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Star Wars Holocron

The History of Boba Fett

by @HolocronJosh and @HolocronGeorge

As 2021 came to a close, a new chapter in the Star Wars galaxy arrived in the form of the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett. Starring Temuera Morrison in the title role, the latest Disney+ series features a character engrained deep in the history of Star Wars, despite having just four lines of dialogue in the original trilogy and not having a starring role until now (and not to forget his comedic “death” in Return of the Jedi). While it’s hard to chronicle every part of the history of a character so iconic, here are the most important beats of Boba: From his beginnings in the Star Wars Holiday Special to The Book of Boba Fett and everywhere in between. Here’s the story and history of Boba Fett.

The Star Wars Holiday Special

The Holiday Special is famous for many reasons among Star Wars fans, including the fact that a character as iconic as Boba Fett made his first appearance ever in the episode. The majority of the special was live action, but Fett appeared in an animated segment, sporting a blue and white armor derived in part from concept artist Joe Johnston’s initial ideas for the look of the character. Boba also carries an Amban phase-pulse blaster in the special, a weapon later used by Din Djarin in The Mandalorian, one of many long-standing legacies of the episode.

His First Kenner Action Figure

Boba Fett became even more of a sensation amongst the growing early fandom of Star Wars when Kenner released the first action figure of the bounty hunter. Unlike the toys for A New Hope, Fett’s first figure was exclusively part of a mail-in program, meaning that there were significantly fewer of these toys even at its peak compared to most Star Wars merchandise. Dave Filoni himself, an executive producer and writer on The Book of Boba Fett and who helped bring the character back in The Mandalorian Season 2, spoke in 2020 about his participation in the mail in program, becoming one of the lucky few to get the toy. If Filoni still has it, then he could be in for a big pay day, as current predictions state that there’s only a few dozen left in the world, some of which are not in great condition, and the last to go on the market was put up for $225,000.

Boba and Vader at the San Anselmo Country Fair Parade

The Holiday Special is often stated as the first appearance of Boba Fett, but the character actually made one appearance that predated the episode. In September of 1978, a few months before the Special, Boba Fett marched with Darth Vader at the San Anselmo Country Fair Parade, equip with his full green costume that would become iconic. Interestingly, the man in the suit was Duwayne Dunham, the assistant director of The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi (who also worked as an editor several iconic projects like Twin Peaks and Blue Velvet). Dunham spoke about his experience in the suit that day, telling StarWars.com:

“What I remember about that day is it was incredibly hot. I’m not just talking about the suit, I’m saying that day in San Anselmo was really hot. It could have been 100 degrees. I think we were at the head of the parade. And Vader, he stands out. I don’t know what people thought of me. Nobody knew about Boba Fett at that point. I remember telling [producer] Gary Kurtz: ‘Gary, I gotta get out of this suit or I’m going to pass out!’”

Dunham also spoke of his initial impressions of the character:

“Everybody had high, high hopes because Boba was such a cool-looking costume. Outside of Vader, it was the best. The character evolved…the all-white [version] was just another stormtrooper, a supertrooper. But as the character evolved, when he got painted…it was so cool. But everyone had high hopes. I was around George all the time and would hear all the conversations [so] I was looking for another character kind of on the level of Han Solo. But for some reason it just didn’t pan out as George had imagined, and then came Jedi, it was “throw him in the Sarlaac pit!” We kinda mounted a protest saying “You can’t do that to Boba Fett! He’s deserving of more!” But they threw him in…and as you know, fans have never let him die.”

Fans certainly didn’t let Fett die.

The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi

Fett appeared in The Empire Strikes Back as his first mainstream appearance in the iconic armor, and became forever associated with the imprisonment of Han Solo in Carbonite. In the second of the trilogy, Fett only had 6 minutes and 32 seconds of screen time, with only four lines that included the famous “He’s no good to me dead”. Fett had even less screen time in Return of the Jedi, with a death that fascinated, angered, and intrigued fans for decades after. Despite rumors that George Lucas wanted to kill off the character to make a point to fans who latched onto someone who was essentially a background player, the maker himself countered this in the DVD commentary for Return of the Jedi. Lucas stated that if he knew how popular Fett would become, he wouldn’t have killed him off in that manner, instead opting for something more thrilling and monumental. In the build up to Attack of the Clones, Lucas contemplated going back to film a scene showing Fett escape the Sarlaac Pit to add in in Return of the Jedi, but ultimately decided against it.

Special Editions

As many fans know, Lucas retroactively changed the Original Trilogy to add improved special effects, improved audio and sound quality, and the occasional new scene. One of these new scenes was Fett appearing in A New Hope after Han talked with Jabba, as he’s seen walking past the camera and coming into focus for a few seconds. In 2004, Lucas again made changes, this time replacing original Boba voice actor Jason Wingreen with Temuera Morrison.

The Clone Wars

Daniel Logan played Boba in Attack of the Clones, and later reprised his role in several episodes of The Clone Wars. One more memorable moment for Fett in the series was his attempt to kill Jedi Mace Windu, who decapitated his dad in the Battle of Geonosis. In the animated series, Fett befriends Aura Sing (before being betrayed), and also crosses paths with Cad Bane. In a planned arc for the original version of season 7 of The Clone Wars, which was scrapped as the show was cancelled, Fett was shown to kill Bane in a western style shootout, as Dave Filoni showed at Star Wars Celebration. Will he and Cad Bane reunite in The Book of Boba Fett?

The Mandalorian

The Mandalorian marked the return of the iconic bounty hunter. First shown in season 1, Boba rescues Fennec in the desert. We didn’t see his face, but fans immediately guessed that it was Boba due to the sound of his walk alone.

Season 2 is when he properly arrived, first at the end of Chapter 9, watching Mando speed away with his armor on Tatooine. In Chapter 14, he appears on Tython, first an enemy but then his true morals come out; he stays loyal to Mando and vows to help rescue Grogu. He appears in every episode in the rest of the season from there on out, and takes the thrown as Crime Lord in the post credits scene of the finale.

The Book of Boba Fett

After all these years, Boba is finally in the spotlight. Without spoiling too much from the first two episodes for those who haven’t seen it, the series balances Boba as a Crime Lord with his time living with a Tusken Raider tribe. And writer Jon Favreau seems pretty excited to work with the character again:

“We’re digging really deep in the toy chest and pulling out the action figures that people were always curious about and were not quite in the center frame, but have a lot of potential.”

Dave Filoni also said something similar:

“These are the [action figures] you got. Your older brothers have had ‘good’ ones. Somehow you got Boba Fett. And if you have Boba Fett, you could always tell a good story.”

The most exciting thing is that his story doesn’t end here. Rather, he seems set to continue for years to come.

Images courtesy of Disney and Lucasfilm

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Film Codex

Dexter: New Blood – Season Review

by @HolocronJosh

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Dexter: New Blood

Eight years ago, the groundbreaking Showtime series Dexter ended its original run with a divisive finale, one that is often in the discussion for worst TV endings ever. Dexter needing to kill his sister to put her out of her misery and abandoning his own son before moving to Oregon to become an isolated lumberjack was labeled by some as a betrayal to the audience. In fact, some of the series’ cast and crew even spoke out about the finale, with star Michael C. Hall ruing the execution of the ending and stating he had never even sat down to watch it. Suffice to say, despite being one of the most memorable shows of the century, Dexter’s finale left audiences completely unsatisfied with what they had witnessed.

Enter Dexter: New Blood. Michael C. Hall had never ruled out returning to the role in the years since, but always said that he would only do it if the script was right and enough time had passed. With nearly a decade gone since Remember the Monsters?, enough time had passed to allow audiences to reflect (and perhaps release their anger) over the original ending. Original series showrunner Clyde Phillips was brought on board early, attempting to replicate the “golden years” of the show in seasons 1-4. Hall was convinced by the ideas put forward, and New Blood was born, ready to make up for the finale and divisive latter years of the show.

Of course, from the moment it was announced, everyone wondered about one thing: the finale. But in a ten episode season, the finale is only the one part, albeit the most important one. Therefore, to properly review Dexter: New Blood, we’re going to take a look at the season as a whole before moving into the specifics of the finale.

Dexter: New Blood revolves almost entirely around events that occur in its first episode, in which the title character impulsively kills Matt Caldwell, son of the unofficial mayor of the town, and Harrison arrives in Iron Lake. Caldwell’s killing leads to Dexter scrambling to cover it up, and sets forth a series of events where Angela is hot on his tail for suspicious behavior. Meanwhile, Harrison presents an interesting challenge to Dexter, who wants to connect with his son but doesn’t really know how to, outside of addressing his dark passenger, which he’s extremely hesitant to do.

Broadly speaking, the Matt Caldwell murder plot is well done and a highlight of the season. The actual kill itself hits all of the nostalgic beats from the original run, including Dexter’s famous kill room and saying the two most famous lines in the show’s history: Tonight’s the Night and Hello, Dexter Morgan. Beyond that, the implications of the murder make it so that it wasn’t just a random Dexter kill. Rather, it sets up the entire season, from Dexter covering his tracks to him finding out Kurt Caldwell is a serial killer, to the rivalry between the two.

