“STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Review

“STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” (2015) Review

During the fall of 2012, the media and many film fans were stunned by news of filmmaker George Lucas’ sale of his production company, Lucasfilm, to the Walt Disney Company. I was flabbergasted. However, this sale led to Disney’s plans to continue Lucas’ “STAR WARS” movie saga with future releases, television shows, novels and comic stories.

One result of this sale proved to be Disney’s new film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS”. The first of three movies for the franchise’ “Sequel Trilogy”, “THE FORCE AWAKENS” is set some thirty years after the 1983 film, “STAR WARS: EPISODE VI – RETURN OF THE JEDI”. Some time after the Galactic Empire’s major defeat at the Battle of Endor, remnants of this political force formed a new galactic power known as the First Order under the mysterious leadership of Snoke, a Force user. Within less than thirty years, the First Order has managed to take possession of new worlds and become a powerful force within the galaxy. Although appalled by the First Order’s development, the New Republic government decided to do nothing.

Former Rebel Alliance leader, Leia Organa, managed to form a military organization from the rank and file of the New Republic’s armed forces called the Resistance. Believing that the Resistance need more help, Leia recruited a pilot named Commander Poe Dameron to acquire find a segment of a star map that was in the possession of the legendary explorer Lor San Tekka on Jakku. This map would lead to the whereabouts of her brother, Jedi Master Luke Skywalker, who had disappeared into exile following the destruction of a new generation of Jedi under his tutelage. Unfortunately, the village where Tekka lived was captured by a force of First Order stormtroopers under the command of one of Supreme Leader Snoke’s enforcers, a Force user named Kylo Ren. Ren ordered his troops to kill Tekka and the other villagers, while he took Dameron captive. Fortunately, the Resistance pilot had hidden the map inside his astromech droid, BB-8, which managed to escape. Even more fortunately, Dameron was rescued by a stormtrooper designated FN-2187, who wanted to use Dameron to help him defect from the First Order.

Finn and Dameron stole a TIE fighter plane and returned to Jakku to find BB-8. However, the plane crashed. FN-2187 – renamed “Finn” – by the pilot, encountered a desert scavenger named Rey, who had already found BB-8. Realizing that the First Order was after the droid, the pair made their escape from Jakku aboard the old freighter, the Millenium Falcon, and set out to find the Resistance forces. Along the way, Finn and Rey attempted to evade the pursuing Kylo Ren and met the Falcon’s former owner, Han Solo and the latter’s companion Chewbacca; who ended up helping them with their goal.

Many critics and moviegoers hailed “THE FORCE AWAKENS” as a return to what the franchise used to be back in the late 1970s and early 1980s. And not surprisingly, it became the top earning movie released in 2015. Lucasfilm, now headed by producer Kathleen Kennedy (who had worked with Lucas and Steven Spielberg for years), turned to producer-director J.J. Abrams to helm this first film. Screenwriter Michael Arndt was originally hired to write the movie’s script, following Lucas’ treatment. But Lucasfilm and Abrams decided to scrap both him and the treatment. Then Abrams and filmmaker Lawrence Kasdan created their own screenplay . . . one that obviously pleased a lot of people. How do I feel about the movie? Well, like many films, “THE FORCE AWAKENS” has both good and bad qualities. I am going to start what I liked about it.

For me, the stars of “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” are actors John Boyega, who portrayed Finn; and Harrison Ford, who reprised his role as Han Solo. Their performances gave this movie an energy that could not be matched by the rest of cast. In the case of Ford, this movie featured his best performance in the four “STAR WARS” he has appeared in. And of the new cast members for the Sequel Trilogy, I feel that Boyega has quickly emerged as the best of the bunch, thanks to his energetic and humorous portrayal of a very complex character. Actually, Finn reminded me of a younger Han Solo. Perhaps that is why he clicked so well with the veteran actor. Come to think of it, he also managed to click well with the other two new leads – Daisy Ridley and Oscar Isaac. I find it unsurprising that John Boyega managed to win the BAFTA Rising Star Award. My only problem with Finn is that his character sometimes came off as some doofus who seemed to stumble his way through life. Two other performances in “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that really impressed me came from Oscar winner Lupita Nyong’o, who served as the voice and movements behind a new character called Maz Kanata. She should have received an award for her work. And Peter Mayhew, like Ford, was marvelous as always as the aging Wookie, Chewbacca. In a way, I found this miraculous for both Ford and Mayhew, considering that both suffered health issues during the movie’s production. What else did I like about “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Well to my utter surprise, I enjoyed the new astromech droid, BB-8. When I had first saw it in some of the movie’s trailers, I had dismissed it as a second-rate version of R2-D2 and C3-P0. I was very surprised at how quickly I grew fond of the character.

There were other aspects of “THE FORCE AWAKENS” that I enjoyed, as well. If I have to brutally frank, I did not find most of Dan Mindel’s photography that impressive. But there were a few scenes that did impress me. I found Britain’s Lake District, which served as Takodana, very beautiful, thanks to Mindel’s photography. I was also impressed by his photography of United Arab Emirates and New Mexico, which served as the planet of Jakku. Mandel even managed to include an iconic shot, as shown below:

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One last aspect of the movie that impressed me was Maryann Brandon and Mary Jo Markey’s editing. I thought they did a pretty damn good job in the sequence that featured Finn and Rey’s escape from Jakku aboard the stolen Millennium Falcon. But I found their work in the sequence in which the pair, Han Solo and Chewbacca get into conflict with pirates gangs who want to settle a score with Han, while three Rathtar creatures run rampant throughout the Falcon and Han’s other ship . . . to be very impressive. And it lacked the taint of confusion which has hampered many action scenes in the past.

