Tag Archives: Star Wars

Film 101: The MacGuffin

If you’ve ever read in-depth about films, you’ve probably come across some variation of the following statements:

“The hero chased a series of MacGuffins for the entire story.”

“The plot twist revealed yet another MacGuffin…”

But what is a MacGuffin? Well, MacGuffin’s are plot devices that originated in literary fiction and have long since moved over to film as well. They appear as some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist (and sometimes the antagonist) pursues, very often with little to know narrative explanation as to why they desire this thing. It should also be noted that a MacGuffin’s importance comes not because of the object itself, but rather how it affects the characters and their motivations.

In most films where a MacGuffin appears, they’re usually the main focus of the film in the first act, but thereafter decline in importance, often being forgotten by the end of the story (though sometimes it will magically reappear to aid in the climax of the plot).

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There are many examples of MacGuffins in film but one of the most popular would be the search for the Death Star Plans (held by R2-D2 and C-3PO) in the original Star Wars film. From the beginning of the film (when Darth Vader chases down Princess Leia’s ship), almost to the end (when the Falcon escapes the Death Star to head to the Rebel base on Yavin 4), the plot is driven around obtaining those plans for either the Empire or the Rebellion. This is an almost identical scenario to the one in The Force Awakens where both the First Order and the Resistance are seeking the last map piece to locate Luke Skywalker.

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The Infinity Stones could be described as the ultimate MacGuffin of the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe, as possession of these objects (the Tesseract, the Aether, the Mind Stone, the Power Stone, the Eye of Agamotto) has driven a large number of the films, with the threat of Thanos coming to collect them himself growing ever larger. Just for a refresher:

-The Tesseract: Captain America: The First Avenger; Thor; The Avengers; Avengers: Infinity War

– The Aether: Thor: The Dark World; Avengers: Infinity War

-The Mind Stone: The Avengers; Avengers: Age of Ultron; Avengers: Infinity War

-The Power Stone: Guardians of the Galaxy; Avengers: Infinity War

-The Eye of Agamotto: Dr. Strange; Avengers: Infinity War

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Another MacGuffin example that appears both in literature and film is the One Ring from The Lord of the Rings. If you think about it, for the most of the story the Ring doesn’t really do anything except lie on a chain around Frodo’s neck. The entire plot revolves around destroying this Ring of pure evil before the Dark Lord Sauron can get his hands on it or before anyone else can claim it for their own, but we never really get to see it used to its full potential (though admittedly hints are given as to what it can do).

Possibly the most famous MacGuffin of all cinematic history comes in the classic Citizen Kane, when the reporter attempts to track down the meaning of Kane’s last whispered word “Rosebud.” To this end, he interviews countless former friends, lovers and associates, all in an attempt to find where this one word came from (I’m not going to tell you because the reveal is something everyone should experience for themselves).

And that’s my explanation for what a MacGuffin is. Having read through the examples, do any MacGuffins come to mind that I didn’t list? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below 🙂

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See also:

Film 101: Archetypes

Film 101: Deus ex machina

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

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My thoughts on The Last Jedi finally conclude with highlighting everything that infuriated me about this movie (aka the “ugly” parts). I have to admit this list was actually a lot bigger about a month ago, but since I’ve had time to think about it, I’ve realized there wasn’t actually that much to infuriate me. Nevertheless, certain details need to be highlighted.

  • Rey’s parentage (or the lack thereof): It was one of the biggest questions posed by fans coming out of The Force Awakens: Who is Rey and what is her connection to the Star Wars universe? It almost went without saying that a Force user with this level of power had to be related to somebody we knew. Over the last two years I heard every theory under the sun: Rey’s a Skywalker, a Solo, a Kenobi, a Palpatine (don’t even ask me how that one is possible), or (one of the most far-out), she’s the long lost great-great-great times infinity great granddaughter of some legendary Jedi from the Old Republic. It’s no surprise that when The Last Jedi finally arrived that we were all holding our breath to see who Rey was related to (because Rian Johnson had promised we would get our answer).

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The reveal was…anticlimactic to say the very least. After all of that speculation, all of the theories, it seems that Rey is actually…nobody. If Kylo Ren is to be believed, Rey wasn’t hidden on Jakku because she was this big secret Force user. According to Kylo, Rey was left on Jakku because her parents sold her for drinking money. Considering how much time I invested into these theories, I was more than a little upset by this (even though a part of me does understand why they’re going this way). Still…one has to wonder if Kylo IS being truthful. Even if her parents are “nobodies” in the great scheme of things, that doesn’t necessarily mean they’re dead or that they sold Rey for drinking money; Kylo may have just wanted her to think that so she would be more inclined to join him. Maybe they’ll clarify a little more in Episode IX (but then again maybe they won’t, after this film I’m afraid to predict anything).

  • Snoke’s premature demise: Before I begin my tirade, let me say that I DID appreciate how Snoke’s apparent death went down. The Supreme Leader is oblivious to the fact that Kylo has turned on him and is subtly maneuvering Anakin’s old lightsaber into a position to impale him. And even though I saw it happening, part of me was sure that Snoke would stop him at the last minute/second…except he didn’t. When the Supreme Leader dropped dead from this throne, my first reaction was “Oh my god, what just happened?” My second reaction was “How could you KILL him like that??” This is the moment that made me really angry because you know and I know that there has to be a backstory for this character, he didn’t just come out of nowhere. Considering we only saw the character in hologram form in The Force Awakens, we were all eagerly waiting to see what we would learn about the character in this film. But we ultimately learned nothing!! Not where Snoke came from, not why he took Kylo under his wing, not even if he’s connected to Palpatine or Darth Plagueis. I’m sorry, I don’t care how many explanations we get, you can’t just introduce this big mysterious character and then kill him before explaining where he came from!! Of course there is a theory that Snoke isn’t really dead (that he pulled a trick similar to Luke) but I don’t necessarily know if this is true.
  • Kylo’s version of the “Join me and we’ll rule the galaxy speech”: I was on cloud nine when Rey and Kylo teamed up to take out the Praetorian Guard after the death of Snoke. It was brilliantly done, and once they were all dead, it truly seemed as if Rey had gotten through to Kylo, that he was going to come with her, he’d be Ben Solo again and it would set up an epic confrontation for Episode IX…and then the Speech started. You know, the one given by Anakin in Episode III; by Vader in Episode V: the “join me, we’ll defeat *insert enemy here* together and rule the galaxy side by side.” When Kylo started on this all-too-familiar spiel with Rey, my first reaction was to groan and roll my eyes. I know part of Star Wars is to deliberately hearken back to earlier moments, but this felt completely forced and it kind of ruined the moment for me. Of course I understand that what happened is Kylo heard Rey’s advice and took it in the wrong direction, but surely they could’ve skipped “the Speech.”

