Friday, May 4, 2018

5 Things I Actually LIKE About Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

     People LOVE to slam the Star Wars prequels! It’s practically its own genre of web content! We’re talking a plethora of long-form, well-constructed essays delving into every facet of what makes these three specific movies so… not good. Go ahead and look it up. There are articles, videos, podcasts. If you’re trying to put your finger on what it is about these films from a galaxy, far, far away that you just can’t stand, then there is more than enough material out there to tell you what to think.

     I, like so many, am not a fan of these films either. I also, like these same so many, have watched them several more times than films I actually enjoy! I don’t know why exactly… but I definitely have.

     But rather than add to the already massive pile of negative reviews out there, I thought I’d challenge myself and spend the next few posts racking my brain to come up with something positive to say about the Star Wars prequels. So here we go! Without further ado, here are 5 things I actually like about Star Wars: Episode I - The Phantom Menace!

Yep. It’s a numbered list. That’s also a genre.

#1. The bit with the lightsabers in the smoke
     I don’t think there’s anything more “Star Wars” than lightsabers! Seriously, the idea to put a handle on a laser beam goes right up there with putting potato chips ON a sandwich! It’s brilliant! Since The Phantom Menace is supposed to be the first installment in the Star Wars saga, this is canonically the first time we see this elegant weapon, so it deserves an intro with some oomph!

     When Qui-Gon and Obi-Wan hear their ship exploding, they freak out and prematurely ignite their weapons, only to be left standing there awkwardly in an empty conference room. While this is technically the first time we see a lightsaber, I choose to ignore it in exchange for a moment with some more of the aforementioned oomph.

     Seconds later, after flooding the conference room with deadly gas, the battle droids open the door to… fire lasers at the Jedi’s lifeless corpses? I’m not really sure what their intentions were, but before they even get a chance to carry them out, we see the glorious blue and green beams light up and the two Jedi blast through the smoke, hacking every dumb droid in their path. The original trilogy planted the seeds in our imagination of these daring space knights dispensing justice, and after years of waiting, we actually get to see these thoughts come to fruition! It was like Christmas!  

#2. Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor
     I’m not really sure who the central protagonist of The Phantom Menace is supposed to be, but the two characters who really anchor the whole thing, for me, are Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. My reason for thinking this has everything to do with the performances of Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor respectively. No stranger to film epics, Mr. Neeson delivers the expositional nonsense in a way that sounds 100% natural. As for Mr. McGregor, filling the shoes of the great Sir Alec Guiness is definitely no small feat, especially for a fairly newcomer, but he does a superb job!

     The original Star Wars trilogy filled our heads with this concept of an era of civilized knights fighting to keep peace in the galaxy and, in my opinion, these two actors are the perfect choices to bring this concept to life. I only wish we were able to see more of Mr. Neeson in the other two prequel films.

Oh yeah. Spoiler alert. Qui-Gon dies.

#3. Podracers!
     The podrace sequence is a HUGE part of The Phantom Menace that, as far as I can tell, advances the plot in no real way whatsoever! Nevertheless, it’s bonkos fun to watch! What I like most about this scene are the podracers themselves. The filmmakers could have easily made racecar versions of a landspeeder or speeder bike, and it would have been just fine, but instead they designed something new! What we got are these Star Wars-ified chariots that, like the TIE fighter, are unique and instantly recognizable!

     With all of the new Star Wars movies in the works, I hope that Lucasfilm gets over this seemly fear of all things prequel and give us some more podracers in the future. I, for one, would much prefer them over those giant llama goats from The Last Jedi!

#4. Throwdown with Darth Maul
     With the original trilogy, the lightsaber fights were always underlined with some form of emotional subtext. With the prequels…. well, not so much. I suppose if you tried hard and referenced some expanded universe novel, you could find some level of depth in there but, for the most part, they’re just a REALLY good amusement park stunt show. Nevertheless, I love the crap out of the lightsaber fight between Qui-Gon, Obi-Wan, and Darth Maul and NEVER get tired of watching it!