The Kurt Caldwell Runaway killer plot is certainly slow burn, particularly at the beginning, but it eventually kicks into higher gear around the halfway mark of the season. When Dexter connects the dots that Kurt is a killer, Harrison begins to take a liking to him, causing a dilemma for the protagonist. This push and pull is executed well as it puts Harrison in the middle of two serial killers. In doing so, the audience, and later Harrison, is allowed to compare the morals of the two. Dexter as a show always enjoys pitting the title character’s morals against his enemies, with the Trinity Killer a particular highlight of this. Clancy Brown’s portrayal of Kurt is arguably one of the best of the entire series, as his kindness becomes haunting as the audience learns his true nature. Brown plays Kurt in a similar fashion to John Lithgow and Arthur Mitchell, as both are men with kind exteriors that slowly begin to unravel as the seasons go on and their true nature is exposed. Kurt Caldwell certainly goes down as an all time Dexter adversary, right up there with Trinity and the Ice Truck Killer.

One negative aspect of the Kurt serial killer plot line is its relative unimportance in the grand scheme of things. Dexter and Harrison dispose of him in the ninth episode, leaving the finale to tie up the rest of the plots (more on that later). Ultimately, while Kurt was a big part in notifying Angela of Dexter’s actions against Matt with his note at the end of the penultimate episode, he didn’t serve much of a purpose outside of that. Kurt was more just a serial killer who existed and was active at the same time as Dexter’s life began to change rapidly, and was killed before the end so that the final episode could focus on the more important things.

As mentioned previously, key to the Kurt Caldwell plot is Harrison, who arrives in Iron Lake in episode 1 aiming to reconnect with his father and finally have years worth of questions answered. The relationship between Dex and Harrison is the backbone of the entire season, with every plot threat connecting to the father-son bond, or lack thereof, in some way. Dexter struggles to connect with Harrison in a way that is painful for both characters as well as the audience. The entire 100+ episode series as a whole ultimately comes down to Dexter’s loneliness and attempts to connect with someone on a personal level, and to finally feel accepted. So to have his son in Iron Lake, ready to finally have a relationship with his father, but Dexter’s dark passenger complicating matters is heartbreaking. For Harrison, he feels abandoned and alone, much like his father, and the writers do a great job of making you feel for the character.

All of this is done for a reason, though, and leads up to a great payoff. Dexter and Harrison escaping Kurt, in what was one of the most intense episodes of the entire series, leads to the two finally connecting. Dexter reveals his dark passenger to Harrison and everything goes smoothly (for now). It’s a great moment years in the making, with many fans upset that Dexter left his son in the first place. Now, he finally seemed set to make amends and be there for Harrison in a way that he wasn’t before.

It’s impossible to talk about Dexter without mentioning the amazing Michael C. Hall. His portrayal of the title character is so unique, and the actor gives a performance that no one else would be able to. He embodies the character in such a way that the entire show is made simply by his presence. As long as he’s on screen, even if the writing isn’t up to scratch, the show remains compelling and entertaining. Alongside Hall is another acting highlight of the season, Jack Alcott. Alcott’s role as Harrison could have been a difficult one: he comes in and challenges an already established, beloved main character and butts heads with him. He argues with Dexter, he complains often, and causes his father headaches throughout most of the season. It’s easy to see how the audience could have turned against Harrison in the bulk of this season, but Alcott’s performance makes you feel for him and sympathize with him so much, even amidst the audience’s attachment to Dexter. There’s no doubt that Alcott will go on to do big things in Hollywood from here.

Julia Jones also stars as Angela Bishop, the police chief of Iron Lake. Jones is another who has a solid performance throughout, but her character’s plot is unfortunately bogged down by some strange writing. For the first half of the season, her arc is trying to figure out where her best friend from high school disappeared to, and this comes to a head when she finds her friend’s body in the caves outside of town, and immediately believes Kurt to be the killer (and rightfully so). All of that is fine, and links her to the Runaway Killer plot in a nice way, but the other half of Angela’s storyline in the season is her investigation into Dexter. She becomes suspicious of him after coincidentally bumping into none other than Angel Batista at a police conference, with David Zayas reprising his role as the iconic Miami Metro detective. It’s certainly more than a little convenient that she meets Batista, but it gets even more questionable when they get on the topic of the Trinity Killer. Batista mentions a man named Dexter Morgan as someone who helped solve the case, before mentioning that he died, but not before he had a son named Harrison. For some reason, a man who Angela believed she didn’t know, at least by that name, having a child named Harrison led her to look up Dexter and find his true identity. Thankfully, her daughter Audrey provides the information that Harrison said while intoxicated: that Jim Lindsay is not his real name. This makes the beginning of Angela’s pursuit a little more logical.

The issues with her investigation extend into the Bay Harbor Butcher case as well. Dexter’s brawl with the drug dealer outside of a bar led her to confront the man he beat up, who told Angela that Dexter poked him in the neck with a needle. Angela then finds out that Dexter purchased ketamine, and connects this to the Bay Harbor Butcher case. However, Dexter used M99 in the original run, not ketamine, and no one at Miami Metro or the FBI ever noticed that the BHB victims had needle marks in their neck. Somehow, though, that information found its way onto the internet in the years since, even as the bodies undoubtedly decomposed to the point of no return. The choice to use ketamine is understandable, if a little frustrating at times, as Dexter finding such a controlled substance like M99 in a small town like Iron Lake would have been extremely hard to write. And while it’s possible that someone somewhere noticed the needle marks on all the victims in Miami, it brings up too many questions about the specifics of it all and how that was figured out. While Jones continues to portray Angela well through all of this, it is a little bit of a disservice to her character that her plot is bogged down by these negatives. Another disservice to the character is that she abandoned the investigation into her best friend’s death to focus on Dexter, which is a jarring switch and seems odd given how dedicated she was to that for the first half of the season. One wonders if it might have been better to have her balance both plots at the same time rather than focus solely on Dexter, if only to make her investigation more logical.

All of this leads to the episode that people were most curious, and perhaps nervous, about: the finale. “Sins of the Father” serves as a conclusion to many of the plot lines discussed above, and much of the episode is well done. If you can get over the investigational inconsistencies, Angela coming to arrest Dexter makes total sense in the context of the season, and this event occurring so early in the episode is a startling reminder that anything could happen in the finale. From there, Dexter is up against it in a way that he hadn’t been since LaGuerta brought him in in season 7. He’s being accused of murder, and not just Matt Caldwell’s, but of being the Bay Harbor Butcher as well. The number one rule is don’t get caught, and Dexter gets more than dangerously close here; he is caught, with accusations being thrown at him that threaten to expose who he really is. The suspense here is extremely well done, as the audience truly doesn’t know what will happen next.

What does happen next will prove to be extremely divisive with fans. Dexter panics, scared to be imprisoned and given the death penalty, and tries to escape. In doing so, he breaks the code by killing Logan, an innocent man. While he certainly didn’t set out to kill Logan, he knew what he was doing and was determined to do anything to get out. What’s interesting here is that Dexter was rarely willing to kill someone innocent to free himself from capture. He refused to kill Doakes, and only kidnapped LaGuerta because Deb knew at that point and was in danger of being hurt by the accusations. Moreover, it’s a little odd that Dexter was so panicked by these claims by Angela. She admitted that she didn’t have enough to stick for the murder of Matt Caldwell, and presented pretty circumstantial evidence to link him to the Bay Harbor Butcher murders. We all know Dexter is impulsive and, for all of his intelligence, is capable of making a bad decision, but it’s hard to believe that Dexter would be so frantic and fearful of the accusations, especially given all of the evidence linking Doakes to the crimes. The evidence against Dexter doesn’t really seem enough to throw out the hard “facts” against Doakes, that were there in both seasons 2 and 7. However, Dexter is older now, and he’s on the cusp of a real relationship with his son for the first time, so perhaps these factors played into his erratic decision making.

Then, there’s the ending. It proves to truly be an ending, for Dexter at least. Harrison realizes what he did to Logan and quickly turns on his dad, despite Dexter begging him to come with him and discuss what happened later. Harrison’s abrupt change of heart feels too rushed, especially as he seemed fine with killing in all of episode 9 and the majority of the finale. Dexter killing Logan simply opened Harrison’s eyes to the idea that his father kills people to feed his addiction, not just to save innocent lives as he had been told. However, it seems odd that Harrison didn’t connect those dots before, as the whole point of Dexter’s killing, as he explained to his son, was to feed his dark urges by bringing justice to the world. Logan obviously meant a lot to Harrison, but the events that occurred right after this moment seemed excessive.

Harrison’s turn on his father leads him to see that Dexter’s actions caused the death of his mother, Rita, as well as his aunt Deb and countless others. He quickly makes Dexter realize this, as the title character admits fault in a way he never really has before. The concept of Dexter being indirectly responsible for the death of others is something that the show has played with for a while, but they make it definitive here. This continues as Dexter asks Harrison to kill him, knowing that he won’t go with him and refusing to go to prison. Harrison isn’t like his father, he claims, but still kills anyway. And not just anyone, but his own father, something that not even Dexter did. While Dexter put others in danger, he never directly killed anyone that he cared about. This scene felt rushed, and could have been dragged out for much longer, if only to help smooth out some of these questions. After this, Harrison is told to run by Angela, and it ends with him driving out of Iron Lake.