Did I have any problems with “THE FORCE AWAKENS”? Unfortunately, yes. A lot of problems. I read somewhere that Lucasfilm/Disney had originally hired Michael Arndt to write the movie’s screenplay, but in the end, Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. Abrams rejected it. Abrams recruited Lawrence Kasdan, an old Lucasfilm veteran to rewrite the script and the result is what ended on the movie screens. And honestly . . . I was not impressed. Not by a long shot. The main problem I had with “THE FORCE AWAKENS” is that it shared too many plot points and characterizations with the first film in the franchise, 1977’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Hell, Abrams and Kasdan managed to borrow a bit from 1980’s “STAR WARS: EPISODE V – THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK” and the Prequel movies. It is one thing to lift certain aspects of from other works of art and even history – especially in the science-fiction/fantasy genre. It is another to literally borrow from another movie . . . within the same movie franchise. Just to verify my complaint, I had come across an Entertainment Weekly article that listed eighteen similarties between “THE FORCE AWAKENS” and “A NEW HOPE”that included:

*A droid carrying valuable information who finds himself on a desolate desert planet
*A Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed antagonist who arrives on the scene shortly after the information is handed off, looking for the droid
*A lonely, Force-strong desert dweller who dreams of more
*A cruel military officer who holds a comparable level of authority to his Force-sensitive, masked, and darkly clothed colleague
*A massive spherical weapon that’s used to destroy a planet
*A coordinated aerial attack on the massive spherical weapon that’s monitored from a control room by Leia

Six similarities between the two movies strike me as disturbing. Eighteen similarities seem utterly ridiculous to me. Even worse, I managed to come up with four similarities between this movie and “THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK”. The masked enforcer is revealed to be a member of the Skywalker family, the heroes end up on an ice planet, the roguish protagonist is left in dire straits by the end of the movie and the potential Force user meets an aging Jedi master for new lessons. J.J. Abrams, Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney Studios might as well stop protesting and admit that their new blockbuster reeks of unoriginality and plagiarism.

Another problem I had with “THE FORCE AWAKENS” proved to be characterization. I had no problem with the idea of characters from the saga’s previous trilogies making an appearance. I had a problem with the new characters being a rehash of other characters – like our desert future acolyte Rey being a remake of the young Luke Skywalker; the First One enforcer Kylo Ren aka Ben Solo being another Anakin Skywalker; Resistance pilot Poe Dameron being another Leia Organa (but without the caustic wit); former stormtrooper Finn being another Han Solo; Supreme Leader Snoke is another Chancellor/Emperor Palpatine; and General Hux is another Grand Moff Wilhuff Tarkin (without the presence). Actually, this video clip from You Tube/Dorkly.com pretty much said it all. The similarities between the saga’s characters strikes me as another example of the lack of originality in this movie.

But some of the characters proved to be very problematic for the movie’s plot. One of the biggest problems proved to be the character of Rey. As a woman, I found it satisfying that a leading STAR WARS character is not only a Force user, but a young woman. Unfortunately, Abrams and Kasdan took this too far by nearly portraying Rey as a borderline Mary Sue. Well, Lucas nearly transformed Luke Skywalker into a Gary Stu (same thing, male version) – especially in the last half hour of “A NEW HOPE” and the first hour of “RETURN OF THE JEDI”. But with Rey, Abrams and Kasdan took it too far. Using her strong connection to the Force as an excuse, they allowed Rey to become a talented pilot who could rival Han Solo and Anakin Skywalker, easily learn how to utilize the Jedi Mind Trick and defeat an experienced Force user with a lightsaber without any training. Without real any experience or training whatsoever. By the way, that last achievement really rubbed me the wrong way. I mean . . . what the hell? What is she going to do in the franchise’s next movie? Walk on water? Now . . . Daisy Ridley gave a nice performance as Rey. But she failed to knock my socks off. Her performance was not enough for me to overlook the ridiculous level of skills that her character had accomplished.

Equally problematic for me proved to be the Kylo Ren character, who turned out to be Han and Leia’s only son, Ben Solo. According to the movie, he was one of Luke’s padawan learners, before he made the decision to embrace evil, kill of Luke’s other padawans and become an enforcer for the First Order. Why? I have not the foggiest idea. “THE FORCE AWAKENS” made it clear that he seemed to worship his grandfather’s role as a Sith Lord. I can only assume that either the next movie or “EPISODE IX” will reveal the reason behind young Ben’s embrace of evil. I hope so. Because the reasoning presented in this film really sucks. It sucks just as much as Ren’s man child behavior. You know, I could have stomach this behavior if he had been around the same age as his grandfather in the Prequel Trilogy’s second and third movies. But Kylo Ren is pushing thirty in this film. He strikes me as too old to be engaging in childish temper tantrums. I can only assume that contrary to Han’s “He has a bit of Vader in him” comment, Kylo Ren is more a chip off the old block – namely his dad, who had behaved like a man child in the 1977-83 films. And why did Han and Leia name their son after Obi-Wan Kenobi, who used the name “Ben” during his years of exile on Tatooine? Leia never knew him . . . not personally. And Han never really clicked with Obi-Wan on an emotional level. So, why did they name him after the long deceased Jedi Master? As for Adam Driver, he gave a decent performance, but honestly . . . it was not enough for me to be fascinated by his character. It was just . . . decent.

Leia Organa seemed to be a ghost of her former self, thanks to Carrie Fisher. God bless Fisher, she tried. She really did. Abrams and Kasdan even gave her a few witty lines. But . . . Fisher’s performance reminded me of the one she gave in “RETURN OF THE JEDI” . . . lacking in any real fire. And I was disturbed by one scene in which Leia rushed forward to hug Rey, following the latter’s return from the First One’s Starkiller Base. Why did Leia ignore Chewbacca, who must have been torn up over Han’s death? Why did Chewie ignore her? Poe Dameron proved to be a real problem. One, he was not an interesting character to me. Frankly, I found him rather bland. And considering that Oscar Isaac portrayed the character, I found myself feeling very disappointed. A talented actor like him deserved a better role than this. Also, why did Poe leave Jakku and returned to the Resistance’s base? His mission was to acquire information leading to Luke Skywalker’s whereabouts . . . information that he had stored in his BB-8 droid before the First Force appeared at that Jakku village. After Finn had rescued him from Kylo Ren and the First Force warship, Poe insisted that they return to Jakku, so he could find BB-8. What did he do after his and Finn’s TIE fighter crashed on the planet? Poe walked away from the crash, found transport off the planet and returned to his Resistance base. Not once did he bother to finish his mission by searching for BB-8. What the fuck? He went through all that bother to drag Finn back to Jakku and failed to hang around long enough to find BB-8? SLOPPY!! As for Mark Hamill . . . why was he even in this movie? He appeared in the movie’s last scene without speaking one word of dialogue. What a waste of time!