     Sure. I could talk about how cool-looking Darth Maul is. He has a double-bladed lightsaber, blah blah blah. NO! What I love about this fight is the location! WHERE ARE THEY?!? The scene starts at the royal palace in what’s a fairly practical looking hangar bay, but then they turn the corner and BAM! They’ve stepped into some sort of synth-pop album cover! There are thin walkways weaving around GIANT columns of purple energy, all leading to several red force field doors, that are constantly opening and closing, guarding a fairly small room that, at its center, is a bottomless pit! Again, I ask… WHERE ARE THEY?!? What is the purpose of this place?!?

     I probably sound like I’m slamming it a little bit, and maybe I am, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t enjoy every minute of this fantastical laser show! This whole bit is a reminder, for me at least, that there doesn’t have to be constant logic in a movie for it to be good. Who care’s what the giant purple columns do? I don’t WANT to know! Let’s just enjoy the ride!

#5. Jar.. Jar… Binks
     If I haven’t already, this is probably where I’ll lose most of you. I actually LIKE Jar Jar… or rather, I like the idea of Jar Jar. As great as BB-8 is, (and he’s really great) he’s still just a slightly more adorable version of R2-D2. As a result, Artoo’s role is significantly reduced because the same character can’t really play well opposite… himself! Jar Jar is like David Pumpkins… he’s his OWN THANG! Lucas and friends took a risk and created a brand new character to fill the very important role of the comedy relief. Where they went wrong, I think, is that they underestimated just how difficult good comedy is! Trust me, I know! I just referenced David Pumpkins in my Star Wars post! I trying REALLY HARD to get a laugh!

     Jar Jar is annoying. He sniffs farts and takes pratfalls that make Steve Urkell look like Steve Martin, but he has potential! In the next two installments, his character is scaled back to practically nonexistent. At first, this seems like an improvement, but how much better would the prequel trilogy have been if rather than shy away from Mr. Binks, the filmmakers owned up to their original vision and put a stronger effort into evolving him into a character with some strong comedic chops? Maybe I’m the only one with this opinion, but meesa thinka that’s a pretty okee idea!

     The Phantom Menace is not a good movie. Not even a little. But out of all the Star Wars prequels, it’s actually my favorite, which means providing this positive take on it was the easiest. In my next Film Club installment, I’ll be coming up with things I like about my LEAST favorite film of the trilogy, Attack of the Clones. It's gonna be both passive AND aggressive!

Get excited!

Size Matters Not!

     Not long ago, I rolled out these little guys that I'm calling Smidgeons. They're basically tiny people that live in our seemingly gigantic world... but it's definitely NOT like The Littles or The Borrowers! Not even a little bit! 

Are you rolling your eyes?! It's not!! They're a completely different thing!

     Anyways, it's May the 4th! And since Star Wars Day is an actual thing now, I'm rolling out another one that's loosely inspired by that galaxy far, far away.

I mean... who really knows what The Littles are, anyways?

Friday, April 13, 2018

Defender of Color Coordination

     I've been watching a lot of the new Voltron on Netflix lately and, while I enjoy it, there's one little thing that gnaws at the very nerd fiber of my being! The team undergoes a slight change in roster and ends up playing a game of musical chairs with their lions. This is all well and good but what bugs me is that even though some members of the team get new lions, their uniform colors still coordinate with their old lions! You've got the Black Paladin wearing red, the Red Paladin wearing blue, and the Blue Paladin wearing... PINK?! What is that?!

     I realize that, realistically, the paladins would be too busy fighting the bad guys to tailor new costumes for themselves, but we're not talking about reality here! We're talking about a cartoon where giant robot lions fly around in outer space!

     No! I'm doing something about this! I, hereby, officially summon the POWER OF PHOTOSHOP! ROOOOAAAAAAAAaaaaaaarrrrrr.....

That roar was my photoshop skills.