And those are my thoughts on what really infuriated me in The Last Jedi. Do you agree or disagree with my reasoning? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

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Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

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Today I’m going to look at parts of The Last Jedi that I considered “bad” (but not infuriating, that comes later). This likely won’t be a comprehensive list, but I’m hoping to hit the major points. Off we go!

  • The entire Canto Bight sub-plot: Part of what really bugged me about The Last Jedi is that, compared to other Star Wars films, we don’t really go anywhere for 90% of the story. Instead we spend the majority of our time in a slow-motion chase with the First Order patiently waiting for the Resistance fleet to literally run out of gas. So when Finn and Rose come up with the plot to get a hacker from Canto Bight, I was excited because we were finally getting away from skipping back and forth from the fleet to Ach-To. And while I don’t deny the planet is beautifully rendered and the chase scenes with the animals are good too, it’s all ultimately meaningless. Think about it: the entire point of bringing in a hacker was to break into Snoke’s mega-destroyer to disable the tracking system so the fleet could jump to hyperspace without being followed. Not only are Rose and Finn caught before they can do this, but the Resistance ultimately abandons their fleet to escape to Crait before squeezing onto the Millennium Falcon to finally get away. So there was really no point in Rose and Finn going to Canto Bight because we’d have arrived at the same end point regardless (in simpler terms: the Canto Bight story is pure filler to add time to the story).
  • “Holding for General Hux.”: This is just barely on the “Bad” list because I did find Poe’s teasing of the First Order funny the first time, but then the joke kept going (with Hux literally saying words to the effect of “Can you hear me now?”) and I found myself squirming with impatience (and not in a good way) for them to get on with the story. I don’t mind humor in a Star Wars film but this went on a few beats too long.
  • Captain Phasma: Is it just me or is the chrome-plated Phasma notably absent from most of this story? When they first introduced her in Episode VII, I was excited to see where they would go with her. And then this movie comes out and we get ONE fight scene; a cool glimpse at an eye under her helmet and then…does she die?? Just like that? There’s not even a shock factor because she appears in the trailers for the movie so we knew this moment was coming.
  • Luke Skywalker for most of the movie: I’m probably going to get grief for this but I had a hard time with Mark Hamill’s performance for a good chunk of his scenes. I don’t know if this is “bad” so much as it “royally subverted my expectations” but at any rate how I feel about it isn’t good so it’s on this list. It started when Luke received his father’s lightsaber, we all held our breath in anticipation of what he’d say…and then he tosses the lightsaber over his shoulder like it’s nothing. Of all the things I was expecting, it wasn’t that. I could also mention how his “training” of Rey really wasn’t what I was led to believe it was based on the trailers but that’s another argument for another list. Note though, that I say “for most of the movie” because by the end (i.e. his appearance on Crait) I’m in love with how he’s acting.
  • Where are the Knights of Ren?: Considering Kylo is considered “Master of the Knights of Ren”, you’d think we’d have seen them by now (or at least heard from them). But as of yet, except for that brief scene during Rey’s vision in The Force Awakens, we have not seen a trace of these “Knights of Ren” and now only a single film remains for them to be properly introduced and made use of. That doesn’t seem quite right to me, especially since the film seems to hint that some of them were fellow Jedi trainees at Luke’s school (he did say that Kylo didn’t kill ALL of the students).
  • The Rey/Kylo visions: On one level, this was really cool, but for the most part this came across as super AWKWARD. The one conversation where Rey is distracted because Kylo is shirtless had me groaning because it sounded like two teenagers having a telephone conversation (I mean, Kylo and Rey aren’t supposed to be teenagers…are they?). I understand the plot purpose of doing this, but there were some moments where it just felt wrong.

And those are the highlights of what I thought was bad about Star Wars: The Last Jedi! Did I leave anything significant out? Do you agree/disagree? Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

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I have been trying for a long time now to gather my thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi, which says a lot about the film given how I was able to gush over Rogue One pretty easily. I’ve finally decided on a way to get my thoughts out there: rather than dumping everything into a single post (which is my usual method), I’m going to break this review up into what I liked (the good); what I didn’t like (the bad); and what downright infuriated me (the ugly). So this post will be highlights of what I liked in Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