There were other scenes that rubbed me the wrong way. Critics made a big deal over the Nazi-like speech that General Hux gave the First Order troops on the Starkiller Base, swooning over the idea of Nazi metaphors in a “STAR WARS”movie. Big deal. There have been Nazi metaphors in the franchise’s movies since the first movie in 1977. Only Lucas did not resort to a ham fisted speech, similar to the one given by actor Domhnall Gleeson. I also found Leia’s little military conference rather laughable. She did not confer with a handful of military leaders. Instead, she seemed to be conferring with anyone – commanders, pilots, etc. – who seemed to have made their way to her table. It was like watching a STAR WARS version of a town meeting. What the hell? And what was the big deal over the First Order’s search for Luke Skywalker? So what if he was the last Jedi? According to the Lor San Tekka character portrayed by Max von Sydow, there can be no balance in the Force without the Jedi. Really? Since when is the balance of the Force depended on the presence of a religious order that had not been in its prime for over half a century? With Tekka’s comment, Abrams and Kasdan regressed the saga back to the Sunday School morality of “A NEW HOPE”. And could someone please tell me how the lightsaber that Anakin had first constructed following the loss of his first on Geonosis and which Luke had lost during his duel against the former on Bespin, end up in the possession of Maz Kanata on Takodona? How? And why on earth did Abrams and Kasdan thought it necessary to re-introduce it into the saga? Why? It was nothing more than a lightsaber . . . a weapon. There was no need to transform it into some kind of mythologized artifact.

Aside from the colorful photography and editing, I was not that impressed by the movie’s other technical aspects. One, Lucasfilm and Disney allowed both the Resistance and the First Order to use military technology that was last scene in the 1977-83 trilogy. Why? Why did the Resistance and First Order characters wear the uniforms that members of the Rebel Alliance and the Imperial Fleet wore? How cheap is that? And why have the Resistance and the First Order use technology from the same groups? The only new technology I had spotted was the two-seater TIE fighter for the First Order and the lumbering desert vehicle that Rey used on Jakka. Were Kathleen Kennedy and the Disney Studios too cheap to hire someone to create new designs for the military in this film? Or was this another over-the-top attempt to re-create the past of the first trilogy? As for John Williams’ score . . . uh . . . not really impressed. Mind you, I had nothing against it. The score served the movie’s plot rather well. But there was nothing memorable or iconic about it.

I can see why many critics and moviegoers praised “STAR WARS: EPISODE VII – THE FORCE AWAKENS” as a return to the “magic” of the Original Trilogy. The movie not only utilized many technical aspects of that first trilogy, but also characterization and plot. To be brutally honest, I believe that this new movie had more or less plagiarized the first trilogy – especially “STAR WARS: EPISODE IV – A NEW HOPE”. Many might regard this as something to celebrate. I do not. I regard this “celebration” of the first trilogy as an artistic travesty and a sign of the lack of originality that now seemed to plague Hollywood. From an artistic point of view, I do not believe the Force was with this movie.

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“2 GUNS” (2013) Review

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“2 GUNS” (2013) Review

I have been a major fan of both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg for years. But when I first learned that the pair would be starring in one of those “cop buddy” action flicks called “2 GUNS”, I did not greet the news with any real enthusiams. And I had a few reasons for my lack of enthusiasm.

As much as I admired the two, I could not envision the both of them as an effective screen team. I thought they would either cancel each other out or simply lack any real screen chemistry. There have been less and less “cop buddy” movies in the past decade. The genre is not as popular as it used to be during its heyday from the late 1980s to the mid 1990s. Also, the movie was released during the month of August, which the Hollywood studios use as a dumping ground for their second-rate summer fare or for movies they are uncertain of any success. And if I must be brutally honest, the movie’s title – “2 GUNS” – did not particularly ring with any originality or zing. I did the math and concluded that this movie would be, at best, a sample of cinematic mediocrity. But . . . this was a movie with Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg and decided to see it anyway.

“2 GUNS” began in the middle of the story with the two main characters – criminals Robert Trench and Michael Stigman – plotting the robbery of a local Texas bank that holds the money of Mexican drug lord named Papi Greco. The story rewinds back a few days to Trench and Stigman’s meeting with Greco in Mexico, where the latter fails to give Trench the cocaine that he wanted. As it turned out during a stop at the U.S.-Mexico border, Trench is an undercover D.E.A. agent who needs the cocaine as evidence to convict Greco. Trench decides to continue his cover and assist Stigman in robbing Greco’s $3 million dollars from a Texas bank. Unbeknownst to Trench, Stigman is an undercover U.S. Navy Intelligence agent who is ordered by his commanding officer, Harold Quince, to kill Trench and take the $3 million so that the Navy can use it to finance covert operations. Upon robbing the bank, both Trench and Stigman discover that Greco had $43 million dollars in the bank. Even worse, the money actually belongs to a C.I.A. official named Earl, who has been using the money given to him by Greco for C.I.A. black operations. Stigman finds himself in trouble with Quince for failing to kill Trench. And before the latter is framed by Earl for his superior’s murder, he is instructed to get the money back or face prison. Trench and Stigman team up to find the money.

