Friday, May 15, 2020

A Star War A Day
If you follow my posts with any regularity, you know I'm a Star Wars fan, and so is fellow ATB blogger, Mary Fan. We've regularly posted reviews of the latest  releases of movies in the Star Wars universe here on the Across the Board Blog.

To commemorate this most recent Star Wars Day (May the Fourth Be With You!) Mary and I were invited by our fellow friend, author, and Star Wars geek, Victor Catano, to participate in a marathon viewing session of all nine movies (plus Solo and Rogue One) in the Skywalker Saga.

Even though a lot of us have been furloughed or have been reassigned to work from home, even on the most uneventful day, we would not wish to attempt watching ELEVEN movies in one day. In fact, the three of us have been struggling to fit more than one movie a day into our schedules. I don't know  about you, but I'm actually busier now than I was before the quarantine. So, as a strategy, Victor proposed we watch "A Star War A Day" together, all at the same time (using the catalog on Disney+ for consistency). We started with Episode One (The Phantom Menace) and have gone in order based on the Star Wars universe timeline (as opposed to order of release), and we've live-tweeted as we watched, expressing our thoughts, opinions, fan appreciations, and critiques.

We're delighted that others have participated with us. Shout out to writer and podcaster, Christian
Angeles, who has joined in our viewing and live tweeting for almost every episode. As of last night, we'd finished all the movies except for The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker. We're taking a break for the weekend to mentally prepare ourselves for the last two movies. We know there will be much division (and possibly derision) in the ranks when it comes to our opinions on the conclusion to this beloved saga.

Today I'm inviting Mary and Victor to join me here at ATB to rehash our thoughts on the Skywalker Saga, so far. Welcome, Mary and Victor! Instead of going over every episode in detail, I thought we should instead focus on the bigger picture. I mean, we have, what? Like, 20+ hours of content on Twitter on this subject? one wants to read that here, so I'll refrain. You're welcome.

Karissa: So, Victor, why did you want to do this “A Star War a Day” project?

Victor: I’ve been stuck at home since March 13, when New York State issued their shelter in place orders. And I was furloughed as of April 1st, so I had a lot of time on my hands! As May the Fourth approached, I thought it’d be fun to watch these movies I love. And because of everything going on, it’d be a great chance to virtually hang out with the two biggest Star Wars fanatics I know.

Karissa: Mary, what did you think when Victor proposed this grand scheme. Personally I was a bit overwhelmed by the idea. I thought it would be a big commitment, and I have a shorter attention span for watching movies and sitting still than I used to. LOL.

Mary: I was excited! Though a little intimidated by the sheer quantity of movies haha. I've never watched the whole series all the way through in order before, and it had been a while since I rewatched Star Wars at all (I meant to before the release of TROS but was too busy... y'know, back in the days when plans were a thing). So when Victor proposed the whole thing, I was like "ooooo!!"

Karissa: It was honestly your enthusiasm, Mary, that convinced me to go with it. I’m glad you did because it’s been such an insightful (and FUN) experience. Watching with two fans who know the intricacies of the movies and lots of specialized fan knowledge has been a valuable experience. For example, Victor, you seem to have encyclopedic knowledge of the characters, especially the smaller characters and bit parts. You seem to know a lot of their back stories or behind the scenes information on the character and/or the actor that played them. Mary is a musical expert and has made me so much more aware of how music is used throughout this Saga.

Victor, what is it about those minor characters that attracts your interest?

Victor: Probably because I had all the action figures as a child. So that meant I not only had Luke and Han, but I also had Hammerhead and Snaggletooth - two characters who had five seconds of screen time in the cantina. I had IG-88 and Bossk, two bounty hunters Vader hires that are blink-and-you’ll-miss-them cameos.

And also, I was in high school and college during the fallow period of Star Wars - the time between Return of the Jedi and the ramp up to Phantom Menace that started with the 20th anniversary re-releases. There wasn’t a lot of “official” Star Wars content then, so I remember devouring all the books and stories. Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn trilogy was the best by far.

But I read alllll of them. There were 2 cool short story collections- tales of the bounty hunters and tales from Jabba’s palace - that got into the back stories of Assassin droids and rancor keepers.

Also the worst Star Wars media I ever consumed is from this period. If anyone ever says The Last Jedi is the WORST STAR WAR EVAR I point them to Vonda McIntyre’s Crystal Star - where Han & Leia’s twins get kidnapped and rescued by centaurs.

So George Lucas created a vast and engaging universe. Kenner and Del Rey books exploited my love of it.

Karissa: Centaurs?!? For real? OMG! But don’t answer that. I’ll Google it later. You’ve mentioned the Thrawn books during our live viewing and it’s made me very intrigued. I’ve read a few Star Wars novels, but never got into them the way I did with the movies, which is funny considering how much I love to read. But, I’ve definitely added the Thrawn books to my TBR pile thanks to you. Or maybe I shouldn’t say “thanks” because my TBR pile is already big enough.

Mary, this is probably a  difficult request, but if you could summarize your thoughts on how music is used in the saga, particularly for continuity (or the lack of it in some places), what would you say?