Ultimately, the ending of this commits to the same concept that the original finale introduced: Dexter is evil, a destructive force, and is not to be sympathized with. It seems as if the reason why the original ending didn’t go down well, and why the conclusion of New Blood will almost certainly suffer the same fate, is because of an inherent disconnect between the writers and the audience. The writers always seem determined to definitively say that Dexter is a bad person, the bad guy of his own show, while the audience seems him in a way the character sees himself: a hero, or an anti-hero at the very least. Audiences’ positive feelings of Dexter seem justified, too, as the same showrunners who made him a villain were also the ones writing him as a sympathetic character for the entirety of the show around these events. Dexter’s bond with Astor and Cody, his sympathy and loyalty to Lumen and his relationship with Harrison as a baby are just some of the reasons why audiences like Dexter as a character, and for those reasons fans want him to succeed. Meanwhile, the writers are so intent on making a realistic, moral ending, and one that simply doesn’t match the rest of the show.

Verdict: 8/10

Dexter: New Blood is a great season of the show, with “Jim’s” relationship with his son Harrison being a particular highlight. However, the show ones again fails to stick the landing with a solid ending. Nonetheless, it was amazing to see Dexter back again for this limited series.

Images courtesy of Showtime

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Star Wars Holocron

REVIEW: The Book of Boba Fett – Chapter 2

by @holocronGeorge and @holocronJosh

WARNING: This review contains spoilers for Chapter 2: The Book of Boba Fett

After an entertaining, albeit strangely paced, first episode, The Book of Boba Fett returned this week with a chapter that pushes shocks and reveals aside in favor of a touching tale of found family and indigenous pride. Chapter 2, titled The Tribes of Tatooine, once again splits its attention to two timelines of the infamous Boba Fett’s life. In the past, Boba’s relationship grows with the Tusken tribe as he helps fight off invaders. Meanwhile, following Boba’s capture of Jabba’s kingdom, he and Fennec confront threats to their throne.

Chapter 2 marks an improvement over its predecessor in both pacing and storytelling. The somewhat jarring switch from past to future to past from Chapter 1 is absent here in favor of an episode that places emphasis on Boba’s adventures following his escape from the sarlacc pit. This adds some stability to the narrative as we’re able to sit with Boba without being thrown into another time period. Chapter 2 surprisingly puts Boba and Fennec’s power struggle on Tatooine to the side. On a broader note, the inclusion of substantial flashbacks and less emphasis on what was teased from the show in The Mandalorian Season 2’s post-credits scene is definitely unexpected. And, while the introduction of Hutt twins and the live-action debut of Black Krrsantan (!!!) make the switch to the past for the rest of the episode leaving something to be desired, Chapter 2’s past-set narrative is captivating.

Before diving into those flashbacks, however, let’s talk about the events that unfold as Boba and Fennec try to strengthen their grip of Tatooine. After being teased in Chapter 1, The Mayor (voiced by Robert Rodriguez) makes his debut in typical Western / gangster movie fashion. It’s not long before another threat emerges with the arrival of Hutt twins staking their claim to the throne once held by their relative. And accompanying these Hutt twins is Black Krrsantan, the Wookiee bounty hunter who has appeared in various Star Wars comics. The entire standoff between Boba and the Hutts evokes similar tensions on display in gangster films, but with a Star Wars twist. The Hutts are beautifully designed, looking like a combination of the practical effects that brought Jabba to life in Episode VI and the animated Hutts seen in The Clone Wars. But, the most unexpected moment of the episode comes with the arrival of Black Krrsantan. Seeing characters from comics, books, or animation make their way into live-action (i.e. Saw Gerrera, Cobb Vanth, Bo Katan) is always brilliant, and Black Krrsantan is no exception. This plot soon comes to an end, however, as Chapter 2 shifts to flashbacks for the remainder of its runtime. Although the standoff and introduction of Black Krrsantan were great, it’s a shame this plot doesn’t progress more than it does, especially considering the pacing of Chapter 1.

Despite this, Chapter 2’s flashbacks are terrific as Boba’s bond with the Tuskens grows deeper. There are a lot of powerful themes at play here, and director Steph Green and writer Jon Favreau execute them extremely well. Boba’s growing relationship with the tribe feels genuine and earned, which beautifully culminates in Boba’s acceptance into their tribe. This evokes the plot of 1970 Western film A Man Called Horse in which an Englishmen is captured by and eventually grows close to the Sioux people. Star Wars has always done a great job mirroring real-world themes and events, and Chapter 2 of The Book of Boba Fett continues this trend. The episode’s focus on an indigenous people’s land under threat from outsiders resonates powerfully.

Verdict: 8/10

The Book of Boba Fett moves into its second chapter with an unexpected emphasis on flashbacks that carry plenty of emotional weight. Although the entertaining present-day plot is unfortunately short lived, Chapter 2 delves deeper into Boba’s bond with the Tusken people in a manner that is thoughtful and touching, while also touching on the struggles of indigenous people. The Book of Boba Fett’s latest installment is an excellent example of the range of storytelling opportunities afforded in the Star Wars universe and the depth of themes at play in a galaxy far, far away.

Images courtesy of Disney+ and Lucasfilm

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Star Wars Holocron

REVIEW: The High Republic: The Fallen Star

by @holocronGeorge and @holocronJosh

A warning to those preparing to read The High Republic: The Fallen Star – you will likely need tissues to soak up tears and plenty of time after reading to process the grand narrative you’ve just experienced. It seems like yesterday that the multimedia publishing initiative of The High Republic kicked off with Light of the Jedi and a slew of other releases. But, before we knew it, Claudia Gray’s The Fallen Star debuts and serves as an epic, intricately written, and emotional culmination of tales in the High Republic era so far.

The Fallen Star follows its predecessors Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm, in addition to a variety of other High Republic stories, as the Jedi continue to reign as guardians of peace for the ever-growing Republic. Starlight Beacon serves as one of Chancellor Soh’s Great Works, a symbol of the greatness of the Republic. Unfortunately, the Nihil, led by the insidious Marchion Ro, have constructed a plan that aims to take Starlight Beacon down and bring an end to the light of the Jedi.

The Fallen Star follows a narrative structure very similar to Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm. There is a central event the novel revolves around. With Light of the Jedi, it was the Hyperspace Disaster. With The Rising Storm, it was the Republic Fair on Valo. And, fittingly for the conclusion of the High Republic’s Phase 1, it is an attack on Starlight Beacon with The Rising Storm. Also akin to its predecessors, The Fallen Star features a sizable host of characters, opting against positioning a sole person in the spotlight in favor of a circulation of characters with smaller roles who all collectively contribute to the grander plot. Fans of this narrative structure in Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm will welcome the storytelling on display in The Fallen Star. While, at times, it can feel slightly overwhelming to track a narrative through the eyes of so many characters, The Fallen Star ultimately benefits from this approach. Not only are we given plenty of time to become emotionally invested in an array of characters, but this structure also fosters an ominous tone that dictates the book’s first half and feels gratifying as the novel progresses and character’s journeys converge.

Ominous is a perfect word to describe The Fallen Star. Since The High Republic era kicked off, Starlight Beacon has been a monument of the Republic’s power and unity, but also surely an inevitable target for the Nihil. Especially in the novel’s first act, as a reader, you are keenly aware that something is off, but, like the main characters, can’t put your finger on it. The Fallen Star also benefits in this regard by being a mostly contained story in terms of location, unlike Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm. The Fallen Star almost exclusively takes place on Starlight Beacon, positioning the readers alongside the characters as they navigate the Nihil’s scheme.

As The High Republic is a sprawling intersection of stories told across various mediums, The Fallen Star is ripe with references to other High Republic stories. Avar Kriss’ adventures in Cavan Scott’s The High Republic comic series play a part in The Fallen Star. Emerick Caphtor, the Jedi Investigator in Daniel Jose Older’s Trail of Shadows series, is name-dropped. Nan, from Into the Dark and Out of the Shadows, is an integral character in The Fallen Star. Outside of Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm, none of these other High Republic projects are necessary reading before diving into The Fallen Star. Nonetheless, engagement with previous High Republic stories will likely deepen your experience with and enjoyment of Claudia Gray’s newest novel.

The Fallen Star features a fair share of emotional and unexpected moments and author Claudia Gray somehow manages to execute every single one with a characteristically deft hand. The twists, turns, and moments of heartbreak keep coming at you until the very end of this novel, but always feel well-earned and natural to the story being told.

The same can be said for Gray’s handling of the aforementioned array of characters featured in The Rising Storm. Elzar Mann’s lean into the dark side in The Rising Storm is addressed head on in The Fallen Star. The emotions and responsibilities surrounding Stellan Gios’ new-ound role as marshall of Starlight Beacon are explored throughout. Each and every character has an individual arc in this novel and feels like a fleshed-out, real person, rather than a mere name in a book. Bell Zettifar, Elzar Mann, and two former Nihil members who are incarcerated aboard Starlight Beacon have perhaps the most interesting journeys in The Fallen Star. Also of note is the High Republic’s big bad Marchion Ro. He plays a small, yet pivotal, role in this novel that is comparable to how the character was used in Light of the Jedi and The Rising Storm. That being said, with every subsequent appearance, Marchion Ro becomes a more intimidating and villainous threat. All in all, Ro is quickly moving up our ranking of favorite Star Wars villains.