Just as I had expected, “2 GUNS” proved to be a typical “cop buddy” movie that was prevalent during the late 1980s and the early 1990s. However, I was surprised how complex it proved to be. Instead of two police officers already established as partners or being forced to become partners, “2 GUNS” featured two intelligence agents unaware of each other’s profession and mission, and forced to become partners when they find themselves ostracized. I was also surprised to discover that both Washington and Wahlberg managed to produce a first-rate screen chemistry. Not only did they work well together as an action team, but also proved to be quite funny. And thanks to Blake Masters’ screenplay, the movie featured some top-notch action scenes that included the actual bank robbery, Trench and Stigman’s encounter with Quince’s shooters at Trench’s apartment, and an encounter with Grego’s men at the home of Trench’s fellow DEA colleague, Deb Reese. Apparently, Masters and director Baltasar Kormákur saved the best for the last in a blazing shoot-out between the pair, Quince’s shooters, Earl’s killers and Greco’s men at the latter’s ranch in Mexico. Despite my observation that the movie evolved into a complex story, both Masters and Kormákur made it clear for me – aside from one or two scenes.

One of those scenes that confused me centered around Trench’s DEA colleague and former lover, Deb Reese. I understood that she was involved in a scheme to get her hands on Greco’s money with Quince. But after she found herself a hostage by Greco, she immediately gave up on the idea of Trench and Stigman finding the $43 million she had hidden, despite giving Trench a clue to its location. It seemed as if her character seemed to be in some kind of conflict over the issue . . . and an unnecessary one at that. Another scene – or I should say plot line – that confused me concerned Stigman’s position with the U.S. Navy. He managed to infiltrate a naval base in Corpus Christi and informed an Admiral Tulway about the mission, Quince and the missing $43 million dollars. Although Tulway declared Quince a wanted man, he also disavowed Stigman to prevent the scandal from tarnishing the Navy’s reputation, which would have required Stigman’s arrest if he ever set foot on another U.S. Navy base. Did that mean by the end of the money, Stigman remained wanted by the Navy, while he helped Trench take down the C.I.A.’s other bank stashes at the end of the film? Why did screenwriter Blake Masters end Stigman’s career with the Navy on such a tenuous note? And why would Trench even bother to go after the other C.I.A. money stashes? Were they connected to Greco’s drug operations? If so, the screenplay failed to make the issue clear.

The cast gave first-rate performances. This is not surprising, considering the names in the cast. Both Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg were not only excellent as the two leads, but also seemed to be having a lot of fun. Paula Patton made a rather subtle femme fatale as Trench’s double-crossing colleague, Deb Rees. Bill Paxton proved to be a very scary adversary as the malevolent C.I.A. official, “Earl”, trying to get his money back. Edward James Olmos proved to be equally effective as the ruthless, yet soft-spoken drug dealer, Manny Greco. And I was surprised to see James Marsden portray such an unsympathetic role as the ruthless Harold Quince, whose scheming got the two leads in trouble. And he was damn good.

I might as well say it. Aside from a rather complex plot, “2 GUNS” is not exactly a memorable action movie that will rock your world. It is also marred by some vague writing in its second half. It is entertaining, funny and has plenty of exciting action scenes, thanks to director Baltasar Kormákur. But the best thing about this film proved to be its cast led by the dynamic duo of Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg.

“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.06) “9:02”

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“JERICHO” RETROSPECT: (1.06) “9:02”

This sixth episode of “JERICHO” picks up at the same moment where the previous episode, (1.05) “Federal Response”left off. In other words, (1.06) “9:02” started with the citizens of Jericho, Kansas witness the presence of intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs) soaring eastward over the town’s skies, before the time period jumped another two weeks.

Despite this exciting opening, I found myself wondering why the series’ producers and screenwriter Nancy Won used “9:02” as the episode’s title. I realized that it referred to the time in which the ICBMs sent an electromagnetic pulse that disrupted the electronic devices – cellphones, the Internet, television, radios, etc. – throughout the town. But what did it have to do with the episode’s plot overall?

Come to think of it . . . aside from all electronic devices in Jericho not working (save one), what was “9:02” about? There seemed to be at least three subplots at work in this episode. One of them involved the town’s citizens failed attempts to assume some form of normalcy, following the ICBMs’ disruption of Jericho’s electronic devices. Kids have been stealing from Gracie’s Market. And so has a new character named Mitchell Cafferty, who happened to be an old friend from Jake Green’s delinquent past. Cafferty’s thefts have put him in the path of Dale Turner, the young shop assistant who managed to stumble across a supply of food for the store. Cafferty has also been stealing horses from various farms and ranches outside of town. When Jake and his mother Gail visit the Green family ranch to feed their horses, the latter is nearly trampled, when Mitch and a fellow thief are in the middle of a heist. This sends Jake on the warpath to take down his former friend. Robert Hawkins becomes aware of the enmity between Jake and Mitch and decides to investigate the pair’s past relationship.

Meanwhile, Stanley Richmond is approached by I.R.S. auditor Mimi Clark for room and board in exchange for her labor on his ranch. During their conversation, Stanley discovers worms that have infested his corn crop. He tries to acquire pesticide from merchant Gracie Leigh. But she is only willing to give Stanley insecticide in exchange for profit from half of his corn crop. Even worse for Stanley, Mayor Green is willing to help him get the insecticide if he is willing to share his corn with the town’s citizens. In the final subplot, Allison Hawkins discovers that her father Robert possesses the only electronic device that is still working. She also discovers that he has a map of the U.S. locations that were bombed . . . and a gun. When Allison confronts her father, he decides to tell her that he is a government agent who knew about the September attacks. He also decides to teach her how to shoot. Father and daughter eventually begin to grow close.

Many of these subplots proved to be interesting. And all of them proved to have an impact on the characters’ relationships, developments and the series’ main narrative. At first I had a hard time believing that the situation with Stanley Richmond’s corn crop had any future impact. But it did. One, Stanley’s desperation for the insecticide led Mimi to hire a few kids to steal it from Gracie’s Market. This act led to a visit to the Richmond farm by Deputy Bill Koehler, who reveals his aggressive nature for the first time in the series. This storyline also marked the first time both Stanley and Mimi display something other than hostility toward each other. And it exposed Gracie Leigh’s penchant for avarice, which proved to have an impact upon her character’s future development. Gracie and Dale’s encounters with Mitch Cafferty not only played a major role in their characters’ arc, it also revealed Jake’s past with the criminal. And this, in turned revealed how dangerous Jake could be – something that Robert Hawkins found very interesting.