  • The return of Yoda: I LOVED this scene! When the camera panned over to reveal a familiar set of pointy ears with a familiar blue haze, my first reaction was “OMG yes it’s YODA!!” Somehow I just knew that we would see the deceased Jedi Grand Master before the movie was over (and for the record, I did not know about Frank Oz talking about the film before release, this was a complete surprise to me). This scene, combined with Luke’s reunion with R2-D2 were the two times I really felt like the “old” Luke from the original trilogy was back. The way he griped to Yoda like a pouting child, only to be whacked on the head with Yoda’s cane was just priceless! Bringing in Yoda was an excellent decision on Rian Johnson’s part.
  • Rey+Kylo+Throne Room = EPIC: Leaving aside what happened immediately before this scene, the fight between Kylo and Rey and the Praetorian Guard was absolutely beautiful. It’s kind of scary how well those two work together on short notice (if Rey ever did align herself with Kylo they might just be unstoppable). This is one of those scenes that helps to make Star Wars so special.
  • Luke’s final stand: In hindsight, I should have known that Luke wasn’t actually on Crait. All the hints were thrown out there beforehand: Kylo and Rey can see each other when they aren’t really there, they can even touch and it feels real. Not to mention Kylo’s ominous hint that “the strain (of projecting yourself) would kill you.” But I was so caught up in the moment of seeing Luke Skywalker, the legendary Jedi Master, walking out to face the First Order that I really didn’t think about how he got there or when. I just assumed that (off-screen), he’d thought about Rey’s words (and Yoda’s), raised up his X-Wing and hotfooted it to Crait where he could sense everything going down. One big clue that this was an illusion? Luke’s appearance is identical to how he looked on the night Kylo destroyed the new Jedi temple. That alone should have told me something was up (at the time I assumed that Luke had cleaned himself up before heading out). Even when the First Order fired on him at point blank range, I still didn’t get it. I just thought “Well he’s a Jedi Master, he can dodge and deflect anything.” It was only when Kylo went to slash Luke through the middle, clearly made contact, and Luke was still standing that I realized it…he wasn’t really there, he never had been. And I don’t feel disappointed by this revelation (because some have told me that this ruins the last meeting between Luke and Leia because Luke “wasn’t really there.”) I disagree; Leia knew the whole time (I’m sure) that Luke was only an illusion, but that didn’t matter. She could see him, and touch him, and it was their way of saying goodbye. And speaking of goodbyes…
  • Binary sunset: The revelation that Ach-To has twin suns like Tatooine was unexpected, momentarily confusing, but ultimately satisfying. Luke’s face as he took the sunset in said it all. In that moment, he was thinking back over everything: the sunset he saw on Tatooine the night before his life changed forever; saving Leia, destroying the Death Star, going to save his father, it all flashed through his mind. And then…with his work done, he vanished. This moment destroyed me, as I’d dared to hope that we’d sidestepped seeing Luke die when it was revealed that Luke wasn’t really on Crait. It didn’t help that Carrie Fisher had passed away the year before (so after her death and watching Han and now Luke die onscreen, it was pretty emotional for me).
  • The Supreme Leader is dead (?): Finally, I have to share my thoughts on the scene when General Hux discovers that Supreme Leader Snoke is (apparently) dead. He seemingly accepts Kylo’s version of events (that Rey killed him when it was really Kylo) and begins to lament that the Supreme Leader is dead, they have no leader now, when a furious Kylo seizes Hux with a Force choke and queries “The Supreme Leader is dead? Catching on, Hux chokes out “Long live the Supreme Leader!” I liked this scene because of how it played out. Hux is oblivious to the fact that Snoke’s death (his apparent death anyway) means that Kylo is now in charge. I’m calling it now: Kylo and Hux will come to blows before Episode IX is over, especially if Hux figures out that Kylo is the one who killed Snoke.

And those are my highlights for what was good in Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Of course there was more that I liked than this, but if I listed everything the post would be several thousand words longer!

Which parts of Star Wars: The Last Jedi did you think were good? Let me know your thoughts (on the good only) in the comments below!

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

See also:

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

“Jyn Erso and Hope” from Rogue One, my thoughts…

I can’t believe it’s been nearly two months since I saw Rogue One. Since then, I have been turning over portions of the score in my mind, particularly “Jyn Erso and Hope”, the main theme for our badass heroine.

From the moment I first heard it, something wiggled in the back of my mind and said “I’ve heard something like this before.” But for the longest time I couldn’t think of what that something was.

Then I went back and listened again, and finally it dawned on me: I know EXACTLY where I’ve heard this melody before (granted it wasn’t the exact same, but the core is still intact).

“Jyn Erso and Hope” is, to put it simply, a variation on “Across the Stars”, the love theme for Padme and Anakin from Episode II/III. Here, let the music speak for itself:

Here is “Jyn Erso and Hope”

and here is “Across the Stars”

To my ears, it sounds like Giacchino took components from “Across the Stars” and rearranged a few notes. But if enough of a similarity remains, the mind will remember and try to supply the missing parts (that’s how I knew I’d heard the theme somewhere else).

I don’t think there’s any hidden symbolism behind this, as it makes no sense for there to be any connection between Anakin/Padme and Jyn (though part of me does wonder if Jyn’s mother was a Jedi, she DID have a kyber crystal after all).

I’m not particularly surprised that Giacchino borrowed from another piece of Star Wars music; this is a practice that dates back to the dawn of film music (they don’t really talk about it, but everyone knows about it), but a part of me wishes that he had done a better job of disguising the theme if he wanted to do something like that.

I’m interested to hear what all of you think about this: do you hear the similarity? Or do you hear a connection to another piece? I love discussing film music like this 🙂

See also:

Film Soundtracks A-W

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Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

See also:

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), My Thoughts!!

Warning!!! This review spoils EVERYTHING about Rogue One, if you haven’t seen the film and DON’T want to know, stop reading NOW!!!

Still here? Okay, continue!! (But remember, you were warned!!)

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, OH.MY.GOSH!!! Thursday night, 9:45 p.m., the long wait finally ended and I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first stand-alone Star Wars film in the Anthology series. And oh boy did it deliver!! The film does have one flaw, but I’ll get to that after a bit, let’s start with one of the best parts of the film…

DARTH VADER IS BACK!!!