My skills can roar.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Yabba Dabba Dudes

     There are plenty of things in pop culture that I claim to love, yet NEVER have anything to do with any more. The Flintstones fall into that group. I can't say why exactly. I enjoy partaking in a good Honeymooners ripoff as much as anybody, and yet, I can't remember the last time I actually watched a Flintstones episode.

     When I started typing this, I thought I had more of a point to make... but I guess not. I wonder what caused the extinction of the dinosaurs in the Flintstone-verse. I'm guessing it was some sort of labor dispute that went horribly wrong.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Prisoner of Azkaban - Ron Weasley

Always fun to draw, here's Ron Weasley, looking at his best buddy's tea leaves.

That sounds weird.

Saturday, March 17, 2018

Randomz O' The Green

Just some random green characters in honor of St. Patrick's Day.
Sir Isaac Lime from Otter Pops
The Incredible Hulk from Marvel Comics
Elphaba Thropp from Wicked
Fry Kid from McDonald's
Vernita Green from Kill Bill

Friday, March 2, 2018

March of the Penguin Suits 2018

     I've done the March of the Penguin Suits a few times before where I'll post a different Penguin Suit each day in the month of March. Well... that's not the case this time.

     I've decided to give the little guys' look a slight tweak. Therefore, this smaller scale March of the Penguin Suits post is just to inaugurate what I've done. I'm calling it Penguin Suits version 3-point-Who Gives a Flip!

     And, just for laughs, each penguin is cosplaying as another "famous" penguin. 100 Give-a-Flip points to whoever can name them all! I'm not messing around here, folks! Get to guessing!

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Prisoner of Azkaban - Harry Potter

     It's been far too long since I've drawn anything Harry Potter. Here's the Wiz Kid, himself solemnly swearing his up-to-no-gooodness!

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

Happy VILLAINtines Day!

     Here's yet another take on the Teddy Ruxpin characters for my make-believe fan reboot of the series. Specifically, wannabe bad guys Tweeg and L.B.

     Someone once asked who I would cast as the voices for this reboot that I've concocted. Thinking about that sort of thing is always fun for me, so here's who I've come up with for these two.

Jack W. Tweeg - Corey Burton (Chip 'n Dale Rescue Rangers, Adventures of the Gummi Bears)

L.B. - John DiMaggio (Futurama, Batman: The Brave and the Bold)

     Of course there's nothing saying that these choices are right and other choices would be wrong... well... except for me. I'm saying that.

These choices are right.

Wednesday, January 31, 2018

Meet The Smidgeons!

     On a couple of past occasions, I've toyed with this idea of placing tiny cartoon characters in a real environment. They used to be robots, but I guess I grew a little bored with that part of the idea so I decided to start over with the whole thing.

     I had talked about how difficult it was for me to come up with a name for these guys. I asked my wife for input and she instantly came up with "smidgeons." What can I say? She's the best. I also thought it'd be fun to imagine them as a series of children's books, and in doing so... also imagine that I was actually successful! Fun, right?

Enjoy the Smidgeons!

Friday, January 26, 2018

The Silly Nate Film Club - The Last Jedi

     Is it too late for me to talk about Star Wars? Is everyone pretty much over it by now? That’s ridiculous. The answer to both of those questions will always be a hard, “NO.”

     So here’s the thing… I’m not usually one for firm absolutes. I’ll often say something like, “I don’t like collard greens” and then I’ll later reconsider my whole outlook and be like, “Have you tried the collard greens? They’re totes yum, yo!” Some may call it being wishy-washy. I like to think that I’m just really good at embracing change… I like to think that, at least. After all, only a Sith deals in absolutes! Of course when you say, “ONLY a Sith” that statement, itself, becomes an absolute, so…….. wow…. That was a bad movie. Where was I going with all of this?! Oh yeah.

     One thing that I’ve been changing my mind about quite regularly, as of late, is the latest installment in the saga from that galaxy far, far away. I’m speaking, of course, of Star Wars: The Last Jedi. Like collard greens, sometimes I like it… sometimes I don’t. UNLIKE collard greens, I’m willing to type a long blog post over it going into extensive detail on my exact feelings.