All of these subplots – Jake/Mitch Cafferty conflict, Dale/Mitch Cafferty conflict, Robert and Allison Hawkins’ relationship, and Stanley’s corn crop – end up having some kind of impact upon future story and character developments. The question remains . . . what did the episode’s title, which was an indication of when the ICBMs disrupted the town’s electronic devices, had to do with the plot? The lack of electronic devices seemed to have robbed Jericho’s citizens of a sense of normalcy, leading many of them to behave more irrationally or aggressive. But overall, the impact of no electricity seemed more like a metaphor of the disruption in the lives of the town’s citizens, instead of any real impact on the series’ overall narrative. And this is probably why I found the use of “9:02” as the episode’s title a bit weak.

However, “9:02” did provide some interesting moments in the series. The episode featured two interesting conversations – one between Robert and Allison and another between Stanley and Mimi. Both conversations changed the relationships of all involved. “9:02” also featured an exciting action scene in which Jake and his brother Eric had a violent encounter with Mitch that I found rather suspenseful. Not only did I find myself wondering if Jake and Eric would be able to arrest Mitch. I wondered how Jake would react once they made the arrest. Needless to say, I was not disappointed by how that encounter turned out. But my favorite sequence proved to be the montage in which Jericho’s citizens arrived at the Richmond farm to help Stanley save his corn crop. After Jake greeted Robert in the middle of the cornfield, the following exchange occurred between the Hawkins father/daughter duo:

Allison: [in reference to Jake] Is he a good man or a bad man?

Robert: Baby, there is no such thing.

In that one line, Robert Hawkins said more about humanity’s moral ambiguity than any other person – fictional or real – ever has.

Do not get me wrong. I enjoyed “9:02” a good deal. It was interesting to see how the ICBMs’ impact upon the town’s electronic devices affected the citizens. And the episode featured some very good performances, especially from Skeet Ulrich, Pamela Reed, Lennie James, Erik Knudsen, Jazz Raycole, Brad Beyer and Alicia Coppola. But if I must be honest, I wish that someone on the production staff for “JERICHO” had given this episode a better title. This sounds like a shallow criticism. But if one looked at the episode, the ICBMs’ impact upon the town seemed to have a minor impact upon the episode’s narrative, aside from the Robert and Allison Hawkins’ familial relationship.

“Crossroads of the Force” [PG-13] – Chapter Two

“CROSSROADS OF THE FORCE”

CHAPTER TWO

OUTSKIRTS OF SALIS D’AAR, BAKURA

Inside Padme Amidala Skywalker’s well-decorated study, the holographic image of Bail Organa illuminated from a small holoemitter on her desk. “The conference will be held on Ord Montell. We hope that you will be able to attend.”

“Ord Mantell?” Padme inhaled sharply at the mention of the planet. “That sounds like a military post.”

Bail’s image shrugged. “It used to be during the Clone Wars. Now, it is basically a haven for smugglers and traders. Mon, Garm and I believe it should be safe from Imperial scrutiny.”

Padme continued, “But the reason for this conference . . . why?”

The Alderaanian sighed. “Because we feel that the time has arrived for the Alliance to finally organize. It’s time, Padme. You had even said so, during your last visit to Alderaan.”

Following her flight from Bail’s homeworld ten years ago, Padme and her young family had ended up at the Lars’ moisture farm on Tatooine. Owen and Beru Lars gave the Skywalker-Nabierre family refuge until Bail found a permanent home for the latter on Bakura, three months later. She and the children eventually settled in a three-story villa located in the outskirts of Bakura’s capital, Salis D’Aar. The villa reminded her of the one she and Anakin had visited on Varykino Island, fourteen years ago. Instead of a lake, her present home stood above the banks of the West River.

The Outer Rim planet proved to be a pleasant home for Padme and her family. It was far enough to avoid the Empire’s attention. Although it did not seem as sophisticated as Naboo or Alderaan, it did boast a fine culture that included a national symphony and several beautiful cities – including the capital, Salis D’Aar. Padme only had one complaint about Bakura – the feud between the planet’s upper class and political body that threatened to develop into a civil war. She feared that if it grew any worse, the Empire might intervene. Bakura’s pastoral climate gave Luke and Leia the opportunity to develop into healthy and lively eleven year-olds. And the planet’s isolation gave Padme the opportunity to form contacts with various cells rebelling against the Empire, in neighboring systems.

“Yes, I know Bail,” Padme continued. “But Ord Mantell? Why not the Averam System?”

Bail shook his head. “Not safe enough. It is too close to Coruscant. And the Empire has kept a close eye upon it in recent years.”

Padme sighed. “All right. When do we meet?”

“A week from now,” Bail replied. “At the Hotel Grand in Le Yer.” He hesitated. “If you don’t mind, Padme, I feel it would be best if I escort you to the conference. We can rendezvous . . . somewhere other than Bakura.”

An idea came to Padme. “Why not Tatooine? The children, Madga and the droids can stay with Owen and Beru. Perhaps we can meet in . . . five days?”

Bail nodded. “Sounds like an excellent idea. I will see you in five days.” His holographic image disappeared. Padme switched off her emitter.

The 38 year-old senator rose to her feet and made her way to the villa’s garden. There, she found the twins engaged in some kind of art project. “What is this?” she asked merrily. “A new project?”

“Sort of,” the blond-haired Luke replied. “It’s a present for Madga’s birthday. A holographic statue of one of Alderaan’s famous animals, the Thranta.” It amazed Padme how much her son reminded her of Anakin from twenty-four years ago – the same dark-blond hair, lively blue eyes and engaging manner. Only Luke seemed to have inherited her introverted temper.

Padme smiled at her children. “That’s quite lovely, Luke. I’m sure that Madga would appreciate it.” In fact, Padme suspected that the Alderaanian-born nurse would adore the present. Although Madga had eagerly volunteered to accompany the Skywalkers to Tatooine and Bakura, her first ten months away from Alderaan had been lonely. Madga did not meet any new friends until a week after the Skywalkers’ arrival on Bakura.

“She would appreciate it if Luke only had the right coordinates in the program,” Leia caustically added.