Let’s all be honest, I think most of us who have gone to see this film did it because Vader was showing up (I know that certainly helped to sway my decision). This is the first time Vader (in all his armored glory) has graced the cinematic screen since Revenge of the Sith in 2005 (though granted that was a very short appearance). In Rogue One, Vader is at the height of his power and general nastiness. Believe it or not, he’s in the film for not quite ten minutes (split into two appearances): his first scene takes place on the lava planet Mustafar where he’s since built an imposing castle-fortress to reside in when he’s not on some mission for the Emperor. I THOUGHT I recognized the planet, but I wasn’t sure until a YouTube review from @StupendousWave (my favorite source for Star Wars news) confirmed my suspicion. Not only do we see this amazing fortress, we also see Vader, briefly, as we’ve never seen him before: completely armorless in a bacta tank. It’s only a few glimpses, really, but it was more than enough to show how little remains of Vader’s human body before he re-armors in order to greet Director Krennic properly.

Speaking of Krennic, he’s the main antagonist for most of the film, or at least he tries to be. Krennic comes across as one of those villains who assigns to himself more importance than he actually has. For instance, a major sticking point (with Krennic) is that he receive the proper credit for developing the Death Star for all these years. When this credit is about to be taken away from him (by a certain character that I will discuss shortly), Krennic dares to whine about this to Vader, who Force chokes him for his troubles.

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I really thought that Krennic would meet his ultimate fate at Vader’s hands, but what really happened was almost as good. The film’s climax takes place on the tropical planet of Scarif, where the Death Star plans are stored in an archive. The Rebels, led by Jyn Erso and company, infiltrate the base, and Krennic (arriving around the same time) moves to stop them. Ultimately, the Death Star arrives and after a long engagement with the Rebel fleet, the Death Star is ordered to fire on the base, destroying it. Krennic, badly wounded from a blaster shot, is trapped on the base’s communication tower and witnesses the weapon he helped create firing on the planet, knowing there is no way he can escape the shock wave in time. Talk about irony!!

And who orders the Death Star to fire? Who is taking the credit for this great achievement away from Director Krennic? Why, Grand Moff Tarkin of course! You know, the villain portrayed by Peter Cushing in the original Star Wars film in 1977? Yes, him!!

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But wait, I hear you all say, didn’t he die back in 1994? Yes, yes he did! And yet, here he is! I confess, I did NOT see this moment coming. I partially blame this on being buried in dissertation work, but also on a slight misunderstanding on my part. I, of course, heard the news very early this year that Disney was working on a CGI replication of Cushing’s character. However, when the main villian was announced to be Director Krennic, I was under the impression that they had scrapped the CGI-Cushing idea. It never dawned on me that they were going to do both!

I mentioned that the film has one flaw, and, please don’t be upset, but that flaw is Tarkin. Don’t misunderstand me, the character as he appears on screen is a remarkable achievement. Digital creations of a human character have come lightyears in terms of appearance and believability and Tarkin is so realistic it’s scary. But…it doesn’t quite work. The first time we see Tarkin, he has his back to the audience (though you know instantly who he is). The big reveal comes when he turns around, and the moment I saw him, I KNEW what they had done. You can see the CGI elements in the way Tarkin moves his head and speaks. The “uncanny valley”, as it were, is still in effect. I WAS able to suspend my disbelief some of the time though, so for me it wasn’t a fatal flaw. I am curious to know what you all thought of seeing Tarkin brought back to life again.

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Moving on to the rest of the story and our heroes, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor and K-2SO make a great trio. Jyn is the daughter of Galen Erso, a brilliant scientist forcibly returned to the Death Star project by Krennic, and also the man responsible for placing the fatal flaw inside the Death Star that leads to its destruction in Episode IV. Jyn, his only child, has lived on her own for years, and loves her father very much. She is initially recruited to the Rebellion because the Alliance is searching for her father, and a Rebel extremist named Saw Gerrera has in custody a defecting Imperial pilot who came from the installation where Galen works (it’s a little complicated, but still good!)

Outside of Jyn, K-2SO might be the best character on the side of the heroes: he’s an Imperial droid reprogrammed by Cassian and he has the snarkiest sense of humor you’ve ever seen, but his loyalty to Cassian (and the Rebellion) is unquestionable. He and Jyn do not get along for most of the film, but by the end, they’ve earned each other’s respect.

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My other two favorite characters are Chirrut and Baze Malbus. They were formerly Guardians of the Whills (they served at the local Jedi temple on the planet Jedha, they can feel the Force, but can’t actively control it the way a Jedi could) before the Empire, and now they are inseparable. Chirrut still believes in the Force after all this time, while Baze has become more of a skeptic. Chirrut has this habit of praying over and over “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, etc.” He’s actually blind, but is so in tune with the Force that he can fight as well as any sighted person.

And speaking of the end, deep down, I think I knew this was going to happen, but I was secretly hoping at least one of them would get out alive. Yes, you heard right, in the end, none of them make it off Scarif. Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze, even Bodhi (the defecting Imperial pilot who has been helping them), one by one, they all die. Jyn and Cassian are the last, they successfully transmit the Death Star plans up to the fleet, but immediately afterward, the battleship fires on the planet. It’s not enough to break up the planet itself (the weapon isn’t quite finished yet), but it is enough to destroy the base. The blast is set out in the nearby ocean so it takes a few minutes for the destruction to reach the pair. Jyn and Cassian have just enough time to reach the beach, reflect on what they’ve done and embrace before they meet their end in a fiery cloud of death. It’s terrifying to me because as they sit meeting their end, Jyn is facing the shockwave as it comes, and you can’t help but wonder what she’s feeling, knowing her death is seconds away.

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And the Easter eggs in this film boggle the mind, simply because there are so many of them! Let me see if I can name more than a few: there’s several sightings of Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits reprising his role from the prequel trilogy); Jyn and Cassian (literally) bump into the pair that tries to assault Luke in the cantina on Tatooine (“He doesn’t like you, I don’t like you either…”); R2 and C-3PO pop up for a split second at Yavin base; in possibly one of the best Easter egg moments, the characters of Red Leader and Gold Leader are featured, briefly, in the climactic battle over Scarif in a clever re-use of some footage from Episode IV; and there are several references to the Star Wars Rebels series (listen for the page asking for “General Syndulla”). There’s more, but that’s most of them.

