Retrospective: 45 Years since ‘Star Wars’ Took us to a Galaxy Far, Far Away By Jesse Striewski

Long before the countless spin-offs, Sci Fi conventions, and overly complex storylines, Star Wars was simply just another rite of passage for an average kid growing up in the ’80s such as myself. Back then, we didn’t see it as the crowning achievement of filmmaking that it has since come to be known as today; we just thought it was really…cool.

I was not around yet when George Lucas’ landmark film was originally released to theaters on May 25, 1977, but I was caught up with a quickness, having an older brother and cousins who were already savvy to the series before I was. Original action figures from the toyline were already firmly in place in my household, and each and every time any of the films were shown on TV, it became an event for everyone.

The original film/space opera, which has retroactively come to be known as Episode IV: A New Hope in many circles, introduced the world to some of pop cultures most iconic figures; Mark Hamill as the everyday hero Luke Skywalker, Carrie Fisher as the lovely Princess Leia, and Harrison Ford as badass smuggler Han Solo. Then of course there were the unforgettable, non-human characters like droid C-3PO (Anthony Daniels), wookie Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew), and the evil Darth Vadar (voiced by James Earl Jones).

Star Wars became the highest grossest film ever at the time, earning over $775 million at the box office, and clinging to that title until E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial eventually surpassed it a few years later in 1982. The film’s success spawned two initial sequels, 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back (largely viewed by many as superior to the original) and 1983’s Return of the Jedi, each equally essential viewing for kids from my era.

Even without anymore films being released throughout the rest of the decade, various action figures and other media sources kept the franchise alive throughout the ’80s; two made-for-TV spin-off films based off the Ewoks were released in 1984 and 1985, respectively, and an animated series based off them, as well as Star Wars: Droids, also kept the material alive from 1985-86.

The original Star Wars trilogy on VHS, courtesy of the author’s collection.

Then of course the late ’90s brought on the remastered versions of the first three films, which found them with newly added footage thanks to George Lucas (I still despise these versions to this day), and the even lesser-received prequel trilogy, beginning with Episode I – The Phantom Menace in 1999 (my least favorite entry of all the Star Wars films, yet ironically the first one of the series I ever saw on the “big screen”), which in turn spawned several animated shows, as well as the theatrically-released The Clone Wars in 2008.

In 2012, Lucas relinquished his ownership and sold the rights to Disney, who revived the franchise with yet another sequel trilogy, starting with 2015’s The Force Awakens. Since then there’s been numerous spin-off films in the form of 2016’s Rogue One and 2018’s Solo, as well as a host of new shows like The Mandalorian, The Book of Boba Fett, and the upcoming Obi-Wan Kenobi.

It’s been forty five years now since one man’s imagination took us to a galaxy far, far away, and while the material that has come since may not be quite on par with the original film and trilogy, I still watch with anticipation each and every time something new comes along in the name of Star Wars. I can’t imagine having had to endure a childhood without something as whimsical, and feel genuine pity for those who have missed out. May the force be with you, always.

Series Review: The Book of Boba Fett (Disney Plus)

By: Jesse Striewski

The direction the Star Wars franchise has been heading into starting with The Mandalorian in 2019, has been nothing short of impressive. The Book of Boba Fett further builds on the foundations set up by the previously mentioned show and expands on it perfectly.

Like The Mandalorian, the events of Boba Fett take place directly after 1983’s Return of the Jedi, even going so far as to show how the title character (once again portrayed by Temuera Morrison) emerged from his seemingly original doom from the sar lac in Jedi. Eventually with the help of assassin Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), Fett rises to a position of power in the place of the notorious Jabba the Hutt.

There’s plenty of side stories, and characters new and old that fans of the original series should appreciate, including Luke Skywalker himself (Mark Hamil and Graham Hamilton), and yes, even Grogu, a.k.a. baby Yoda. I was exceptionally elated to see appearances by former Suicidal Tendencies bassist Stephen “Thundercat” Brunner (whom I had the pleasure of personally meeting back in 2010), and Jennifer Beals, who still looks as good as she did when she first threw on those leg warmers for Flashdance back in the early ’80s.

Look, I’ve never been one of those unforgiving nerds with high expectations with each and every franchise they follow religiously (in fact, Star Wars has always been one of the few of its kind I even bother following at all). But for the most part, I think what Disney has been producing here lately has put the franchise back on the right track, and you can’t really ask for much more than that.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

Series Review: Creepshow Season 3 (Warner Bros./Shudder)

By: Shawn McKee

In 1982, horror legends George A. Romero and Stephen King collaborated on the seminal comic horror anthology film, Creepshow. This masterpiece of macabre was Pittsburgh native Romero’s first and most successful foray into studio filmmaking. Warner Bros released his horror classic to respectable financial and critical success. It remains, in my opinion, a resounding display of Romero’s sheer talent as a director and visual artist. And for the record, everything here is just my opinion, especially when discussing the new TV series.

I was both excited and skeptical when horror streaming service Shudder premiered their Creepshow series in September 2019. It appeared to have the right elements, having two names heavily associated with the genre. This included John Harrison, composer of the original film and director of Tales from the Darkside: The Movie (1990), and Greg Nicotero. Nicotero is the incredibly prolific special effects protégé of Tom Savini, and best known for his work on The Walking Dead. Chances are, if you’ve seen a movie made in the past thirty years, Nicotero worked on it.