Luke glared at his twin sister. “What do you mean? I’m using the right coordinates.”

Leia shot back, “No, you’re not! If you turn on the holoemitter, you won’t have the image of the Thranta. You’ll just have some animal that doesn’t exist!”

Padme winced inwardly at her daughter’s sharp tone. The eleven year-old Leia almost seemed like a copy of her younger self – same dark hair, large brown eyes, and the same pragmatic and reserved nature. Yet, Leia had also inherited her father’s sharp manner and quick temper. In a deeper way, the young girl could easily be described as her father’s child.

“How would you know?” Luke demanded. “We haven’t finished.”

“Uh . . . children,” Padme said, cautiously interrupting. “I need to . . .” But the twins ignored her and continued their quarrel. Padme decided to utilize more force. “Enough!” she finally cried, drawing stares from the twins. “That’s enough! You two can fight, later. I have something to tell you.” She glanced around the garden. “Where are Madga and the droids? Never mind. I’ll tell them later.”

Leia frowned. “Tell them what?”

Padme took a deep breath. “I will be going away for a few days. It’s regarding an important business matter. Since this is the first time we will be separated, I feel it would be best if I left you two with your Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru on Tatooine.”

Luke whooped with joy. “Great! I’ll get to see Biggs!”

“Oh no!” Leia bewailed. “Mother! Not Tatooine!”

“What’s wrong with Tatooine?” Luke demanded.

Leia rolled her eyes. “Oh come on, Luke! It’s boring. Even you think so.”

“Maybe. But at least I’ll get to see Biggs.” During one of their many trips to Tatooine over the past decade, Luke had managed to befriend the young son of a local landowner named Darkstar. Leia’s closest friend happened to be the late Sheltay Retrac’s only child, an Alderaanian girl named Winter.

The young girl retorted, “Great! And what about me? Winter lives on Alderaan. And I don’t know anyone on Tatooine. Except for Aunt Beru. And she’s . . .” She broke off, as her eyes widened in horror. “I didn’t mean . . .”

Padme sighed. “I understand, Leia. I don’t expect an eleven year-old girl to become close friends with the wife of a moisture farmer. But you must also remember that Luke has never been that comfortable on Alderaan. And I feel that it would best if you two stay on Tatooine. It is farther from . . .”

“. . . the Emperor,” Leia finished. “Yeah, I know.” She sighed. “How long are we going to be there?”

Casting a sympathetic glance at her daughter, Padme answered, “At least four or five days. I’m certain that you will find a way to endure.”

Luke snickered, earning a glare from his sister.

“Well, I best find Madga and the droids,” Padme continued. “And you two can continue your . . . project.” She added pointedly, “Without fighting.” Then Padme turned away and began searching for her servants.

———–

OFFICE OF THE GRAND VIZER, CORUSCANT

“They’re all here.”

The Senate’s Grand Vizer nodded. “Show them in,” he ordered his aide. Of medium height, Sate Pestage was a thin, craggy-faced human with an aquiline nose that has caught the attention of many upon introduction.

Pestage had served as the leader or Grand Vizer of the Imperial Senate upon Senator Mas Amedda’s “mysterious disapperance”, nine years ago. The Nabooan had originally served as Palpatine’s aide from the moment the latter first became involved in politics as a minor functionary on Naboo. He sat behind his imposing desk, while five other senators filed into his office. They quickly occupied the chairs situated in a semi-circle in front of Pestage’s desk. “Good afternoon, everyone,” he greeted quietly.

“Your Excellency,” one of the senators replied. It was Senator Ronet Coorr of Iseno. “What can we do for you?”

Pestage cleared his throat before he continued, “Pardon me for interrupting your plans to depart for your homeworlds, senators. I realize that the Senate is no longer in session, but I have something to ask of you. Naturally, you have heard of the disaster that had befallen Volmtrak? The Accom River flood?” He noticed the vague expressions on the senators’ faces.

“I’m not sure if I’ve ever heard of the Volmtrak System,” Senator Paddie of Semeria declared.

With a patient smile, Pestage explained, “Volmtrak is a moon. Volmtagge’s moon to be exact. And Volmtagge is located in the Velm Sector. Which I believe is where your homeworlds are located, ladies and gentlemen. Or located nearby.”

Zoebeida Dahlma of Maldare heaved an impatient sigh. “Pardon me, Your Excellency, but please get to the point. We all have busy schedules.” The other senators murmured in agreement.

Pestage leaned back into his chair and grunted. “Yes. Well . . . if you must know, the Emperor believes that a committee should be formed to coordinate aid for the Volmtrak disaster.” The Grand Vizer reveled in his visitors’ astounded expressions. Apparently, they seemed surprised that the Emperor would even consider such an act. Fortunately, they did not know about Palpatine’s true object behind this act of mercy. “Is there a problem? You all seem . . . surprised.”

“Pardon our reaction, Your Excellency,” Paddie commented, “but this is the first time I have ever heard of the Emperor organizing relief for a disaster. Is there a reason why Volmtrak is so important to him?”

Mustering every ounce of guile he possessed, Pestage lied. “It is just as you had hinted, Senator. The Emperor has spent the last decade trying to bring order throughout the galaxy – dealing with the last remnants of the Separatist movement and tracking down renegade Jedi. We . . . I mean, the Emperor has been regrettably amiss in dealing with other calamities faced by the galaxy’s citizens. The Emperor believes that it is time for him to face these calamities . . . starting with Volmtrak. He would appreciate it if the five of you would form a committee, visit the disaster area and organize relief for Volmtrak’s citizens.”

“I would be more than happy to accommodate the Emperor’s wishes,” Senator Coorr said. Pestage smiled at the tall and very pale human. Coorr had been a loyal supporter of Palpatine since joining the Senate before the start of the Clone Wars.

Pestage smiled at his eager colleague. “Thank you, Senator Coorr.” He faced the other four senators. “And the rest of you?”

One by one, Paddie and two other senators followed Coorr’s example. Only one abstained – Senator Dahlma of Maldare. “When does the Emperor want us to visit Volmtrak?” she demanded.