Lastly, I have to talk about the music. I was so nervous about Michael Giacchino composing the score for this film, and I was terrified it wouldn’t be any good. While I still need to go back and analyze the score, my first impression was very favorable. It definitely helps that Giacchino re-used several of Williams’ themes at key points in the story (particularly the Imperial March, I would’ve been furious if he’d left THAT out). The music definitely isn’t bad, but how GOOD it ultimately is I can’t say just yet (I need to listen to the soundtrack separate from the film before I can give a definite opinion).

Final thoughts:

Rogue One is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon, though it treads dangerously close to the line with its use of CGI to recreate certain characters. The Easter eggs make this film a fun watch for any Star Wars fan.

It was WEIRD having no opening crawl (and no Star Wars fanfare), I almost wish they would go back and recreate the opening to have a crawl anyway.

It was cool (and a little freaky) to see Peter Cushing’s Tarkin walking and talking again, they’ve almost nailed recreating a human character in full CGI (but NOT QUITE)

Ending the film moments before Episode IV begins was a nice touch, though I am somewhat not okay with how they recreated Princess Leia. I would have preferred seeing her from the back only.

I am so happy we got to see Vader use his lightsaber!!!!! After the first scene, I was terrified that we weren’t going to get any more Vader, not even with his lightsaber, so seeing that at the end was fantastic!

And those are my thoughts on Rogue One. What did YOU think of the film? Loved it? Hated it? Already in line to see it again? Let me know in the comments below (first chance I get I’m going to see this film again, that’s for sure).

Become a Patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂

See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

My Thoughts on: Solo: A Star Wars Story (with spoilers!) (2018)

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

The Lightsaber Duel at Cloud City: A Nightmare in Three Stages

The lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back is often referred to as the greatest saber duel of the saga, and for good reason. The staging is perfect, the tension is spot on (and it happens to feature the biggest cinematic twist of all time).

I already wrote about the duel somewhat here but now I’d like to go into a bit more detail.

As I see it, the duel is divided into three stages, with a different setting and feel for each.

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Stage One is set in the carbon freezing chamber on Cloud City (where Han Solo was recently frozen into carbonite) and is also where Vader plans to do the same thing to Luke. At the beginning of the duel, Vader believes that Luke will be a pushover, so he’s not really expending a lot of energy. Quite the opposite, he lets Luke initiate the duel (Luke activates his saber first AND he makes the first attack), Vader only parries the blows in response. In fact, Vader isn’t even holding his saber with both hands, whereas Luke is clearly expending a lot of energy early on (and getting nowhere).

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There is a bit of taunting (on Vader’s part) but not too much, as he wants this duel to end quickly. It doesn’t take much to get Luke down the stairs and right in front of the pit as Vader activates the machine with the Force. And then Vader gets cocky: forcing Luke down into the pit, he boasts “all too easy” and flips the switch. But Luke (thanks to his training) is able to leap out a split second before the freezing process begins, much to Vader’s surprise (he says he’s “impressed” but I really think surprised is the better word). Clearly, this duel is not going to be a quick pushover, so once Luke kicks Vader off the edge of the platform (and I somewhat believe Vader let that happen), the Dark Lord disappears to regroup for Stage Two.

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Stage Two takes place in an abandoned hallway deep inside Cloud City. And even before it begins, Luke has a choice to make: at this point, Vader has vanished to who knows where and Luke doesn’t HAVE to follow him (I know I wouldn’t, I mean really, venturing into a dark hallway in search of a ticked off Dark Lord with a lightsaber? NOPE!), but of course he does.

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There’s a literal transition point as Luke comes to a brightly lit service corridor that takes him to the location of stage 2: the abandoned hallway with a large octagonal window looking out into the air shaft of Cloud City. And once Luke reaches that point…the breathing begins (a moment that always sends a shiver down my spine). Luke re-ignites his saber (Vader’s is already activated), but instead of launching back into the duel, Vader decides a “lesson” is in order (this is discussed more in the radio drama version of ESB and as far as I know is canon): sure, Luke is (at best) a competent duelist, a skill surely inherited from his father, but what experience does he have against a veteran Force user who can duel AND manipulate objects in the Force at the same time? Of course Luke doesn’t have any such experience which is why he gets the crap knocked out of him by various flying debris. At this point, Vader is still somewhat toying with Luke, but things are definitely more serious (I’m still not sure if Vader intended to have Luke go flying out the window, cause after that moment Vader comes over to look like “did I kill him?”)

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Fortunately, Luke doesn’t go falling to his death, but instead manages to make his way to a platform station of some kind even lower down the air shaft, the setting for Stage Three (and the end of the duel) But he barely has a chance to look around before Vader shows up, and this time the Sith Lord isn’t messing around. His strikes come fast and hard, and Luke is quickly chased backwards out to the near edge of the platform. Vader (holding Luke at saberpoint) declares his opponent beaten, it’s time to give up. Unfortunately, Vader also taunts Luke by saying “Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did” reminding Luke about how Vader killed Obi-Wan in front of him. This visibly angers Luke and he stages a miraculous (and brief) comeback, which ends when he manages to score a partial blow on Vader’s shoulder.

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That this not-even-half-trained-would-be-Jedi managed to score a blow on him enrages Vader and pushes him over the edge. He pushes Luke back again and in a short series of moves deprives Luke of his lightsaber…and his right hand!! (For years I dreaded this moment, because it always seemed to come out of nowhere, and I hated Luke’s scream of pain).

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Now the fight is really finished, but Vader isn’t done yet. Now that Luke is cornered (literally), he makes his “pitch” for Luke to join the Dark Side. Of course Luke refuses, pointing out that he (Vader) killed his father. This prompts the biggest cinematic twist of all time:

“No” (Vader says) “*I* am your father.”

