I decided to create a new character I could play to pass the time while the game finished downloading. Because I was on a roll with dark-side characters I decided to create an evil Jedi Knight, so I figured I'd go with a Jedi Sentinel and choose all the dark-side options I could. On my way to reaching level 15, I found out that the Jedi Sentinel plays identically to the Sith Juggernaut, save for the fact that the Sentinel uses two lightsabers instead of just one. I was somewhat disappointed that I'd rolled essentially the same character for the opposing faction, so I stopped playing my new character as soon as the game finished downloading and hopped onto my ship, but immediately before doing so, my Sith master sent me on a quest to whip a rogue Sith Lord named Darth Grathan into line by killing his son. So, with only my Twi'lek sidekick to back me up, I walked right into his house and promptly killed all of his guards. I then busted into his son's room and proceeded to smack the kid (Who couldn't be much younger than my character) around, subduing him effortlessly. His mother pleaded with me for her son's life, and struck up a deal. I could kill her husband and her son would put on his father's armor and mask and pretend to be his dad. Figuring this would be the actions of a Machiavellian Sith Lord who wished to rule the galaxy himself, I agreed to do so, acting under the impression that the mother and her son would be loyal to me afterward. I walked into Grathan's room, killed him, looted all his equipment off the dead body, tossed it to his son, and then proceeded to have sex with his now-single wife. Then, on my way to the spaceport, his son had the gall to send a single assassin after me, someone I took down after like three hits. Sonny boy, I walked into your compound with only a Twi'lek gunner at my back, slaughtered all of your guards, beat you up, killed your father and then fucked your mother. I'm your daddy now, bitch. You only live because of my good graces, so why don't you go fetch me a spiced ale while your mother and I make a worthy heir to the Grathan name? At least that's what I would have told him had the game allowed me to continue that quest-line after I beat the assassin. Sadly, the game didn't present that option to me. This is a trend which will continue throughout the entirety of the game. This game loves to railroad the player into doing what they've prepared for, and they don't like to create too many scenarios for side-quests. Most companion storylines happen off-screen, with the character you're talking to walking out of shot and the picture fading to black, then the picture fades back up on them walking back into shot after having done whatever they set out to do, typically without your involvement. One of the companion quests was all about my girlfriend reuniting with her friends and family from before she'd been taken as a slave, and for most of them, I was able to talk to her, go on a quest to a planet, find her old friends or family and help them out. I liked being able to walk into the dancing club where Vette's sister worked and act like I was there to be a dancer, it was fun. That all changed when we found her mother's corpse on Tattooine. She'd been worked to death in service of this scumbag Hutt, and by that point, I'd taken so many Light Side choices that the few Dark Side points I had were scrubbed out of existence. I'd made a reputation for myself as a champion of the innocent, basically the Star Wars version of The Shadow, and I wanted this Hutt's head for what he did to Vette's mother. Unfortunately, the game wasn't about to let me lead a charge into his palace for some reason, and would only send Vette and her sister Tivva into the place to kill him. On top of all of that, all of the dialogue options that presented themselves were grossly out of character for me, talking about savoring vengeance rather than preventing injustice if I were to support killing him, and talking about how killing is not the way despite my massive body-count if I were to support not killing him. Weirdly, killing him was presented as the Dark Side option despite the fact that if we let him live he'd be able to work more slaves to death. Killing him would clearly be the right thing to do, first off, and second, the explanation as to why Vette and Tivva had to go it alone was fucking flimsy at best. Apparently the Hutt had some security system and mercenaries set up, but at this point, I'd waded through crowds of Jedi Knights and Sith Lords, killing them all left and right, not to mention the millions of regular mooks I'd slaughtered. I even took on the False Emperor on my own and lived. I've survived every assassination attempt, even ones that got the drop on me without breaking a sweat, so there was no way I wasn't going to be able to take down some crime-lord as long as I had a Lightsaber and The Force by my side. Besides, at this point in time, I had a small fleet of starfighters at my disposal and a strike-force consisting of an ace pilot and hacker, a former black-ops agent, a prissy-ass kill-droid who seemed obsessed with repainting the inside of the ship every week, some cross between The Predator and an abominable snowman, and a former Jedi Knight who fought like Darth Maul, so between the