Verdict:

The Fallen Star is yet another win for the High Republic publishing initiative and accomplished author Claudia Gray. Serving as a poetic culmination of the High Republic’s Phase 1, The Fallen Star is a story of promise, unity, and loss with enriching character work and a nail-biting central plot. Gray delicately strikes an ominous tone that resonates throughout her work. The stakes are felt, the emotional moments hit hard, and the novel never ceases to excite and surprise. The Fallen Star is a must-read for Star Wars fans and a terrific way to kick off 2022 in a galaxy far, far away.

Images courtesy of Del Rey

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Star Wars Holocron

What’s New in Star Wars – January 2022

by @holocronGeorge & @holocronJosh

2021 was an impressive year in the Star Wars universe to say the least. A new animated series, a new live-action series, a sprawling crossover comic event, a massive multimedia publishing initiative of stories in the High Republic era – 2021 truly had something for all types of Star Wars fans. In glimpsing at what 2022 has in store from a galaxy far, far away, it becomes clear that Star Wars is not losing momentum with an array of shows, books, comics, games, and more to look forward to.

Below includes a list and description of upcoming Star Wars projects in the month of January 2022. It is important to note all of these release dates are subject to change.

January 4 – The Story of the Faithful Wookiee Little Golden Book adaptation

You can’t go wrong with a combination of Star Wars and Little Golden Books. And what could make that combination even better? Adapting The Story of the Faithful Wookiee, the short film from 1978’s infamous Star Wars Holiday Special that featured the debut of none other than Boba Fett himself. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “An all-new Little Golden Book based on the cartoon from the Star Wars Holiday Special from 1978—featuring Chewbacca and the first appearance of Boba Fett! While on a mission to save Han Solo, the Rebel hero Luke Skywalker, droids C-3PO and R2-D2, and faithful Wookiee Chewbacca encounter an armored stranger who offers to help them. But is the mysterious Boba Fett a friend—or a foe? The Story of the Faithful Wookiee, the animated segment from the 1978 Star Wars Holiday Special, is retold in the iconic Little Golden Book format. It is perfect for Star Wars–and Little Golden Book–fans of all ages.”

January 4 – The High Republic: The Fallen Star

There needs to be some emotional preparation before diving into The Fallen Star. The third in the trilogy of Del Rey’s Star Wars The High Republic novels in Phase 1 is written by Claudia Gray, following Charles Soule and Cavan Scott’s efforts on previous installments. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “In this gripping sequel to Star Wars: The Rising Storm, the light of the Jedi faces its darkest hour. Time and again, the vicious raiders known as the Nihil have sought to bring the golden age of the High Republic to a fiery end. Time and again, the High Republic has emerged battered and weary, but victorious thank to its Jedi protectors—and there is no monument to their cause grander than the Starlight Beacon.Hanging like a jewel in the Outer Rim, the Beacon embodies the High Republic at the apex of its aspirations: a hub of culture and knowledge, a bright torch against the darkness of the unknown, and an extended hand of welcome to the furthest reaches of the galaxy. As survivors and refugees flee the Nihil’s attacks, the Beacon and its crew stand ready to shelter and heal. The grateful Knights and Padawans of the Jedi Order stationed there finally have a chance to recover—from the pain of their injuries and the grief of their losses. But the storm they thought had passed still rages; they are simply caught in its eye. Marchion Ro, the true mastermind of the Nihil, is preparing his most daring attack yet—one designed to snuff out the light of the Jedi.”

January 4 – Star Wars: The Mandalorian Season 2 Junior Novel

Relive the events of The Mandalorian Season 2 with this terrific junior novel adaptation by Joe Schreiber from Disney-Lucasfilm Press.

January 4 – Galaxy of Creatures World of Reading book

Kristin Baver beautifully welcomes young readers into a Galaxy of Creatures in this upcoming book based on the Star Wars: Galaxy of Creatures animated shorts. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “Join adventurous droid 5F-RE (you can call him Aree) as a member of the Galactic Society of Creature Enthusiasts as he journeys across the galaxy to learn everything there is about wildlife big and small. From how to teach porgs to do tricks to how to brush a rancor’s teeth, Aree will get answers to the biggest – and silliest – creature questions. Adorable creature animations and beautifully drawn environments along with fun facts and slapstick comedy are sure to delight Star Wars fans of all ages.”

January 5 – Doctor Aphra (2020) 17

Alyssa Wong’s Doctor Aphra series was one of the best Star Wars comic runs of 2021, which makes us eagerly anticipate what’s to come for Aphra and Sana Starros in this new issue. The publisher’s summary for the 17th issue is as follows: “EVOCATIONS! DOCTOR APHRA and SANA STARROS stumble upon a STRANGE RITUAL…And STRANGER ENEMY! Will they fall victim to a practitioner of an ANCIENT CULT?”

January 5 – The Book of Boba Fett: Chapter 2

The Book of Boba Fett continues with Chapter 2 this month.

January 11 – The Mandalorian: The Mandalorian’s Quest

Brooke Vitale adapts the events of The Mandalorian’s second season in this new storybook for young readers.

January 11 – The Mandalorian: The Path of the Force

Another Brooke Vitale adaptation of The Mandalorian comes our way from Disney-Lucasfilm Press this month.

January 11 – Star Wars: Tribute to Star Wars

One of the most exciting projects releasing this January, Star Wars: Tribute to Star Wars is a manga paperback that collects 45 Japanese artists’ tributes to a galaxy far, far away.

January 11 – Yoda One for Me

Valentine’s Day comes a little early this year with a new picture-book dedicated to romance and friendship, with a brilliant Star Wars-y title to top it all off.

January 11 – Star Wars: Bounty Hunters Vol. 3 — War of the Bounty Hunters

The installments of Ethan Sacks’ incredible Bounty Hunters series that occurs within the War of the Bounty Hunters crossover event are compiled in this new collection. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “The War of the Bounty Hunters rages across the galaxy! As Valance and his reluctant partner Dengar race to intercept Boba Fett and his precious cargo, deadly pursuers are after them. A dark secret from Valance’s past with Han Solo is about to emerge — and it may get him killed all these years later! But who is the mysterious leader of an assassination squad that is driving Valance into a life-and-death confrontation with an old friend? Meanwhile, T’onga is outgunned and outnumbered… but she does have one last surprise up her sleeve! And as the shadowy mastermind behind everything makes its move, Valance and Dengar try their luck at the Canto Bight casino, and T’onga puts a crew together — with faces both fearsome and familiar! COLLECTING: Star Wars: Bounty Hunters (2020) 12-17.”

January 11 – Star Wars Adventures: The Weapon of a Jedi trade paperback

Alec Worley adapts Jason Fry’s The Weapon of a Jedi in this two-part comic book miniseries from IDW Publishing. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “An untold chapter in Luke Skywalker’s journey from orphan to Jedi knight in this middle-grade graphic novel set between A New Hope and The Empire Strikes Back! The Rebel Alliance has destroyed the Empire’s dreaded Death Star, but the Imperial starfleet continues hunting the rebels throughout the galaxy. Luke Skywalker now seeks to support the Rebellion as an X-wing fighter. But as he flies with the pilots of the Red Squadron, Luke feels stirrings of the Force. And this farm boy turned fighter pilot begins to suspect that his destiny lies along a different path. This middle-grade Star Wars adventure also foreshadows events to come in Episode VII: The Force Awakens!”

January 11 – Star Wars: Jedi Artifacts

Insight Editions is here with another excellent reference book with Jedi Artifacts. The book features gorgeous illustrations and replica objects.

January 12 – Bounty Hunters 20

Ethan Sacks’ Bounty Hunters series continues this month with its 20th issue. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “FORLORN FOR 4-LOM! T’ONGA and her bounty hunters are desperate to recover 4-LOM for their mission…but the upgraded killer droid is the one hunting them aboard a ghost ship. Can ZUCKUSS survive a reunion with his onetime partner? Meanwhile, VUKORAH makes her move…and the criminal underworld will never be the same!”

January 12 – Star Wars (2020) 20

Charles Soule’s mainline Star Wars series also continues with its 20th issue this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “DANGEROUS LESSONS! LUKE SKYWALKER has found a key piece of instruction in his journey along the JEDI path – the voice of his teacher, JEDI MASTER YODA. But the lesson Luke must learn will not be taught by Yoda, and it will take – and give – more than the young Skywalker could ever have imagined.”

January 12 – The High Republic: Eye of the Storm 1

One of the most anticipated new comics of 2022 explores the inner-workings of The High Republic’s big bad Marchion Ro. The publisher’s summary for the first issue of this new series is as follows: “ACT ONE: Ro. The Truth. The Lie. The Kill. In which we reveal the true origins of MARCHION RO, the Eye of the Nihil and sworn enemy of the Jedi Order. In which the lie at the heart of his family is exposed. In which the doom of the High Republic begins…with a single kill.”