On the one hand, it makes no sense because Episode IV clearly establishes Vader and Luke’s father as two separate people. And yet….why would Vader lie? Luke knows there’s no reason for Vader to lie, hence his (understandably) upset reaction.

With the duel over, it appears Luke has no place to go except with Vader, but Luke figures he still has one way out: he’s at the edge of the main air shaft of Cloud City, and he’s not sure what’ll happen down there, but it has to be better than going with Vader…so he lets himself fall! There’s more, but that’s a separate scene.

Fun notes:

I remarked in my earlier post that Vader was played by master fencer Bob Anderson for this entire duel (David Prowse kept breaking the saber blades), hence  the reason this duel is shot from so many unusual angles (looking down at Vader, looking up at Vader, a lot of close-up shots) because Anderson was nowhere near the height and size of Prowse.

Only Mark Hamill, George Lucas, and one other writer knew the truth about the big twist. Everyone else was given a fake page of script where the “twist” was given as “You don’t know the truth, Obi-Wan killed your father.” (I mean that WOULD have been a pretty epic twist in and of itself)

The hallway seen in stage 2 is the same hallway Rey sees early in her Force vision in Episode VII. I really hope they explain at some point how Maz got the lightsaber, because last time it was seen, it was tumbling into the atmosphere of Bespin.

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Anticipating Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

(I know that Rogue One isn’t scheduled to be released until December, but I couldn’t hold my thoughts in any longer!)

When Disney announced their plans to release a new Star Wars film every single year, I was understandably skeptical. The release of a Star Wars film was meant to be a special event, and if a new film came out every year there would be a huge risk of over-exposing the product and subsequently ruining it. As a result, when the first images for Rogue One were announced, I initially didn’t pay any attention.

Then the first teaser trailer for Rogue One was released. And that changed EVERYTHING for me.

Rogue One: Official Teaser Trailer

I’d decided to watch the teaser out of curiosity and before I knew it, there I was, back on the edge of my seat, just like with The Force Awakens. In case you don’t know, here is the gist of Rogue One: The story follows Jyn Erso, a woman recently recruited into the Rebel Alliance, who is tasked with leading a team that will steal the plans for the soon-to-be-completed Death Star. These are the same Rebel spies alluded to in the opening crawl of Episode IV, placing the events of Rogue One just before the start of A New Hope.

When the full trailer finally released during the recent Olympic Games in Rio, excitement for the film exploded all over again, and it will be interesting to see how Disney continues to build the excitement in the final months leading up to the premiere.

Rogue One: Official Trailer (Full)

So far, the visuals for this film look absolutely STUNNING. I love the look of Scarif (the tropical planet with the AT-ATs seen in the previews). The film (judging from the previews) has the look and feel of the original trilogy. And that’s a good thing: the over CGI-d look of the prequel trilogy is part of the reason it was so badly received. One of  my favorite shots so far is the brief image of the Death Star orbiting over a large planet (I believe it’s been identified as Jedha). The following shot of the Death Star blocking out the sun gave me goosebumps (and probably doesn’t bode well for the planet if I had to take a wild guess).

The casting looks phenomenal as well: according to imdb.com, Rogue One includes a number of actors who have already appeared in Star Wars. Jimmy Smits is reprising his role of Bail Organa (Leia’s adoptive father); Genevieve O’Reilly reprises her role as a younger Mon Mothma (a role that would’ve appeared in Episode III except those scenes were cut); Warwick Davis (the Ewok Wicket in Return of the Jedi) is returning in another role and in the biggest news of all, James Earl Jones is returning to voice Darth Vader. That’s right, the Dark Lord of the Sith is going to be making an appearance. What exactly this will look like has been the topic of endless speculation, but we have been assured that Vader will show up at a “critical moment.”

Now musically, Rogue One will be very different, because this is the first Star Wars film to be scored by anyone other than John Williams. I’m not terribly worried because Alexandre Desplat (The Grand Budapest Hotel; Argo; The Imitation Game) is a wonderful composer, but it will still be odd to have a score created by someone other than Williams. I have no doubt that Desplat’s score will be heavily influenced by the themes already created for the Star Wars universe (as it would be utter madness to not musically link Rogue One to the other films).

One detail that concerns me is that the film will (allegedly) have no opening crawl. I feel like that’s wrong, as it would set Rogue One apart from the other seven Star Wars films. I understand that the anthology films are considered stand-alones, but I think they should still have an opening crawl, to maintain a sense of visual continuity (these films do all take place in the same universe after all). But this is really a small concern in the big scheme of things: I have a feeling that Rogue One is going to impress just as much as The Force Awakens did last year, if not more.

Are you also excited about the upcoming release of Rogue One? Do you think it might do even better than The Force Awakens? Feel free to leave a comment and let me know what you think 🙂

Star Wars: Rebels “It’s Over Now”

Right, so I know this blog is about films and film music, but I simply had to make an exception when I heard THIS:

Star Wars: Rebels “It’s Over Now” (2016)

If you’re not familiar with Star Wars: Rebels, let me explain (and I’ll try to be brief). In a nutshell, Rebels takes place in the years between Episodes III and IV when the Rebel Alliance is just beginning to form and Darth Vader is still on the prowl for remaining Jedi. At the conclusion of season 1 (or maybe the beginning of season 2, I forget), it is revealed that the contact for our particular group of heroes is none other than Ashoka Tano, Anakin Skywalker’s one-time Padawan, last seen in the final episode of Star Wars: The Clone Wars (which ends not long before the events of Episode III). Having for years believed her master died in the Jedi purge, Ashoka has come to learn the terrible truth: Anakin Skywalker and Darth Vader are one and the same. And once Vader becomes aware that his former apprentice is still alive, a conflict between them is inevitable.