Slowly, Pestage turned his head to stare at Maldare’s premier senator. “In two days. Is there a problem?”

“I’m afraid so,” Dahlma replied. “My cousin has recently passed away. And I plan to attend the funeral.”

Typical, Pestage thought. Zoebeida Dahlma had never been a fervent supporter of the Emperor. Her name had even been on that treacherous Petition of 2000 for a brief period around the end of the Clone Wars. Why the Emperor had not driven her from the Senate or eliminate her, Pestage did not know. “I don’t understand,” the Grand Vizer said with a frown. “You would choose to attend some distant relative’s funeral over service for the Emperor?”

Senator Dahlma stiffened slightly. “My cousin and I had been very close,” she coolly retorted. “It would be a disservice to her memory for me to choose politics over a beloved relative.”

Pestage became immediately contrite. “Pardon me, Senator Dahlma. I did not mean to be insensitive.”

“And pardon me for my . . . flash of temper,” the Maldarian senator responded in a gracious tone. “But you must understand that I come from a close knit family. However, I will be more than happy to visit Volmstak upon my return. While I’m home, I might be able to convince the Lalji Corporation to donate aid to the Volmstak victims.”

Senator Paddie commented, “That sounds like an excellent idea.”

But Pestage did not hear the Semerian senator. He felt disturbed by Senator Dahlma’s refusal of the Emperor’s request. But since the Maldarian senator had offered to join the committee at a later time and raise funds, he decided that he could be magnanimous. “I suppose that will do,” he coolly replied. Then he gave Dahlma a wide smile. “Welcome to the Volmstak Relief Committee, Senator!”

Dahlma returned the Nabooan’s smile. While the Grand Vizer continued to discuss the disaster with the five senators, he wondered how the Emperor would respond.

——–

IMPERIAL PALACE, CORUSCANT

“How interesting,” the Emperor Palpatine coolly remarked. “I have never known for Senator Dahlma to ignore offering aid to disaster victims. You say that there has been a death in her family?”

Pestage shifted uncomfortably from one foot to the other. “According to Senator Dahlma, a favorite cousin. They were very close.”

“Really?” Palpatine turned his chair away from the Senate’s leader. His gaze focused upon a Sith artifact situated on a small pedestal, behind his desk. “I do not recall Senator Dahlma being close to any particular member of her family. In fact, I could have sworn that she was estranged from her family, due to a political conflict. So . . . she has refused to serve on the committee?”

After a brief interruption, Pestage replied, “No, she did not, Your Highness. Instead, she has volunteered to visit Volmtak . . . after attending her cousin’s funeral. And she plans to request aid from the Lalji Corporation.”

“How generous of her,” Palpatine murmured. “Well . . . thank you for your report, Pestage.” The Grand Vizer bowed and left the Imperial office.

Palpatine’s gaze returned to the Sith artifact, when another figure entered. “Have a seat, Lord Rasche.”

The Emperor swerved his chair around for the second time to see his apprentice sit down in the chair previously occupied by Sate Pestage. “Master,” the Sith apprentice greeted. “How may I help you?”

“I would like you to arrange for an inquisitor to accompany a group of senators to the Volmtagge System.” Palpatine hesitated. “There are a few . . . objects that I want him to find. I will provide all the information he needs to know.”

Rasche nodded. “Yes, my Master.”

How very polite, Palpatine thought. And very distant. The Sith Lord knew that his young apprentice did not harbor an ounce of regard for him – as it should be. But during their eleven year association, Darth Rasche has yet to make a move to become the new Sith Master. Lack of ambition? Or simply patient? Palpatine immediately dismissed both suggestions. Before becoming his apprentice, Rasche – formerly Romulus Wort – had been an ambitious, yet slightly impatient Jedi Knight. At least, according to Anakin Skywalker.

“By the way, did you overhear my conversation with the Grand Vizer Pestage?”

A slight, bored expression flitted across Rasche’s face. “Yes, I did. Why is the Volmstak flood so important to you?”

Palpatine leaned back into his chair. “There is a cache of Sith artifacts that had been stored on the Vomstak moon. Placed there by Darth Bane over a thousand years ago, when the Jedi were hunting down the Sith after the Great Sith War. I had just learned of their location not long ago. However, the agent who reported the discovery has disappeared. Possibly a victim of the flood. I want to ensure that the artifacts can be saved.” He paused dramatically. “And sent to me.”

Rasche rolled his eyes. “And you had summoned me to your office to discuss sending an inquisitor to recover this cache? Why not just send me?”

There were times when Palpatine wondered why he has put up with Rasche’s insolence. Vader had never been the insolent type, although Palpatine had sensed mild disapproval and dislike from his former apprentice. He never knew if he could trust Tyrannus – despite their thirteen year association. Only Maul had been eager to obey him. Which probably would have made the Zabrak a poor Sith Master.

“No,” the Emperor barked. “I have already created a committee to oversee the flood victims. I want an inquisitor to accompany them and ensure the discovery of that cache. No, I now have something else to discuss with you. I have recently sensed something afoot regarding Senator Dahlma of Maldare. Which is why I had requested that she serve on the Volmstak Relief Committee. She has rejected my request, claiming that she has a family funeral to attend. The funeral of a close cousin.”

Rasche’s dark eyes narrowed dangerously. “And you believe that she is lying?”

“I happen to know that Zoebeida Dahlma has been estranged from her entire family for years,” Palpatine explained. “Ever since her initial support of the Petition of 2000, during the last days of the Clone Wars. Her family has been ardent supporters of my chancellorship and of the Empire. I am curious about this cousin of hers. I would like you to send an inquisitor to investigate. Find out if this cousin of hers exists.”

After a long pause, Rasche asked, “And if this cousin does not exist?”

“Learn what the good senator is really up to. And deal with the matter.” A cruel smile touched Palpatine’s thin lips. “With your usual efficiency.”

Lord Rasche bowed deeply. “Yes, my master.”