January 12 – The High Republic Adventures 12

Daniel Jose Older’s The High Republic Adventures series moves forward with a new issue this January. The publisher’s summary for the upcoming 12th issue is as follows: “The Padawans and their masters rush to Corellia where Nihil inductee Krix Kamarat has been planning his next attack. Lula struggles with her new responsibility while Zeen struggles with Krix’s quick descent into evil; both girls worry for the other but are distracted when they’re split up and hear a mysterious distress signal…”

January 12 – The Book of Boba Fett: Chapter 3

The Book of Boba Fett continues with Chapter 3 this month.

January 18 – The Book of Boba Fett Poster Book

Enjoy beautiful new artwork celebrating The Book of Boba Fett with this poster book from Disney-Lucasfilm Press!

January 19 – Doctor Aphra (2020) 18

More Aphra antics incoming with the series’ 18th issue. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “‘CONJURATIONS!’ With STRANGE RITUAL MURDERS on the rise, DOCTOR APHRA and SANA STARROS’ hunt for ASCENDANT ARTIFACTS is growing dire! Their leads keep turning up dead, and they’re running out of time! They’ll have to delve deep into the secrets of an ANCIENT TECH CULT if they plan to catch the killer!”

January 19 – The High Republic 13

Sporting stunning cover art by Phil Noto, Cavan Scott’s epic The High Republic series continues with its 13th issue this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “THE BATTLE FOR NO-SPACE! Since MARCHION RO attacked the Republic Fair on VALO, everything has been leading to this moment. Now it’s THE JEDI’s turn to strike the heart of THE NIHIL. AVAR KRISS VS. LOURNA DEE. JEDI VS. NIHIL. JEDI VS. JEDI. A line is about to be crossed!”

January 19 – The High Republic Adventures: Galactic Bake-Off Spectacular

A new heartwarming one-shot in the High Republic era debuts this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “Lightsabers and Jedi robes are put aside in favor of whisks and aprons as the two competitors bake Master Yoda’s special pastry recipe. But the recipe requires one extra special ingredient: a story! “Buckets of Blood” and Kantam recount the tale of an epic battle as they whisk away, both hoping to win the prize of Padawan approval.”

January 19 – The Book of Boba Fett: Chapter 4

The Book of Boba Fett continues with Chapter 4 this month.

January 25 – Star Wars Adventures: Ghosts of Vader’s Castle trade paperback

Cavan Scott’s five-part comic series for IDW Publishing is collected in this new trade paperback. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “Join Lina, Milo Graf, and Crater for one last adventure to Vader’s Castle! Perfect for middle-grade readers, these fun, but eerie and horror-packed tales, take you through the creepy side of the Star Wars galaxy. The ghosts of Vader’s Castle are haunting everybody’s dreams! First, Milo has been having nightmares about zombie droids, with a special appearance by Anakin Skywalker, Padmé Amidala, and Jar Jar Binks. Then, Lina runs into Jaxxon, who reveals that he, too, has been having troubling dreams of vicious Wookies [sic] bigger than mountains! Plus, catch up with Hudd and Skritt as Hudd deals with dreams concerning the Spirit of the Swamp, a gilled monster that terrorizes Dagobah! But Lina isn’t immune to the nightmares either, as her dreams are visited by the galaxy’s most threatening villain! In the finale, Lina, Hudd, Skritt, and Jaxxon race to Mustafar to save Milo and Crater. Will the group be able to fight the ghosts that still haunt the castle, or will the galaxy forever be bound to suffer from the wrath of the Ghosts of Vader’s Castle?! Ghosts of Vader’s Castle finishes the saga started in Tales of Vader’s Castle and Return to Vader’s Castle.”

January 26 – The High Republic: Trail of Shadows 4

Daniel Jose Older’s mystery/thriller series set in The High Republic has impressed so far, and we can’t wait until the 4th issue hits comic stands later this month. The publisher’s summary is as follows: “TIME IS RUNNING OUT TO SOLVE THE GREATEST MYSTERY OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF THE JEDI! As pressure mounts, EMERICK and SIAN follow a desperate lead to close in on their suspect! A sentimental mistake may tip the balance, but a creeping horror lurks in the shadows… Can the investigators uncover the NIHIL’S secret weapon before it’s used to bring down THE REPUBLIC?”

January 26 – The Book of Boba Fett Chapter 5

The Book of Boba Fett continues with Chapter 5 this month.

Images courtesy of Disney-Lucasfilm Press, Insight Editions, Lucasfilm, Disney+, Marvel Comics, IDW Publishing, Viz Media, Golden Books, and Del Rey

Categories
Star Wars Holocron

REVIEW: The Book of Boba Fett – Chapter 1

By @HolocronJosh and @HolocronGeorge

Boba Fett has fascinated Star Wars fans for decades, ever since his first appearance in the animated portion of the famed Holiday Special in 1978. Since then, he’s appeared in Star Wars films including the latter two Original Trilogy films and Attack of the Clones as well as countless comics and novels. Still, Boba has always existed on the periphery, never the leading man and, instead, the cool looking, badass bounty hunter that we know very little about, bar his surface level origin story in the prequels. The latest Disney+ series, announced via a post-credits scene in The Mandalorian Season 2 finale, finally gives Fett an opportunity to be in the spotlight in the leading role for the first time in live action.

Warning: This review containers spoilers for the first episode of The Book of Boba Fett

One of the standout features of The Book of Boba Fett’s pilot is its structure, characterized by extensive use of flashbacks that mark a stark change from previous Star Wars content. The flashbacks of Chapter 1 begin with a quick montage of Boba’s origins on Kamino and his father’s death on Geonosis, visual callbacks that were arguably the highlight of the episode. After that, fans finally get to see how Boba survived the infamous Sarlacc Pit in a thrilling, albeit brief, sequence. The camera’s proximity to the lead character in this scene adds to the tense and claustrophobic feeling of the inside of a Sarlaac’s digestive system, something fans have never seen visualized on camera before. The structure of the episode certainly gives the flashbacks plenty of time to develop, with Chapter 1 beginning and ending with a look to the past.

The middle portion of the episode follows Boba as he navigates Tatooine shortly after claiming Bib Fortuna and Jabba the Hutt’s former throne. The structure of this episode, while certainly unique for live-action Star Wars content, leads to a stop-start feel to things that ultimately disrupts the pacing. The episode begins with flashbacks, something almost expected given the trailers and the promise to show how Boba escaped the Sarlacc Pit, which makes sense and works well. However, once we flash forward to the present day, it feels as if the story has decidedly shifted gears for the time being. The episode unexpectedly closes out with another extensive flashback sequence that brings the story of Boba and Fennec’s adventures on Tatooine to an abrupt halt. While it’s amazing to see Boba showcased in any point in his life, there were perhaps more efficient and approachable ways to distribute these flashback scenes throughout the episode.

Some may label the pilot as ‘filler’ or uneventful, which we don’t agree with. The episode doesn’t need a massive cameo or huge, galaxy shattering event in order to be labeled as effective or entertaining. While it would have most certainly benefited with some sort of tease of what’s to come in the present day as a way to show potential for the story’s direction in the season to come, it wasn’t exactly necessary. Rather, the episode leaves a little to be desired in regards to Boba’s characterization. Boba is in the limelight, but he’s largely kept at a distance in a way, as the audience doesn’t really get to have an emotional connection with the character in this first episode. For comparison, the pilot of The Mandalorian showed Din Djarin shooting IG-11 to protect the Child, who he was only just meeting at the time, and the two instinctively reaching out to each other, setting up the father son relationship and immediately establishing an emotional connection between the audience and the title character. Nonetheless, this is a harsh critique given that we have merely opened Chapter 1 of what will surely be a sprawling exploration of Boba’s character.

Ultimately, though, The Book of Boba Fett is an incredibly entertaining watch. There’s plenty of action to dig into, and just seeing the Star Wars galaxy again is a treat. Temuera Morrison’s performance deserves particular praise, as the New Zealand actor plays the role in a way only he can. In the past, some have discussed the possibility of casting a different actor in the role of Fett, perhaps for a solo movie, but Morrison puts all of that talk to rest here (if he hadn’t already). He shines through amidst a world full of eye-catching characters and actors, displaying Boba’s honor (if it can be described as that) extraordinarily well. It’s great to have Morrison back in Star Wars, and especially in a starring role. On a broader note, Robert Rodriguez directs this episode well, calling upon his action movie experience to add a level of class to the many fighting scenes in the episode. Rodriguez also directed Boba’s first full-fledged appearance in The Mandalorian Season 2, and captured the brutality and mastery in combat of the character we all clamored to see. This certainly carries over into the new series, and Rodriguez’ continued involvement with Fett is a welcomed one.

The same must be said for Ming-Na Wen, who first appeared in The Mandalorian Season One as the villainous bounty Hunter Fennec Shand. Chapter 1 already establishes that the relationship between Boba and Fennec will be central to the series’ plot and, continuing from their work in The Mandalorian, Morrison and Wen have great chemistry together. Also of note in this episode are the Tusken Raiders, depicted as Boba’s captors following his escape from the Sarlacc Pit. This is a different tribe of Tusken Raiders. They dress differently, act slightly differently, and capture your attention in the episode. This is emphasized by Chapter 1’s closing moment in which the leader of the camp shares water with Boba, a sign of respect and potential brotherhood to come.