Malachor

Fast forward now to the end of season 2: Ashoka, Ezra (a young Padawan in training) and Kanan (a surviving Jedi training Ezra) travel to a dark planet named Malachor to retrieve a Sith holocron before the Inquisitors can seize it for the Emperor. While on the planet, our heroes come across a number of surprises (including a still-alive Darth Maul, there’s a long story in and of itself), but ultimately they reach the holding place for the holocron. But now they’ve got company: Darth Vader himself has arrived (James Earl Jones returned to reprise his role as the Dark Lord of the Sith).

Star Wars Rebels: Ashoka vs Darth Vader

Vader is confronted by a furious Ashoka, who vows to avenge Anakin’s “death” at Vader’s hands. The two engage in a lightsaber battle for the ages, and the fight (along with the music) really has the feel of a Star Wars film, not an episode from a television series. As the two fight on a ledge, Vader succeeds in Force-pushing Ashoka off and she disappears, but she isn’t dead! As Vader attempts to pull the holocron out of Ezra’s hands, Ashoka comes running out of nowhere and lands a direct blow on Vader’s helmet. With the holocron removed, the Sith temple everyone is standing in is getting ready to explode (the holocron was keeping it stable), and Ezra is screaming for Ashoka to hurry and join them, but then…

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“Ashoka…Ashoka…” Gasps all around because that isn’t Darth Vader’s voice…that’s Anakin’s voice (both in-universe and in real life, the voice actor who portrayed Anakin in The Clone Wars returned specifically for this episode). Ashoka has always felt guilty about leaving Anakin and vows that this time, she will not leave him. Vader considers this for a moment, but the one visible eye hardens and Vader growls “Then you will die!” The last we see of them before the temple explodes, Ashoka and Vader are furiously dueling.

(apologies for the long description, but it’s the only way to set up this musical moment properly).

“It’s Over Now” begins as Kanan and Ezra are returning to the planet Lothal and Kanan comforts Ezra by telling him “It’s over now.”

Star Wars Rebels: End of the Episode

As the ship descends to land, the music becomes so very powerful. There’s a full chorus and a strong brass melody that screams the style of John Williams (even though it isn’t). Even if you never saw an episode of either The Clone Wars or Rebels, you know that this is a profound moment of sadness for all of the characters. The main brass theme sounds like a cross between the main “Force theme” and “Yoda’s theme” both from the original Star Wars films. This music though was not composed by John Williams but by composer Kevin Kiner (who has scored both The Clone Wars and Rebels)

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The most powerful moment of all comes immediately after this reunion, when we return to the surface of the planet to see Vader staggering away from the temple, badly injured. Given the ferocity of the fight, since Vader is the one walking away, one could presume that Ashoka is dead…but is she? There is a brief glimpse of Ashoka disappearing back into the temple, but is she alive or is that her Force ghost? Either is possible, but we won’t find out until season 4 for sure.

 

After I listened to this piece, and then watched the scene in context, I could not stop listening to this music over and over again. The one word that keeps coming into my mind is powerful, you can feel the emotion surging through the soundwaves.

I had not watched any of Star Wars: Rebels until I heard about the Ashoka-Vader fight, but if this gorgeous music is typical of the series, then I will be making plans to go back and watch the entire series. I hope you enjoy “It’s Over Now”; like I said, I don’t normally do television music, but I think you’ll agree after listening that this piece of music is special.

*poster image is the property of Walt Disney Studios

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My Thoughts on: Star Wars: Return of the Jedi (1983)

Until the release of The Force Awakens (2015), Return of the Jedi stood as the definitive conclusion to the Star Wars saga. And what a conclusion it had to be, there were multiple loose ends to tie up: Han Solo had to be rescued from Jabba the Hutt; Luke needed to reconcile/accept the fact that his father was Darth Vader; the Rebel Alliance needed to defeat the Imperial fleet and most importantly, the Emperor needed to be defeated.

It might seem strange that the Emperor would choose to build another Death Star (considering what happened to the first one), but then again I can only presume that this one had been modified to have no weaknesses like before, that’s why it had to be destroyed before it was completed.

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Return of the Jedi Speeder Chase (1983)

For a long time Return of the Jedi was my favorite Star Wars film: it has the speeder chase, Ewoks, and it also has that final confrontation between Luke, Vader and the Emperor. I know some people don’t like the Ewoks, but I love them, they’re cute (The scene between Leia and Wicket is awesome). I have a goal to visit the forest they used for filming the speeder chase, it looks absolutely gorgeous!.

Return of the Jedi- The Emperor’s Throne Room (1983)

The final duel comes at the climax of the movie. While the Rebel Alliance attempts to put their plans into motion, Luke has turned himself in to Vader and is taken to see the Emperor. Considering this is the first movie to have the Emperor in the flesh, he’s quite menacing (the eerie music accompanying him helps with that impression a great deal). The Emperor insists that Luke is on the edge of falling to the Dark Side of the Force and that he is already a servant to him (which Luke denies). The whole time, Luke’s light saber is kept in plain sight, tempting Luke to try and take it and strike the Emperor down. While Luke resists for a while, he inevitably gives in and the duel commences.

As with the Cloud City duel, Vader is portrayed by Bob Anderson, with a number of different camera angles used during the fight (to great effect I might add). There’s an interesting moment towards the end, when Luke has vaulted up onto a catwalk and is looking down at Vader. Someone (I wish I could say who to give proper credit, but I honestly don’t remember) pointed out that this mirrors the situation at the conclusion of the Mustafar duel in Revenge of the Sith, where Obi-Wan has the high-ground above Anakin, but Anakin jumps anyway and that’s when he loses. Now that Luke is in the same position as Obi-Wan was, Vader has seemingly learned his lesson and instead of jumping up after him, he throws his lightsaber instead.