Mary: Oh boy, I could have done a whole tweet-along just talking about the music! At a high level, John Williams is an expert at creating memorable themes and using them to subtly cue the viewer in the Saga films (Rogue One and Solo had different composers).

In the original trilogy, what's known as the main theme (which plays over the opening crawl) is, as far as I recall, associated only with Luke Skywalker during the films. It plays softly over his introduction on Tattooine, loudly and heroically over his attack on Jabba's goons, contemplatively (and in a minor variation) over various quieter scenes in Empire Strikes Back. Which is why I would argue that in the original trilogy, it's not just the Star Wars theme, it's specifically Luke's theme. In the prequels and sequels, though (and also, I think, for a moment in Solo), it expands to become a general heroic theme -- probably because you still need to repeat the title theme in the movies where Luke isn't present. So Williams used the Force theme instead to cue Luke's presence - such as when you see him as an infant at the end of ROTS, or when Han mentions him after he's gone missing in TFA.

Leia's theme, on the other hand, is very much hers. It plays over her introduction in ANH and is used only to indicate either her presence on the screen or in other characters' minds (such as when Luke realizes that she's his sister). Most viewers probably aren't listening closely enough to be like "Oo, there's such-and-such's theme!" But these background cues definitely help shape the whole experience. I could go on but I've already written a dissertation here, so I'll stop now haha

Karissa: I knew that wouldn’t be a simple question for someone as passionate about music AND Star Wars as you are, Mary. But I appreciate that you’ve made me more aware. It has enriched my viewing experience and I’m not saying that ironically.

Another thing I’ve noticed consistently throughout our viewing and tweeting is that you’ve both mentioned adjusting your previous perceptions of the movies based on this re-watching project, and like most fans, you’ve made a list of the movies in the order of your most favorite to least favorite. But the movies have changed position on that list after this exercise. Would you both comment on how this marathon viewing has changed your perceptions and preferences?

Mary: Some of my perceptions changed with time/age before this viewing, and this viewing confirmed it. For instance, for years I tried to convince myself that ROTS was the best prequel even though I personally didn't like it because that's what all the critics were saying. But finally a few years back, I was like "NO. It's TERRIBLE and I don't care what the pros say!" Rewatching it again last week reminded me why. It's visually gorgeous but the script is all over the place, and what should have been a compelling and emotional tragedy instead just felt like an overstuffed mess.

Contrast that with the much shorter sequence where Luke is tempted by the Dark Side in ROTJ. This rewatch, so soon after ROTS, really made me appreciate ROTJ more (despite the Ewoks, which I used to think were cute but now realize are quite racist). ROTJ was always my least favorite of the originals, and I very nearly ranked TFA above it when TFA came out. But having seen the mess that was ROTS, I realize just how big a job the ROTJ crew had in concluding three storylines: rescuing Han, completing Luke's transformation into a Jedi, and taking down the Empire once and for all (well... sort of). Not only did ROTJ achieve that, but it did so without feeling overstuffed or rushed.
Then there are the anthology films. 

Alden Ehrenreich as Han Solo
I didn't like Solo when it was first released because I just couldn't get over how Not Harrison Ford the new kid is. Watching it in timeline order, though, makes me mind it less, since now it feels like he's being introduced as a new character, and that Harrison Ford takes over the role later. Like, instead of the real-world fact of Harrison Ford getting recast as the new kid (whose name I can never spell), watching the movies in this order FEELS like the new kid gets recast as Harrison Ford, which makes it much more acceptable. There are also little throwaway references in the originals (such as 3PO fretting about the "spice mines of Kessel") that have more weight now that they've been developed in the prequels and anthology movies.

And Rogue One definitely adds weight to ANH, since now you know what's at stake and how much was sacrificed to get to this point. Some have complained that Jyn's father purposely building a weakness into the Death Star cheapens Luke's triumph, but I disagree. It just makes the rebel analysis make more sense (it's still a near-impossible shot!). So overall, I liked the anthology films better this time around.

Some lines in the original trilogy referencing the past feel weirder because it's so clear how much they retconned... and it makes Obi-Wan look like the biggest liar in the galaxy. But I guess, after seeing all the trauma he went through in the prequels, you could forgive him for rewriting history. Knowing how the new movies end, though, has tainted TFA for me. There were so many things teased and hinted at, but knowing they're all going to come to nothing is just frustrating. Overall, I don't think my rankings have changed (so far, it's still ESB, ANH, ROTJ, TFA, R1, AOTC, TPM, ROTS, Solo), but some things are closer than others. For instance, I'm considering moving R1 above TFA... and Solo above ROTS...

Victor: I will say that I enjoy the prequels much more now. It’s hard to appreciate just how insane the hype around The Phantom Menace was back in 1999. There was so much anticipation! The first new film in 16 years! My brother spent HOURS downloading the trailer over dial up internet! People were lining up for weeks!! And... it just wasn’t what I expected. It was pitched much more squarely at kids than A New Hope ever was. (I was 4 1/2 when I saw the first movie in ‘77) Jar Jar was terrible. Anakin was a cute little moppet with no hint of the Vader inside him. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit underwhelming and went back to my VHS copies of the original trilogies.