eight of us and the laundry list of mercenaries, Sith Lords and Jedi Knights who owed me favors, I'm pretty sure we could have walked up to the palace mostly unobstructed, broken past the security, killed the Hutt and his protectors, freed the slaves, and repurposed the place into my Outer-Rim holiday home without breaking a sweat. Need I remind you that the assault on Lord Grathan's house was very similar in nature and took place on the starting planet? The mission seemed to call for subterfuge, but I wanted to make a damn statement to the planet, if not to the entire galaxy. Sadly, I was unable to as the game would not let me. Later on in the game, when Vette and I decided to get married, the entire thing happened off-screen. Normally you'd think that this would call for some celebration, maybe it would show us some interesting character moments with the crew, maybe they could have given any weight at all to this rather important character interaction. Even if all we got was one scene, anything would have been better than fading away as we walked off-screen and fading back as we returned. Where did we go? What did we do? I remember how tedious it was to plan for and play out the wedding in Story of Seasons, but I'd rather they completely overdo the wedding than not do anything at all. It's not like this was a secret or anything, god knows that this of all things isn't going to get me thrown out of the Empire, ao what the hell was the point of skipping this? Speaking of which, after a certain point in the game I acquired an apprentice/surrogate daughter figure named Jaesa Wilsaam, a former Jedi Knight who decided to join me after seeing how dark her fanatical Jedi master had become and how pure and kind I was. She decided to reach out to other Light-side Sith and try to recruit them to our side. In any other game, this might have been a massively important quest-line that involved subterfuge, bribery, spying on people, lies, and manipulation, but in this game, it happens entirely off-screen. A number of characters are introduced and subsequently killed-off without ever once being in danger of seeing them. Jaesa goes through an entire character-arc without us ever being there to experience it. Even if we had to play the whole mission as Jaesa and had to learn a whole new character for a bit it would still be better than not experiencing the storyline at all.
    Something else I thought I should mention as it was part of the main quest, I helped an Imperial officer named Malavai Quinn out, and he subsequently joined my party. Later on, after my master betrayed me, the way Sith tend to do, Quinn revealed himself to have been working for him this whole time, plotting my demise. Eventually, my master, Darth Baras told him to enact their plan, which involved luring me to an abandoned ship in the middle of nowhere, and siccing two giant robots on me that had supposedly been programmed around my combat data from every encounter I had in the game thus far. The way Quinn talked these things up, I was expecting a challenge, especially given the fact that I hit the F2P level-cap several months back by pure accident, but they were piss-easy. Hell, even the final boss of the initial quest-line was piss-easy. You'd think that Quinn would know enough about me to know that what he constructed wouldn't kill me, in fact given the ease at which I triumphed over them one would almost assume that Quinn had purposefully built them below-standard so as to not harm me, which is what I assumed and was why I allowed Quinn to continue to live, as any legitimate attempt to kill me probably wouldn't have started with a long confession and monologue in which I could have sensed his intentions, strangled him, and gotten the fuck out. Or maybe this game just isn't made very well.
    Speaking of which, when I got back to playing this game after the semester was over, the winter event was about to start, and when it did, everyone who talked to a certain vendor could get an infinite supply of snowballs that you can throw at almost everyone in the game, including certain NPC's. From that, you get packages which you can spend on holiday equipment. At the very top tier, costing 100 parcels was a sick-looking podracer, and ever since I figured out I could randomize what mount spawned when I clicked the button, I'd been collecting mounts whenever I possibly could. I figured out that, from a certain distance, one could toss snowballs at one's companion and then right-click the "snowflake" status-effect off of them, which meant that I could toss one at my companion and then remove the status effect in the time it took for the snowball to recharge. I spent a solid hour lobbing snowballs at my wife only to get four parcels. Four. It doesn't take fifteen minutes for the snowball to recharge, and I was lobbing them one right after another, clicking off the status effect.  It took me almost two solid weeks, running around a bar on Hutta throwing snowballs at the patrons before I was able to get my mount, and by the time I got it I was done. I was not about to spend any more time tossing snowballs around to try and get any more of this holiday gear. After a little while the parcels spawned a bit more often, but even after that, the RNG on them was still fucked up.