Verdict: 7/10

The Book of Boba Fett kicks off in somewhat underwhelming fashion compared to its Disney+ predecessors. Chapter 1 is hindered by an unusual and slightly jarring structure, but makes up for this misstep with plenty of great moments, well-crafted action sequences, and terrific call-backs. Needless to say, we can’t wait to see what’s to come in future episodes of The Book of Boba Fett.

Images courtesy of Disney+ & Lucasfilm

Categories
Film Codex

Top 10 Films of 2021

by @holocronGeorge, @holocronJosh, and @holocronJulie

In a rough year for many, 2021 has featured a number of films that provided more than just mere escapism. This year marked the return of the theatrical experience for many, saw a new dawn of streaming and home video, and, overall, offered up some incredible films. Here’s an overview of our top 10 films of 2021 in no order.

THE BETA TEST

If you don’t know the name Jim Cummings, you should. Within the last three years, Cummings has firmly cemented his place as one of the compelling filmmakers working today. Cummings is the total filmmaker – director, star, writer, editor, even composer at times. And, while his previous efforts such as Thunder Road and The Wolf of Snow Hollow are perfect blends of off-kilter dark humor and emotional character journeys, The Beta Test marks his most refined and accomplished effort to date. It’s groundbreaking to see a director/writer tackle so many complex themes/motifs into a motion picture experience that feels so genuine. The Beta Test evokes the best elements of a Hitchockian thriller, while serving as a nuanced Hollywood satire and commentary on contemporary culture – not to mention the depths of psychological horror this film touches. The Beta Test is easily one of 2021’s best films and is more than deserving of a watch. You won’t be disappointed.

SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

Spider-Man: No Way Home was easily 2021’s most anticipated film and, thankfully, it met and really exceeded any and all of its lofty expectations. No Way Home overcomes some gaps in its narrative to deliver one of the most ambitious and groundbreaking superhero movies to date. Anchored by characteristically excellent performances, the film navigates an interesting, multiversal plot that moves this iteration of Spider-Man somewhat away from its connections to the MCU and toward a Spider-Man more aligned with previous live action adaptations of the character. The action is superb, the emotional points hit hard, and there are moments of this film that will be rewatched for years to come.

VAL

Val is an interesting and somewhat overlooked documentary chronicling the life of actor Val Kilmer. Starting in a pre-internet, pre-YouTube era, Kilmer filmed much of his life, including family interactions and behind the scenes of his stage and film productions, in a raw and breathtaking fashion. Val manages to weave together the decades of this home footage into a film that breeds new appreciation for Kilmer as both a performer and a person. Val is a deeply intimate and genuine examination of Kilmer. His successes and tragedies are portrayed with startling honesty. Watching Val will reshape the way you see Kilmer in any of his prior films. This is a man dedicated to and in love with his craft, who is genuine and kind above all else. Val is a must watch.

ZACK SNYDER’S JUSTICE LEAGUE

Fans had pushed the #ReleasetheSnyderCut movement to the brink until Warner Bros. finally commissioned the release of Zack Snyder’s true vision of Justice League. And the film did not disappoint. Zack Snyder’s Justice League is a gargantuan filmmaking effort. Free of previous constraints that married theatrical releases of other films, Snyder tells a story from the heart at his own pace. It’s epic and grand, as one would expect from a Snyder film, but also intimate and emotional. Justice League is a 4 hour odyssey that feels as if you’ve cracked open and dug yourself into a classic, dark comic book. Featuring a mind-blowing epilogue, Zack Snyder’s Justice League is easily the best DCEU movie and one of 2021’s best.

DUNE

Dune marks another mammoth effort from Warner Bros. in 2021. Dune and the entire world crafted by Frank Herbert have been notoriously difficult to adapt and capture in cinematic format, something Denis Villeneuve manages to do with his latest film. Although Dune ends rather abruptly, feels like only one half of a total story, and somewhat loses momentum as the film progresses, it is nonetheless an incredible filmmaking feat. Villeneuve deftly tackles dense world building, while never making the audience feel left behind. Dune is probably 2021’s most visually stunning film and also one of the year’s most ambitious.

DON’T LOOK UP

Adam McKay continues his journey into more polished and socially relevant filmmaking with Don’t Look Up. Don’t Look Up is most certainly a strange viewing experience. It’s infused from beginning to end with existential dread – make no mistake about it, this is a horror film. And yet, you find yourself laughing consistently throughout. McKay’s film operates at a heightened tone and story for its entire runtime, which may be a bit tiresome for some. However, we see Don’t Look Up as the modern day Dr. Strangelove. Like Kubrick’s classic film, McKay manages to detail the horrors of our world and the fragility of our existence with an unexpectedly outrageous tone. After the spitfire editing and witty jokes subside, you’re left with a feeling of discomfort and dread that, unfortunately, makes Don’t Look Up the year’s most relevant film.

TICK, TICK…BOOM!

Lin-Manuel Miranda hit the ground running with his feature length directorial debut. Anchored by one of the year’s best performances in Andrew Garfield as composer and playwright Jonathan Larson, Tick, Tick…Boom! spins a fascinating and heartfelt tale of the creative process. This is a film made by artists about an artist making art, and it excels at doing so. The musical seems difficult to adapt for a feature film, but Miranda does so stunningly. In large part, this is due to Garfield’s commanding and captivating lead performance. Not only does he land all of the film’s emotional moments, but his singing talent on display is impressive to say the least.

PIG

Nicolas Cage films have been hit or miss in recent years, but Pig is most certainly a hit. The premise of a truffle hunter returning to Portland to track who stole his beloved pig seems out there and likely rife for the sort of (intentional or unintentional) humor we come to expect from many of Cage’s recent efforts, but this is not the case. Nicolas Cage is stunning as the truffle forager Rob. His performance is so raw and so effective. This is not Cage swinging for the fences with his performance, but, rather, a much quieter and more subdued and nuanced portrayal. Pig has the potential to go into John Wick-revenge territory, but unexpectedly never does. This is a deeply emotional chronicle of loss and compassion that has a lot to say about ambition and obsessive focus on wealth. Pig triumphs on every cylinder.

THE LAST DUEL

Ridley Scott delivered, not one, but two terrific films in 2021 and The Last Duel makes our list of the best of the year. The Last Duel works less well as a historical drama and better as a complex tale of conflicting ‘truths.’ The influence of Akira Kurosawa’s Rashomon is felt all over this film. Despite its historical setting, The Last Duel feels extremely timely. It’s a Rashomon-style story for the #MeToo era that tackles victim-blaming, sexual assault, and institutional sexism in a manner that transcends era. Ben Affleck, Matt Damon, and Nicole Holofcener create an intricately woven screenplay that could easily go awry in less capable hands. Jodie Comer and Adam Driver are particular highlights in the film, and further cement The Last Duel as one of 2021’s crowning achievements.

BELFAST

Last, but not least, is Belfast. The semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story written and directed by Kenneth Branagh is perhaps the accomplished filmmaker’s greatest effort to date. Belfast doesn’t break new ground with its narrative, but excels as a crowd pleasing and touching journey for the audience. Belfast is a difficult movie to dislike. It is vibrant, romantic, affectionate, and so much more. Branagh writes one of 2021’s sharpest screenplays here and a supporting performance from Ciarán Hinds proves to be one of the year’s best.

Categories
Film Codex

REVIEW: The Matrix Resurrections

by @HolocronGeorge and @HolocronJosh

It’s been 22 years since the original The Matrix hit theaters and took the world by storm. From the infamous bullet time sequences to the lofty philosophical themes at play, the film was game-changing and revolutionary to say the least. But, what does a Matrix film look like in 2021? Rampant use of social media, an age of misinformation, a pandemic of an infectious disease – The Matrix has always been cutting-edge in regards to its approach to social commentary in the context of sci-fi action, but is this still the case? With The Matrix Resurrections, the fourth installment in the franchise, Lana Wachowski returns to craft a film that has the potential to be as groundbreaking as the original was in 1999. Indeed, The Matrix Resurrections proves to be an excellent, almost paradoxical, exercise in nostalgia and revision that plummets the world of The Matrix into the year 2021 with disturbing relevance, gorgeous visuals, and, of course, lots of Kung Fu.

The Matrix Resurrections follows Thomas Anderson (played once again the brilliant Keanu Reeves), who, once again, begins to doubt the reality of his ‘reality’ and is left to make a choice between insight and blissful unawareness. On the surface, that sounds an awful lot like the original film in the franchise and, in many ways, it is. But, don’t be mistaken, The Matrix Resurrections is (for the most part) an entirely different animal altogether. This is abundantly clear within the first moments of seeing Reeves’ returning character. And it’s with these first moments that comprise the film’s first act that The Matrix Resurrections really excels. Wachowski approaches the story in a unique and unexpectedly meta-aware way. The events of the original Matrix trilogy are acknowledged and respected, but are incorporated into the fourth film’s narrative in a fascinating way that will get you thinking, keep you on your toes, and stay with you after the film ends. It’s with The Matrix Resurrections’ first act that Wachowski’s film feels the most refreshing and relevant. The dialogue, infused with subtle humor and social commentary, is razor sharp. It’s a bold way to reintroduce viewers to The Matrix after 18 years, and could easily go awry with such evident self-awareness, but Wachowski deftly handles the complexities of the film and truly pulls it off.