END OF CHAPTER TWO

“AGENT CARTER”: Fans and Romance

 

“AGENT CARTER”: FANS AND ROMANCE

When “AGENT CARTER” first aired last year, some fans were speculating on who would become Peggy Carter’s future husband. After all, 2014′s “CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” revealed that by 1953, she was married and had kids. Fans were wondering on whether Daniel Sousa or Jack Thompson would end up as her future husband. But when the character of Dr. Jason Wilkes was introduced as a potential romantic interest for Peggy in Season Two, the reaction among the show’s fandom became WEIRD.

First of all, there were the fans who screamed holy terror, complaining about how the show included a love triangle arc in the first place. They felt this story arc was sexist and an insult to Peggy’s character. I noticed that most of these fans were major supporters of a relationship between Peggy and her New York roommate, Angie Martinelli. I could not help but wonder … if Peggy had been in a love triangle with Angie and another woman, would they be making the same complaints?

I also noticed that many fans reacted to Jason Wilkes in a similar manner as Daniel Sousa. They either dismissed him and pretended that he did not exist. Some tried to focus on any negative traits he might possess – in an effort to indicate that he was unworthy of Agent Carter or a villain. In fact, the Marvel Cinematic Universe Wiki page for Jason had this to say about his relationship with Peggy:

“This ambition extended into his personal life as well by manipulating a way to have a date with Peggy Carter, though she initially refused to go out with him.”

Way to go, MCU Wiki for dismissing Jason’s feelings for Peggy as mere manipulative ambition. But most of the fans became increasingly fervent … almost rabid in their support of a Peggy/Sousa relationship.

Considering that Jason is an African-American character, I found these reactions rather … well, WEIRD. Dare I say racist? Because right now, I am beginning to wonder. I would not have minded a romantic triangle on this show. But the fan reaction to Dr. Jason Wilkes and his role in Peggy Carter’s life in Season Two seemed to have left an ugly taint in my regard for this show and the latter’s fandom.

“REMINGTON STEELE”: Top Five Favorite Season Two (1983-1984) Episodes

Below is a list of my top five favorite episodes from Season Two (1983-1984) of NBC’s “REMINGTON STEELE”. Created by Robert Butler and Michael Gleason, the series starred Stephanie Zimbalist, Pierce Brosnan and Doris Roberts:

“REMINGTON STEELE”: TOP FIVE FAVORITE SEASON TWO (1983-1984) EPISODES

1 - 2.15 Steele Sweet on You

1. (2.15) “Steele Sweet on You” – Laura Holt and Remington Steele get involved with the marital problems of the former’s sister and brother-in-law at a dental convention. where a murderer seeks to eliminate the only evidence left against him. Maryedith Burrell, Michael Durrell and Patrick Collins guest starred.

2 - 2.21 Hounded Steele

2. (2.21) “Hounded Steele” – When the agency’s assistant Mildred Krebs becomes detective for a former thief, whose dog is missing, both become targeted by a murderous former Interpol agent who seeks revenge against the thief for ruining his career. J.D. Cannon and Tom Baker guest starred.

3 - 2.04 Altared Steele

3. (2.04) “Altared Steele” – An amnesiac hires Laura and Steele to learn his identity and why someone is trying to kill him. They eventually learn that one of his wives might be a serial killer. Guest stars included Delta Burke.

4- 2.15 Blood Thicker Than Steele

4. (2.14) “Blood Is Thicker Than Steele” – Laura and Steele must protect the two obnoxious children of a Federal witness during a road trip. Eric Brown and Carolyn Seymour guest starred.

5 - 2.21 Dreams of Steele

5. (2.19) “Dreams of Steele” – The agency’s reputation is at stake when the gems Laura and Steele were guarding, disappears during the transport. Judith Light guest starred.

HM - 2.09 Steel Knuckles and Glass Jaws

Honorable Mention: (2.09) “Steel Knuckles and Glass Jaws” – A boxer hires Laura and Steele to find the missing mother of a baby that proves to be the grandson of a notorious gangster.

Top Ten Favorite TRAVEL DOCUMENTARIES

Below is a list of my favorite television travel documentaries in the past twenty to thirty years:

TOP TEN FAVORITE TRAVEL DOCUMENTARIES

1. “Long Way Down” (2007) – Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman embarked on their second motorcycle journey, traveling from John o’Groats, Scotland to Cape Town, South Africa; via Europe and Africa. This was a follow-up to their 2004 trip across Eurasia and North America.

2. “Michael Palin: Around the World in 80 Days” (1989) – Inspired by Jules Verne’s 1873 novel, comedian-actor Michael Palin embarked upon a journey around the world within 80 days, without the use of air travel during the fall of 1988.

3. “Long Way Round” (2004) Ewan McGregor and Charley Boorman embarked upon their first motorcycle journey in which they traveled from London to New York City, via Eurasia and North America.

4. “David Suchet on the Orient Express” (2010) – As he prepares for an adaptation of Agatha Christie’s famous 1934 novel, actor David Suchet embarks on a journey across Europe on the famed Orient Express train.

5. “Five Takes: Pacific Rim” (2006) – In Season Two of the Travel Channel series, “FIVE TAKES”, five young American “travel journalists” traveled to different countries around the Pacific Rim.

6. “Himalaya with Michael Palin” (2004) – Actor-comedian Michael Palin embarked upon a six-month, 3,000 miles trip throughout the Himalaya mountain range.

7. “Moms on the Road: Africa” (2006) – The BBC America produced this special about eight American mothers who traveled to and explored various countries in Southern Africa.

8. “Sahara with Michael Palin” (2002) – Michael Palin hit the road when he traveled through various countries around the Sahara Desert in Northern and Western Africa.

9. “Jeremy Piven’s Journey of a Lifetime” (2006) – Actor Jeremy Piven embarked upon a journey from Northern to Southern India.

10. “Pacific Journey: Adventures of a Musical Mariner” (1989) – This two-part documentary featured the late composer David Fanshawe’s ten year journey around the southern Pacific Rim, when he documented the music and oral traditions of Polynesia, Micronesia and Melanesia for his incomplete choral work, “Pacific Odyssey”.