    Then there are a few other bugs, such as the time I spawned into a story-area with a force-field blocking off the path I needed to go, telling me I was not eligible for this instance, which took me reporting it to Bioware, logging out of the game, then back in, leaving the area in question and then returning to get it to work. None of which would have been a problem if the game would let you report bugs from within the client, but apparently that's reserved for subscribers. Also, check out how my companion was able to make it past the force-field, but I couldn't. They tend to do that.
    There was also the time on Hoth where I managed to find a section of the map that fell into a completely different area of the world map. Look at my minimap in the screenshot, then look at where I actually am in the game. This was the kind of problem you used to see in the old Final Fantasy games, where a certain section of the map would fall under different territory rules than the rest of the area due to a quirk of the programming, but here it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, because they were working with far more advanced systems than Square was on the NES.
    At one point, I killed an enemy in the game that proceeded to drop a piece of equipment, but the corpse clipped through the terrain and I wasn't able to pick the drop up. It's a good thing this was only a green beacon and not a yellow one, because yellow beacons are quest items, and I would have had to leave the area, wait for the monsters to respawn, come back, and kill them again hoping that they wouldn't fall through the world-map again.
    There are a few force-fields with movement barriers several inches behind the actual force-field. Most of those force-fields I found were on the Vaiken Spacedock in the dropship hanger, but there were others throughout the game. Most of them were gold force-fields, but I found a few red ones that had the movement barriers only a few centimeters too far behind the graphical representation of the field and was only able to clip my character's head into the field and not walk my whole body behind it. Granted, it's a small thing, and I get that this is a very large game, but how did Bioware not find this out?
    There was also one time where my Lightsaber remained ignited while I was driving my speeder, which is a fairly common glitch in the game. There were a few times where I would click to interact with something, and my Lightsaber would remain ignited, clipping through my arm and my face while tinkering. Sometimes I'd go to use a screwdriver or something like it and the Lightsaber would remain in my hand, clipping through the piece of equipment I was supposed to be repairing.
    Speaking of Lightsabers, they sure seem to be a lot less effective in the game than they are in the movies. Sometimes I can ram my blade through something to destroy it, and sometimes I have to plant explosives on it instead. Sometimes to get past a locked door or force-field, I had to hack something, but other times I was able to just whack it with the Lightsaber. Then there's the fact that Lightsabers only ever seem to work properly in cutscenes, and in gameplay, they work like the police batons from Futurama. Even if you're fighting someone who also has a Lightsaber, the two of you just stand around whacking at each other until one of you falls over. Severed limbs only exist in cutscenes. There's no bisection, no decapitation, no real mauling, they just keel over and vanish into the ether like they've figured out how to become one with the Force regardless of if they're Jedi, Sith, animal, or an inorganic droid. The only time you get to cut off limbs in this game is in cutscenes. I know this is a T rated game, but considering a Lightsaber cauterizes the wounds it causes, and the highest any of the films in the series have been rated is PG-13. Anakin Skywalker got dismembered and burned alive in the third film after slicing up Count Dooku, killing hordes of children and choking his wife almost to death and while that film was definitely a hard PG-13, it wasn't exactly risking an R, and likewise this game wouldn't be risking an M rating. I have Jedi Outcast and The Force Unleashed II on the shelf right next to me, both of which had dismemberment as part of the combat features, and neither of those were rated M for Mature, despite the fact that the former game came out in an era where Perfect Dark was rated M and the GBC prequel was rated T, exclusively because the latter game had persistent corpses. Goldeneye on the Wii, released a decade later had way more blood, more realistic graphics, and a hell of a lot more violence, and it was only rated T for ages 13+. This game features coerced sex, the ability to psychologically break some of your companions into becoming masochistic sadists who get off on being fucking dominated in the way only a Force user without any personal restraints or standards can, you can Force-choke just about anyone in the game if you can interact with them, up to and including your love-interests as part of the aforementioned psychological torture one can accomplish as a pure Dark-side player, you can brainwash people, it's implied that certain NPC's who were slaves had been raped as a part of their forced servitude, one of the quest-lines I went on involved all of my friends being tortured until the time at which I brought the False Emperor to his knees and killed him, you can brainwash a living, feeling battle-droid into being