The momentum of The Matrix Resurrections’ first act is somewhat lost in an exposition-heavy and somewhat meandering second act. Yes, every frame is carefully crafted and every line of dialogue is meticulously written. But, in contrast to the first act, The Matrix Resurrections feels more like a retread of familiar territory. That being said, Wachowski manages to find a way to make the stakes even higher in this fourth installment, without ever underwhelming our heroes’ accomplishments in The Matrix Revolutions, a difficult feat considering the nature of that film’s conclusion. And it’s with the film’s third act that The Matrix Resurrections picks up again and concludes in an epic, satisfying fashion.

Keanu Reeves and Carrie-Anne Moss lead the film with the company of an array of new faces to the franchise. Most prominent are Jessica Henwick and Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, who crash onto the screen from the get-go in characteristically badass fashion, but whose roles decline in importance and screen time as the film progresses. This is particularly evident for Abdul-Mateen II, who breathes exciting new life into the Morpheus character, while evoking Laurence Fishburne’s iconic performances from the original trilogy. This new iteration of Morpheus plays a prominent role in the film’s first half, but his involvement slowly declines to a point where it’s easy to forget about the character altogether. This is a shame, because Abdul-Mateen II is incredible in the film, as he has been in projects ranging from Watchmen to Candyman in recent years. The same can be said for Jessica Henwick, who is criminally underrated and underappreciated, something that is glaringly clear after watching The Matrix Resurrections. From her performance to her outfit to the action she partakes in, Henwick is the definition of badass in this film. But, like Abdul-Mateen II, it’s a shame her role seems to decline in the film’s latter half. Other new additions to the cast are similarly excellent. Jonathan Groff brings a new level of menace and charm to Smith, taking over the role helmed by Hugo Weaving in previous films. Neil Patrick Harris plays The Analyst, Thomas’ therapist who tries to maintain his patient’s sanity (or ignorance).

But, it wouldn’t be The Matrix without Reeves and Moss. Reeves is, as expected, calm, cool, collected, and deeply relatable. Reeves’ real life personality as a genuinely good person continues to seep into his performances and he makes Neo / Thomas extraordinarily easy to empathize with. Reeves is complemented by Moss, who returns to the franchise as Tiffany, unaware of the reality (or fiction) of her life as Trinity. Reeves and Moss have touching chemistry and it’s with their characters’ relationship that the film feels the most emotionally anchored. As much as The Matrix Resurrections is a high octane sci-film, it’s also a touching romance of two people going to incredible lengths to reunite.

Verdict: 7.5/10

After 18 years, The Matrix Resurrections is a return to form for the iconic sci-fi franchise. Lana Wachowski directs and co-writes an intricate, unexpectedly self-aware film that delivers the action and thrills we want from a Matrix film in the context of a deft and intelligent philosophical exploration of themes like choice vs. control, Messianism, and love. With returning and new cast members firing on all cylinders, The Matrix Resurrections particularly triumphs in a refreshing first act and, despite losing momentum in a slower and exposition-heavy second act, concludes in epic and satisfying fashion. The Matrix Resurrections proves to be another win for Wachowski and a very welcomed return to The Matrix.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros.

Categories
Marvel Tesseract

Review and Analysis: Spider-Man: No Way Home

by @HolocronJosh

It’s here, at long last. Audiences can finally watch Spider-Man: No Way Home, arguably the most anticipated film since Avengers: Endgame, and one that has excited moviegoers to levels rarely seen in the last decade or longer. For those who have seen the film, this review is for you. If you haven’t seen it yet, head on over to our spoiler free review!

WARNING: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR SPIDER-MAN: NO WAY HOME

There are two (🕷 🕷) elements of No Way Home that fans will talk about for years to come, and we’ll go deep into those surprises (if they can be called that, given the rampant leaks that plagued the film, but actually ended up creating more hype and excitement for the last installment in the Homecoming trilogy) later on. But for now, let’s start at the beginning.

Peter Parker’s life has been changed forever (or so he thinks). Everyone knows who he is, but not in an Iron Man way, where Tony Stark became even more of a celebrity and an icon. He’s being hunted, criminalized, and brought in for questioning. Things could have gotten much worse if it wasn’t for a certain New York City based lawyer, who happens to have multiple talents…

Enter Charlie Cox’s Daredevil. Long since rumored, and even leaked through an image from the scene around a month ago, finally making his debut in the MCU. It’s unclear if this is the same exact version as the one in the Netflix show, or just the same actor, but fans won’t mind as long as Cox is back. The English actor played Matt Murdock so brilliantly in the three season run that it’s hard to imagine anyone else playing the character now. Kevin Feige, always so good at knowing what the audience wants, understood the love for Cox’s portrayal and integrated him into this movie and the larger MCU. Although it’s only a brief scene, it shows off some of Murdock’s quick reflexes, and teases audiences that more is to come with this character, who is rumored to appear in Disney+ series like Echo and She-Hulk going forward, before getting his own series once again. A great scene, but it says something about the events of No Way Home that early reactions seem to almost forget Cox’s cameo, given what happens in the latter half of the movie.

Before that, though, Peter and his friends’ rejection from MIT is the final straw for Tom Holland’s Spidey. He goes to Doctor Strange to seek help, and the Sorcerer Supreme, who is no longer the actual Sorcerer Supreme (hello, Wong), casts a spell to make everyone forget who Spider-Man really is. Peter’s attempts to make some remember, like MJ and Aunt May and Ned, causes Strange to botch the spell, leading to the arrival of five very dangerous villains. The trailers already show this moment, but an important detail is saved for the actual movie: the villains who arrive on earth all know the identity of Spider-Man, which makes sense given that Strange’s spell was his attempt to make everyone forget Peter Parker’s alter ego. This saves the reason why the villains arrive from being extremely convenient, as the trailers make it out to be, to somewhat plausible.

On a broader note, this is where the film really branches away from most of the Peter Parker identity plot and movies into full blown multiverse madness. The writers clearly tried to link these two plots via the spell (there were more plausible explanations for the multiverse arrivals they could have used, after all), and this makes the film flow a lot more as one continuous stream, rather than a first act that addresses the Far From Home post credits before moving on to a completely different plot entirely. Still, it seems pretty obvious when watching the film that they weren’t exactly planning on a multiverse plot when making Far From Home, and this is backed up by Tom Holland’s recent comments detailing how the script for the new movie changed considerably as they weren’t sure who of the returning cast would return. This makes the spell, which is the link between the identity plot and the multiverse, a little unnatural to say the least. However, the film more than makes up for it as it nails the multiverse angle, particularly with the arrival of two familiar faces (again, more on that later).

After a bridge battle with Doc Ock, who gets transported to Strange’s prison, the mission changes to catching all the multiverse men and bringing them back to the Sanctorum so they can be sent to their own individual worlds once more. The bridge battle itself was impressive, and showed a cool fight between Ock and a new version of Spider-Man. Most of it was shown in the trailers, which was a bit of a shame as it was the only really action that Alfred Molina got to do in this film, but it was still a great moment. Many criticized the marketing campaign for the bridge scenes, not only for the amount they showed from the sequence but also the look of it. Some called it bland and stale, especially color wise, but it does look better in the actual film. The MCU often gets criticized for not prioritizing visuals or cinematography as much as other movies, which is certainly valid in many cases, but No Way Home actually stands up as the best looking of the three MCU Spider-Man films and one of the visually best of the franchise so far. That might not be saying much, but is still an improvement and an achievement.

Peter fights Electro, with Sandman’s help, before they’re both sent to the prison. Then, finally, Norman Osborn comes into it fully. His dark side takes over once more, and Willem Dafoe is able to remind audiences why his portrayal of the iconic villain was so beloved in the first place, especially with two stunningly acted scenes. The first, where Dafoe talks to himself in an alleyway before being turned fully evil once more, is a throwback to Norman on the floor of his apartment in Spider-Man 1, talking to the mask and shaking with fear. The second seed Norman talking to Aunt May, where Peter becomes convinced that this is a good person who’s been transported here. This scene serves as a nice foreshadow to the Goblin killing May, a moment that happens after Peter tries to cure all the villains (more on her death later).

The actual plot of curing the villains is a tad peculiar, but again, the film gets away with it due to their success with returning characters and epic moments. Curing the likes of the Lizard, Doc Ock, and Green Goblin seems fine, especially as all three have some sort of illness or tech (in Ock’s case) that is making them evil. The other two, however, never had that moment that turned them evil. Electro was mad at the world after he fell into a pool of eels, but it’s hard to say that the eels themselves did anything to turn him bad. Same thing for Sandman, as he was already a criminal before he got his powers, and was guilty of being mistrusting of others rather than anything else in this movie, as he only wanted to return home to his daughter. Still, it’s not implausible that Electro and Sandman could use some curing, so they get away with it, just about.

This, of course, goes wrong, and Peter notices this as he senses Norman’s evil. Chaos ensues as Norman lets Electro, Sandman, and Lizard all loose. This is a fight that shows Peter all alone against villains far more powerful than he has ever faced in his own solo movies in the MCU, marking a stark contrast from the likes of Vulture and Mysterio, who didn’t actually possess any powers or abilities. This gets the ball rolling on truly challenging Tom Holland’s Peter in a way he never really has been before, something that some fans were critical of before this film.