Now, the big moment in this duel is when Luke finally snaps and attacks Vader in a fury when the Dark Lord threatens his sister (who we all know to be Leia). However, this detail had NOT been established when the script was written. All Lucas had written for this point was “Vader taunts Luke/Luke snaps and attacks.” They’d always put off exactly WHAT Vader does to cause this issue, and finally it got down to the wire and they had to come up with a reason, and as they considered what Vader could possibly say that would get Luke to go off, and finally the light bulb went off as they realized “Leia is his sister and Vader threatens Leia!” That’s right, up until that moment, Leia had NOT been identified as Luke’s sister, and I’m tempted to say that the only reason she was identified as such is because they needed a reason for Luke to snap. That being said, I’m still not entirely convinced that Vader knew that Leia was Luke’s sister. In the dialogue, he only discovers that a sister exists and refers to her strictly in the abstract as “she.” He may never have made the connection that Leia and Luke’s sister were one and the same.

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Return of the Jedi- Final Duel (1983)

Return of the Jedi- Final Duel (Soundtrack Version) (1983)

One moment in the duel that I’ve heard get a lot of flak is the very end, when Vader 1) discovers that Luke has a twin sister and 2) teases that he’ll get her to join the Dark Side if he won’t, inciting Luke’s fury. The problem (people argue) is, considering how powerful Vader came across in Empire Strikes Back, how is it that Luke can suddenly overpower him? It does seem odd, and for a while I couldn’t answer this argument at all, until I gave it some thought. There are several ways to solve this puzzle, and I’ll list a few here:

Solution #1: Vader’s lightsaber skills aren’t what they used to be. Yes I know how he came across in Empire Strikes Back, but in that duel Luke wasn’t fully trained and he certainly didn’t have control of his emotions (which is key if you’re going to engage in a duel with a Sith Lord). If you think about it, it’s really been close to 20 years since Vader has faced an equally powerful and skilled opponent, his fighting skills had to have deteriorated over time.

Solution #2: Vader’s connection to the Force (which helps his fighting abilities) is severely weakened. If we (reluctantly) assume that the midichlorians are canon, then Vader can’t possibly have as strong a connection to the living Force as he used to. By my calculations, the only human parts of Vader left are his torso and his head, which would have severely decreased his midichlorians, and thus his ability to use the Force.

Solution #3: Vader is not fully committed to killing Luke. Vader seemingly has no problem with potentially killing Luke in Empire Strikes Back; as he tells the Emperor “He will join us or die.” But now, in Return of the Jedi, it’s become obvious that Vader is torn between his son and his duty to the Emperor. This emotional conflict (which Luke can sense) is throwing Vader off, influencing his fighting abilities.

Solution #4: Luke is simply more powerful in the Force than Vader. Being his son, this is certainly possible, and unlike Vader, Luke has only lost a hand at this point. Also, he is fully engaging in the Dark Side of the Force and his fury has magnified his abilities many times over.

Any of these could be viable solutions (or a combination of all four), and therefore I have no trouble with Luke overwhelming Vader at the end. This is really the first moment where the music plays into a lightsaber duel in the same way that “Duel of the Fates” and “Battle of the Heroes” will in the prequel films. The chorus is eerie and foreshadowing: by attacking Vader in anger, Luke is basically throwing himself off of a cliff into the Dark Side, and if he’d cut off Vader’s head instead of his hand, there would’ve been no going back. The Emperor knows this, that’s why he pushes Luke to finish the job. But for once, the Emperor has gravely miscalculated. The last time he tried this (pushing Anakin to kill Dooku), he was able to succeed because Anakin had no blood connection to Dooku, in fact, he had every reason in the world to kill him. But with Luke…he’s asking Luke to kill his own father, and that’s something the Jedi can’t do, no matter what Vader has done.

Of course the Emperor responds by trying to kill Luke with Force Lightning, and the sight of his own son being tortured finally snaps Anakin back into existence and he throws the Emperor down the core shaft, where he (presumably) dies (but I have my own theories about that which I’ll discuss another time, especially now in the wake of The Rise of Skywalker).

To summarize the ending, Luke and Anakin make their way to the shuttle, but the former Sith Lord has been too badly injured and makes a last request to see Luke “with his own eyes”, leading to an all too brief reunion between father and son. I honestly wasn’t sure what to think when Luke went through the motions of taking the helmet and mask off. Considering how terrifying Vader looked (and sounded), there was no telling what might be found underneath the mask. I thought Sebastian Shaw’s brief performance as the redeemed Anakin was good though. The final touch on this scene that I’ll mention is, just after he dies, there is a final refrain of the Imperial March, plucked out on a harp. It’s fitting and symbolic of how Anakin was finally brought back to the Light Side of the Force.

Return of the Jedi- ORIGINAL ending (1983)

Now, the ending of Return of the Jedi…well, I have a lot to say (I probably need to make a separate post on my feelings regarding the various changes). I for one, liked the original ending with the cute Ewok sound. True, what John Williams created to replace it is also good, but I didn’t feel the change was necessary. I did like how Luke looked back and saw the ghosts of Obi-Wan and Yoda with Anakin appearing to join them (I still think it was wrong to put Hayden Christensen in that scene, but at least they didn’t put Ewan McGregor in Obi-Wan’s place too). And at the very end, all the heroes are together, celebrating, the Empire has been overthrown…or has it?

For over thirty years the impression was given that the Empire was dead and the good guys had won. But now, with the Expanded Universe being discarded and a new Star Wars Universe coming out instead, we know this isn’t true. The victory at Endor was not total, and it now seems that the fight is far from over.

I still like watching Return of the Jedi, even though Empire Strikes Back is now my favorite, and I hope that someday, somehow, I can watch the original cut of this film again. Hope you enjoyed this, I know it ran a little long (but then again I had a lot to say, lol).

*all images are the property of 20th century Fox/Walt Disney Studios

Become a patron of the blog at patreon.com/musicgamer460

Check out the YouTube channel (and consider hitting the subscribe button)

See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

My Thoughts on: Solo: A Star Wars Story (with spoilers!) (2018)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, My Thoughts!!

My Thoughts on: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (2019)

Don’t forget to like Film Music Central on Facebook 🙂