a mindless soldier, you can sadistically kill loads of people, and, lest we forget,  you can walk into Lord Grathan's house, beat up his son, kill him, and then bone his wife while making your potential future wife watch as you do so. Why, when all of this can happen within the game did they skimp on the Lightsaber dismemberment? I get that this is an MMO, but the challenge to a Sith such as myself shouldn't lie in the number of times I have to whack a given target with my Lightsaber, but in whether or not I can actually land a decent hit on the target. If you need a big boss, then there are plenty of creatures that have Lightsaber resistance in Star Wars lore, and Mandalorian Iron, Cortosis fibers and Sith alchemy are all available to use to armor humanoid enemies and droids. I could come up with a dismemberment table that would work without a whole lot of effort. For instance, label each major skeletal group and polygon on the model, let's say head, torso, hips, left and right upper and lower arms, left and right hands and feet, left and right thighs, and left and right calves. From there, run a quick calculation after each attack is determined to hit to create a straight line from the Lightsaber's angle of attack through the polygons that make up the body, then detach the sections of the body the Lightsaber would slash through as the attack animation completes and have them fall to the ground. If the attack would decapitate the target or remove their last remaining arm, then the target should be dead. Maybe some living enemies could die if their torso and hips were separated by a blade, and others could continue to live if they were tough enough. Add an orange glow to severed metal and a burnt black tone to severed flesh and you're set. Half-Life had to use a ton of hacks to accomplish dismemberment, but they still did it. Even if what I'm laying down isn't feasible with current processing power, much less the processing available when this game was made, Mortal Kombat 4 achieved dismemberment in fatalities back in 1997, just remove all the blood and you've got a T-rated game. It's been a long time since the ESRB considered dismemberment an automatic M, and it was a long time since that time when this game started development and was released. Dismemberment is a staple of this whole franchise, why isn't it in what's probably the only Star Wars MMO modern fans and younger ones have any memory of? By most standards, I'm a latecomer to the series and I know that! I'm sure people younger than I am know that dismemberment is an important aspect of Star Wars. Speaking of which, whenever dismemberment happens in the cutscenes, the stumps are always just out of view of the camera, like Bioware didn't want to have to make different character models or something. In fact, despite the level of work that has obviously gone into making this game, it seems like Bioware didn't want to go the extra mile and put in the extra effort that would have made this game truly great. From the underpolished graphics, to the lackluster combat, to the obnoxious re-use of assets throughout the game, to the obvious lack of optimization, to the lack of decent interactivity in the companion storylines, to the railroading, to the fact character dialogue doesn't change depending on what all one has done up to that point in the story if one attempts an optional mission set after the main campaign. I was actually congratulated for killing someone before they even betrayed me! The game literally spoiled itself for me! A simple way to prevent me from finding this out early, if they weren't going to check through my save-file and see how far I'd gotten, would have been to lock off the False Emperor storyline until after I'd completed the main quest. It wouldn't have been particularly difficult to do, just set a flag to activate those quests on the Imperial Fleet after I beat Darth Baras.
    One of the most prolific issues with the game has to be the music. From the time I started playing this game last year until now, the musical cues are all over the place. Battle of the Heroes is used as loading-screen music, Duel of the Fates is glorified elevator music, since it only plays when you're arriving at or departing a destination in your spaceship, and Across the Stars is used in place of Binary Sunset. It's like someone at Lucasfilm handed Bioware a stack of soundtrack CD's and didn't tell them what songs were used where, and the guy who did the music arrangement had only ever seen the opening title crawls of the saga and that's why the only song that's actually used properly is the main-title theme.
    All in all, while this game can be a mess at times, it tends to be something of a fun mess at best, but if you decide that you want to deviate from the designated path, you'll be sorely disappointed. Sometimes the game looks pretty, but most of the time it looks like it was made to run on the Wii, or worse, the PS2. This game has no right to be taking up all of the resources it does for as absolutely bad as it looks. How is this game as old as it is and still chugging on my state-of-the-art laptop?
    In the end, this game is well worth the no money at all I paid for it, but if I'd been one of the people who bought it at launch or had paid a subscription fee for my time in the game, I'd be sorely disappointed, especially considering how much a subscription fee is and how little I paid for much better games comparatively.

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