This is expanded upon even further when the Green Goblin kills Aunt May. Finally, Spider-Man suffers in a way that he never has before in the MCU. Yes, he lost Tony Stark, but that pales in comparison to Aunt May. Not only did he lose her, but she was killed by a man that Peter trusted and had the power at one time to stop and send back to his own world. This was a moment that was needed for the character in the MCU, as it forces him to evolve into the Spider-Man we all know and love. Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield both suffered considerably, and this is a theme of the character in the comics and overall, and is a big part of what makes Spidey so relatable. So while it was fine that they did something different in the first few films (but arguably overdid it in Far From Home), No Way Home certainly amends any issues people have in that regard and serves as a true transition for the character, starting with the death of May. Beyond that, she was never really too important of a character in this version, and certainly is not as prominent as in the Raimi or Webb films. Her death therefore gives her a true point of uniqueness beyond just being younger than the other live action May’s, and a defining moment and overall purpose that she didn’t really have before. This is furthered by her “with great power comes great responsibility” line right before she dies, and again improves the character and gives her a true arc.

After her death, Peter goes missing for a brief time, hiding from the world after a devastating loss. As Ned and MJ attempt to summon him using Strange’s sling ring, they bring in the two characters that people have talked about continuously for well over a year: Peter Parker and…Peter Parker.

Tobey Maguire and Andrew Garfield. It was fairly obvious they were going to appear, but that doesn’t make it any less amazing to see them both on screen once more. For both, they slipped right back into the roles as if it had only been a few weeks since their last outing, while still accurately portraying that time has passed and that, while they are the same character, they have changed in the years since. Garfield comes out first, fully in costume, the same one from The Amazing Spider-Man 2. His big, glowing white eyes are a dead giveaway of who is on the other end of the portal that Ned opens, and is a great way to introduce him as it truly builds tension. Tobey enters in normal clothes, and is as wholesome as his last shot in Spider-Man 3.

The decision to have Garfield in the suit and Maguire in regular clothes is an interesting one that provides fans with an insight into their individual mindsets. For Garfield, the death of Gwen Stacy led him to drift further into Spider-Man and slowly abandon the Peter Parker side of his life, as he talks about briefly while working on a cure for the villains. Maguire, meanwhile, seems to be semi-retired, or at the very least not quite as active, as he was in Spider-Man 3, hence his plain clothes look. It’s a relatively subtle detail, but one that will still be appreciated by fans.

The interactions between the three Spider-Men that ensue once the multiverse versions come into the film are arguably the highlight of the entire film. It’s a Spidey mega fan’s dream: talks about the different villains they’ve faced, the Avengers (or lack thereof in the Raimi and Webb universes), and even Maguire’s organic web shooters that come right out of his veins. It’s pure fan service and in the absolute best way possible. If they’re going to be in the movie, why not go all out with it? There’s even a subtle reference to the famed Spider-Man pointing meme that originated from the 1960’s cartoon. The three have great chemistry, and based on that alone it would seem plausible and almost natural if they made a whole Spider-Verse film with them three as the co-leads for the entire movie (please, Marvel/Sony).

Maguire and Garfield still absolutely serve a purpose beyond just fan service, though. Not only do they both get their own individual arcs that add to their overall character greatly, but they also help Tom Holland’s Peter grow as a person and as a hero. Maguire turns mentor as he utters the famous words that Uncle Ben said to him, and Aunt May said to the MCU Peter, a role that suits him so well that one can only wish and hope that he continues to return in some capacity to advise this new version of Peter. Garfield, meanwhile, saves MJ from falling in a scene eerily similar to the sequence where he lost Gwen, arguably the defining moment in the two films he starred in prior. This is a great full circle moment that adds to his character on such a deep level and gives some satisfactory of a conclusion for fans who wanted to see Garfield have some sort of redemption for not being able to save her back in the 2014 film.

Maguire’s mentor role in particular is complete when he stops Tom’s Peter from killing Green Goblin in a hand to hand combat sequence that resembles the amazing fight between Spider-Man and Osborn in Sam Raimi’s first film. This comes even more full circle as Maguire is stabbed with the Goblin’s glider (but not killed), a reverse of sorts of Osborn’s death in that movie. The initial fright aside (don’t scare us like that, Marvel!!) this was a great moment that is a culmination of Holland’s suffering in this movie. It was really needed for his character, and now he can turn into more of the Spider-Man we know and love.

Maguire and Garfield say their goodbyes, for now anyway, as it seems very likely that they’ll reappear at some point. Holland saves the world from imminent invasion of villains from other universes, but only by making everyone forget who he is, even MJ and Ned. To them, he no longer exists. He promises the two closest to him that he’ll come find them and make them remember, and goes on his way.

Once again, this presents another challenge for Peter. He goes to greet MJ and reintroduce himself, but decides against it in the moment. He sees that she and Ned are at peace, living simple lives that are very different from the chaos that ensued when Peter’s identity was revealed at the beginning of the film. And once again, this presents Peter with another hardship: needing to walk away from MJ and Ned in order to protect them, just as Maguire’s Spidey did in his first film. Heartbreaking, but exactly what this character needs to evolve.

The film ends with another moment of evolution, Peter moving into his own apartment and tracking police scanners. Completely disconnected from the world, even the Avengers, with no other heroes to help him. No guy in the chair, no support from anyone, just himself. He crafts his own suit, which seems to be a sleeker version of the Stark suit minus the black straps and light lines on the legs and torso. The suit, which was conveniently kept out of focus, probably to avoid showing it too much in case they decide to make changes before the next installment, seems to be Holland’s best out of the many that he’s worn. It’s also uniquely his own, having made it himself with no help or Stark tech at his disposal, marking the start of a true independent Spider-Man.

In a way, this ending, and the movie more broadly, serves as the end of Peter’s origins story in the MCU. From being recruited by Tony Stark, guided by him, dealing with that loss and having to be out on his own, to finally growing into the independent, almost tragic, Spider-Man from the comics and previous live action iterations.

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Film Codex

REVIEW: Nightmare Alley

by @holocronGeorge and @holocronJosh

Acclaimed director Guillermo del Toro follows up his Academy Award winning The Shape of Water with Nightmare Alley, a polished and menacing film that, unfortunately, falls short of greatness. Nightmare Alley is based on the book of the same name by William Lindsay Gresham, which was the basis for the 1947 film Nightmare Alley starring Tyrone Power. del Toro’s adaptation of the psychological thriller follows Stan Carlisle, played by Bradley Cooper, an up-and-coming carny, whose ambitions are as great as the darkness lurking within.

It goes without saying at this point, but Guillermo del Toro is truly a masterful filmmaker. Few directors are able to craft a tale that feels simultaneously, and often paradoxically, so contemporary yet classical. And, on this basis, del Toro succeeds with Nightmare Alley. From the sprawling narrative to intricate production design to heightened performances, the film feels like it’s from the Golden Age of Hollywood.

del Toro, however, also leans into the source material here – Nightmare Alley is a true neo-noir psychological thriller. The film methodologically takes its time; del Toro is never in a rush to propel his audience into the structure of a narrative. It’s with this storytelling (which largely dominates Nightmare Alley’s first half) that the film excels. Especially if one came into this movie having no prior exposure to trailers or source material, it would be very difficult to pin down what it’s actually about. Is this just a tale of a man running away from a dark past? Are there supernatural elements? Our lead character Stan (Cooper) is shrouded in mystery and, with the exception of a single ominous and mysterious flashback, we’re given no background on his character for much of the film. Interestingly, it even takes quite a while into the film until Cooper even utters a line of dialogue (which we’ll get to in a second). All of this culminates in an understated sense of tension for much of Nightmare Alley’s first half. It’s mostly uneventful, but captures your attention nevertheless.

Unfortunately, the pressure valve of tension in Nightmare Alley eventually releases in a rather flat and meandering second half. By the time it becomes clearer what the film is about, it’s hard not lose some interest in the narrative. And even the ‘what’ of the statement ‘what the film is about’ seems to be lacking. del Toro’s excellent directing, the gorgeous cinematography and production design, and solid performances from the entire cast can only carry the film so far. Nightmare Alley is crying out to be something more, but, ultimately, it lacks momentum and substance.

That being said, Nightmare Alley deftly explores a number of intriguing themes and features, perhaps, one of 2021’s best movie endings. The film balances quite a few lofty themes and motifs: alcohol use, the American dream, fractured paternalistic relationships, how we treat others. And, amidst a film that drags throughout, it triumphs in its exploration of these films. Nightmare Alley is a film that will stay with you, largely due to these themes and its excellent, poetic, disturbing ending. This may not be the scariest film del Toro has ever made, but its ending is certainly the most haunting.

Verdict: 6.5/10

Nightmare Alley is a beautifully made, polished exercise in cinematic delayed gratification that, unfortunately, doesn’t quite come together. The performances, production design, cinematography, and overall directing are some of the year’s best. The way in which the narrative unfolds, however, is a different story. Nonetheless, Nightmare Alley intelligently and impressively explores a number of moving themes, and concludes with a poignant ending that will stay with you.

Images courtesy of Fox Searchlight