     I went into this movie with A TON of expectations. Everyone did! The Force Awakens was a barrage of setups, and we spent two years speculating over how all of our questions were going to be answered! We’re talking millions on top of MILLIONS of people each forming their own individual expectations for what they thought/wanted The Last Jedi to be! It isn’t hard to see how “dangerous” this is… is it?

     The movie begins and in no time, we’re back there on that mountain top watching Rey hand Luke Skywalker his father’s lightsaber. What’s he going to say? What could he say to satisfy the said millions? I feel like it would be similar to watching a sequel to Christopher Nolan’s Inception and having a filmmaker tell us whether or not Leo’s top keeps spinning. We each have our own ideas on if it does or doesn’t and ANY answer, one way or the other, would ruin the original ending. The same is the case here. The Force Awakens ends on such a magnificent beat that following up with any one specific answer would only deflate the moment. So what happens? Luke chucks the thing over his shoulder. THROW AWAY your expectations, kids! As he says much later on in the film, “This is not going to go the way you think!”

     And why should it? Why do we have to know what happens BEFORE it happens? Isn’t it considered a good thing for a movie plot to be unpredictable? While I would answer “yes,” I’ll admit that, on opening night, I was one of those people who was disappointed that things DIDN’T go the way I thought. What has Luke been doing? Moping. Who is this Snoke guy? It doesn’t matter. Who are Rey’s parents? They’re nobody. These are not the answers I originally wanted and coping with the devastating fact that I am a fan who was flat out WRONG has been quite the rollercoaster! In the film’s behind-the-scenes featurette, Daisy Ridley says that what director Rian Johnson has done with The Last Jedi is “unexpected, but right.” And after getting over myself a little bit, I see that that’s exactly the case.

     Let’s start with Snoke. I could, and have, spent hours coming up with my own head-canon on what this guy’s story is. Was he a maybe friend of Luke’s? What happened to his face? He seems old, so he was probably around during the time of the Empire. Where was he? What happened to his face?!? I was a little frustrated with not having any of these questions answered, but then I thought about C-3PO and the red arm he had in The Force Awakens. There could have been 15 seconds or so where Threepio explains what happened to his old arm, but it would’ve been a waste of time! Who cares?! It had nothing to do with the actual plot of the movie and wouldn’t have affected the characters in any way whatsoever! The same is the case with Snoke. Like Threepio’s arm, I’m sure Snoke’s backstory will make a mildly entertaining graphic novel or something, but for the sake of The Last Jedi, it doesn’t matter. The characters that may already know it, don’t need to hear it again and the characters that don’t know it… don’t care.

Oooh! What if the story of Threepio’s arm and Snoke’s backstory are one in the same?!

     When you get down to it, the only thing The Last Jedi needs Snoke to be is a catalyst for Kylo Ren. Here’s a guy who doesn’t just want to be the next Darth Vader. He wants to be even “better” than Darth Vader and to do that, he more or less needs an Emperor Palpatine. He needs an evil master to guide him down that particular path. In The Lord of the Rings, Gandalf gets the characters to a certain point in the story and is then removed to allow them to develop even more on their own. It’s the same with Snoke and Kylo. Masters are what their pupils grow beyond? Well Kylo Ren, albeit violently, does just that.

     Now on to a more sensitive topic. Let’s talk about Luke Skywalker! After my initial viewing, I would have summed up Luke’s “arc” like this: He drinks the breastmilk of a giant Zoidberg thing, whines a lot, projects a fake image of himself that looks like Billy Mays, then dies. Needless to say, I was somewhat hurt. It’s been more than 30 years since we’ve seen this guy, and when we finally get to see him back in action, what’s he doing? That!! Milking a Zoidberg!!