But over the years, the internet bestowed the prequels with WORSTEST FILMS EVAR status, and that’s just not accurate.

I hadn’t seen the prequels start to finish in at least a decade - even though I own them all on DVD. And removed from the weight of a generation of expectations and internet snark... they’re not bad! My bottom three were always the prequels - ROTS, then TPM, then AOTC in last. But, after this massive viewing, I’m moving Phantom up to be my favorite prequel and past Solo (which did NOT hold up as well.)

Clones is still my least favorite prequel. Sorry Emo Ani! At least you’ll have the fields of Naboo.

Now I only hope you two will approach The Last Jedi and TROS with the same open mind...

Karissa:  I will try my best to keep an open mind, especially about TROS, but The Last Jedi is going to be hard for me. Really hard. But I'm glad you mention those two movies because that makes a great segue into my last questions. 

Any hopes or expectations going into these next two movies that you haven’t mentioned already? And even though we haven’t officially finished our marathon viewing exercise, what do you think your overall takeaway will be from the experience?

Mary: I'm hoping that now that I'm not breathlessly waiting for answers to TFA, I'll be able to see TLJ and TROS more as just fun space movies without the weight of expectations. That's already happened with TLJ a bit since it came out, and I'm hoping the same will be true for TROS (can't be disappointed if you're not expecting anything!). Overall, this whole thing has reminded me of just why we all love this franchise so much. Even when it's terrible (and it can get really, REALLY terrible), it's just so fun and imaginative (and pretty!). Also, at a certain point, it's become more about the fandom than the franchise itself. Even when the movies disappoint, there's this colorful, vibrant culture around it that transcends what the creators made, and that's something I love being part of. Because even when the movies suck, the community is still there.

Victor: It’ll be interesting to see chapters 7-9 in close succession. Part of the fun of the wait for each chapter was 2 years of theories about who Rey’s father was, would Kylo Ren find your light side, would Finn & Poe make out, and so on. And most of that came to naught.

(I remember teasing Mary on the Twitter by saying MEESA REY’S DADDY! In retrospect...)
So knowing where they end up, will the threads be clearer this time? Already, having watched TFA again, it’s clear how much General Hux dislikes Ren so his betrayal in TROS seems clearer.
It’ll also be fun to count how many times Rian and JJ reverse course on each other.

Watching 11 movies/24 hrs of content makes it clear just how vast and sprawling this galaxy is, yet also how small it can be. We’ve traveled the far reaches of space, but there’s only like 8 people who influence the course of events and they’re all related.

This whole experience has reminded me of what I love about these movies. The adventure, the humor, the sense of optimism (these are some of the least cynical movies I know), the music... The best of these (still ANH and ESB) have such a feeling of joy in them.

And I’ve never been unhappy with a Star Wars movie. Even the least among them have good moments or cool scenes and characters. Attack of the Clones has the Yoda duel! ROTS has Order 66! And I liked TROS more than most, I’m sure. But I’m glad this nonolagy/eleven-ology has come to an end. I’m excited to bravely explore new worlds (wrong franchise, I know) with new characters that aren’t named Skywalker and have new adventures. I like where The Mandalorian is going. (I just got my baby Yoda action figure in the mail yesterday!) I like that we’re getting new creators to explore different areas of the galaxy. And maybe soon we can live tweet a new trilogy of movies!

And just to touch on Mary’s comment on community, the two to three hours a day we’ve spent watching these and joking on twitter and defending the parts only one of us likes and ragging on some of the bad dialogue has been a real high point of these quarantine days. It’s been so much fun to watch some of our favorite movies together, so much so that we may continue on after this is done. Mary suggested Legend, and I prompted Karissa for some Bollywood recommendations.

And we’ll have to do the Star Wars Holiday Special at Thanksgiving!

Karissa: Ugh, but okay. I really should watch it. Just promise me that no one is going to start crying, okay? And I agree with you both. Watching the movies has been fun. Watching them with you two has been the best part of the experience, though. Geeking out with people who understand your enthusiasm and share it is the best part of being a fan. It also helps that I trust you both so much. I’m glad we can argue and disagree and still walk away without hurt feelings. Actually, I quite respect you all even more because you’re passionate and smart and both have tremendous senses of humor. Thanks, Victor, for coming up with the idea and thanks to Mary for talking me into it.

Also thanks to you both for joining me today. If you've read this far and are still here, then please accept our invitation to join us on Monday night to watch and live-tweet The Last Jedi. Check out Victor Catano's twitter feed ( or the hashtag #AStarWarADay for more details.


Mary Fan said...

<3 <3 <3 This has been so much fun!!! And so, so cathartic during these endless quarantine days. Seriously, the last 2 weeks have flown by because there was always something to look forward to. Definitely have to do a Bollywood watch and a Legend watch!

Victor Catano said...

This has been such fun to do! An unintended side effect: my phone is now auto suggesting Star Wars vocabulary like “midichlorians” at random moments.

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