Two words: Pee. Yousa. 
     I had this guy built up into another John McClane! I wanted him to look at that lightsaber Rey was handing him and be like, “Keep it! I’ve already got one!” Then he lights up his green one and the two take off to save the day! I wanted a Luke that not only gets to fly the Millennium Falcon, but is awesome at it! I wanted a Luke that could use the Force to crush a whole squadron of AT-AT’s! I wanted a Luke that would go lightsaber-to-lightsaber with Kylo Ren and give that little punk the metaphorical spanking he deserved! I EXPECTED these things to happen, and I basically got the opposite.

     Aaaaaaand then I came around to another way of thinking. The Force Awakens faced the daunting task of creating a Star Wars villain that would trump Darth Vader. Rather than attempt this impossible feat, they instead worked the difficulty into the story and gave us a villain who’s jaded by the fact that he can’t trump Darth Vader! I would argue that The Last Jedi does a similar thing with this whole Luke business. There was someone else, besides myself and millions of others, who expected ridiculously great things from the legendary Jedi… and that’s the character Rey.

     When the film starts, Rey is in our same shoes. She’s heard the stories of this hero and, even though she’s probably never seen Die Hard, also wants him to be this John McClane type character that swoops in and basically does all the things I listed above, thus saving the galaxy from evil. What we’ve done, Rey included, is place Luke up on this pedestal and when you place someone on a pedestal, even if they’re a fictional character, you’re only setting them up to disappoint you.

     Luke Skywalker was never this Superman that we, for whatever reason, wanted him to be. He helps redeem his father in Return of the Jedi, yes, but when it comes to stopping the bad guys and saving the galaxy, he receives more credit than he deserves. Its Anakin Skywalker who ultimately saves the day and Luke is the one who’s left behind to get all of the glory. It stands to reason with this glory would also come a heavy burden. It’s up to him to maintain this peace that exists, and when he senses this new evil growing in his nephew, he does what he’s always done whether right or wrong. He acts on instinct.

     The Last Jedi shows us Luke finally reevaluating this whole problem solving approach. He charged in without thinking, and in doing so, lost the son of the two people who mattered to him most. Now he’s going to do the opposite of what he did on Dagobah when he rushed off to save his friends, he’s staying put. He's removing himself from the equation. All great characters have depth and Luke is no exception. The Last Jedi adds to that depth, but with depth, comes some pretty serious flaws. UNEXPECTED… but RIGHT!

     Now back to Rey! After all, this isn’t Luke’s story anymore. It’s hers. For Rey to continue to be the active protagonist that she is, she needs to be able to stand on her own two feet. If Luke turned out to be the legend she believed he was, there wouldn’t have been anything left for her to do. She would’ve just been there in the background! What happened with Luke wasn’t what she wanted, nor was it what we wanted, but it’s what needed to happen to make Rey step up to the foreground and take charge of the situation as the new hero of Star Wars! It’s the same with Finn, Poe, and Kylo Ren. If these are going to continue to be great characters, they can’t just be along for the ride. They have to make mistakes, learn their lesson, then grow the heck up! Luke’s not going to hold Rey’s hand and solve all of her problems. Neither are her parents. She can cry about this, or she can straight up jack those dirty old books and do like she’s always done – figure things out for herself!

     So yeah… I’ve flip-flopped quite a bit on Episode 8. If I had to pick a favorite scene, it would probably be the one where the sage master Yoda returns to pass on a few more words of wisdom to his former pupil. He tells Luke that failure is the best teacher. This is a lesson that pretty much every character in the film has to learn, and it’s a hard one, both for them as well as for myself as a fan. Now I don’t mean to be saying that if you didn’t like The Last Jedi, then you fail as a fan. When it’s all said and done, this is just a movie, and it’s perfectly fine to not like a movie. I think it’s important, however, to base one’s opinion of a film on what said film actually is, and not on how it compares to one’s specific expectations. This is the lesson that I learned from The Last Jedi and having learned it, I’m prepared to enjoy Episode 9 for everything it offers.

…Just so long as it has Lando.

They put Poe on the same side as the bad guys because he basically kills most of his friends.