His career in groundbreaking effects began with Day of the Dead (1985), my personal favorite Romero zombie apocalypse entry. He then worked on Creepshow 2 (1987), Evil Dead II (1987), and Misery (1990), where you can thank him for the “hobbling” sledgehammer scene. He’s done effects for Quentin Tarantino, John Carpenter, Martin Scorsese, Wes Craven, and scores of other major directors. He co-founded the special effects studio KNB EFX Group, which raised the bar with their work on The Walking Dead, creating unbridled gore unlike anything ever seen on television. Nicotero and Harrison both wrote and directed a handful of Creepshow episodes throughout its current three season run. As executive producer, the show seems to be mainly in Nicotero’s hands, in addition to his Walking Dead duties. This isn’t a man who slows down.

The third season has its share of hits and misses like any anthology show. It even recalls the uneven but sometimes rewarding Masters of Horror series from Showtime, which gave us hour-long segments from John Carpenter, Joe Dante, Stuart Gordon, Tobe Hooper, Dario Argento, and John Landis, among others. My first rule in providing analysis of these recent horror outings is to first appreciate that they’re there. The fact that there’s a Creepshow series that earnestly tries to emulate the look and feel of the movie and old horror comics that inspired it is a win for me. I’m happy enough that a major network like AMC chose to invest the talent and resources into this show via Shudder. Such acknowledgments aside, how does the third season measure up? It’s quite like the previous seasons; some good, some bad, and an overall worthy endeavor for any fan of the genre.

For starters, the show has an excellent opening and theme song. I also applaud their decision to maintain “The Creep’s” non-verbal cues. The now enhanced, hooded floating skeleton chuckles between segments, much like the original film. The music throughout the series remains rooted in John Harrison’s original style, which is also a plus. The comic to film transitions can be subtle, heavy-handed, and weak at times, but they try. The poorer episodes generally fail because of lackluster acting and writing. Nothing about the series looks cheap, however, and it’s clear that there’s a budget behind this. Unfortunately, certain episodes sometimes resort to appalling CGI effects that nearly sink the production. The third season’s six episode run felt like a mixed bag, but I watched each time, hoping for it to get better.

The season premiered with the “Mums,” a story that tries to emulate the simple revenge/comeuppance troupe of Creepshow lore. A kid’s mother is murdered by her backwoods beer-guzzling militia caricature of a husband for being too “free-spirited.” Buried in the ground, the mother returns as a killer plant and exacts her revenge. There was nothing else to this hokey melodrama, and it started out the season on all the wrong notes. In “Queen Bee,” a trio of teens venture to a spooky, dimly lit, off-limits hospital to spy on a pop singing superstar who’s about to give birth. There’s some great atmosphere and nice effects in an otherwise unremarkable outing.

The second episode features “Skeletons in the Closet,” directed by Greg Nicotero. This one involves a film buff couple who run their own movie museum, displaying old horror movie props and collectors’ items. I can see why Nicotero would be attracted to this story, and it speaks to the fandom in us all. But like many episodes, it meanders and ultimately doesn’t go anywhere satisfying. “Familiar” involves an aspiring lawyer who realizes that a demon is following him after a drunken visit to a fortune teller one night. This borrows from and pays homage to “The Crate” segment from Creepshow to mixed results. The acting is hard to get past in this one.

“The Last Tsuburaya” features an obnoxious trust fund millionaire who collects expensive art for his own amusement. With a character so rotten, I was surprised to find much better acting than usual. Brandon Quinn delivers quite well in an episode with astounding practical effects, involving an immortal demon who exists in one of the priceless paintings acquired by Quinn. The following segment, “Okay, I’ll Bite,” was directed by John Harrison, paying homage to Creepshow’s cockroach segment, “They’re Creeping Up on You!” but with spiders. It involves a sympathetic convict’s struggles in prison, amid his pet spiders. There’s a lot of meandering again to an unsatisfying conclusion in one of the most forgettable episodes of the season.

Our fourth episode begins with “Stranger Sings,” about a gynecologist lured into the home of a deadly siren who wants him to remove her vocal cords and transplant them into her friend. Great practical effects mired by an incredibly unappealing story and weak acting. The ambitious “Meter Reader” follows, displaying an apocalyptic hellscape in the not-to-distant-future. There’s a lot to like about this segment, involving a deadly plague and eerie social commentary. The only misfire was the obnoxious lead character “strong woman” prototype.

“Time Out” is a Twilight Zone-type tale about a magic armoire that pauses time. Passed down through generations, the armoire winds up with an eager law school grad who soon uses it to his advantage. This episode ranks as one of the series’ most imaginative ideas, and the execution isn’t bad. A gory animated segment follows with “The Things in Oakwood’s Past,” co-written and directed by Nicotero. The voice acting is top notch, featuring Mark Hamil and scream-queen Danille Harris. Overall, an inventive and enthralling outing with strange animation that makes you want to see it in live action.

The finale episode is the strongest of the entire season. “Drug Traffic” is an absolute horror show, featuring a monstrous girl apprehended at the U.S./Canadian border, followed by “A Dead Girl Named Sue.” This final back-and-white segment exists in the Night of the Living Dead universe from the original movie, and it’s pure magic. Nicotero directed the first episode, and Harrison directed the second. Both show the full potential of greatness of the Creepshow series when it’s firing on all cylinders. With all its hits and misses, I regularly enjoy watching the show each week. I hope they keep it going for years to come.

Series Review: Masters of the Universe: Revelation (Netflix)

By: Jesse Striewski

The latest Kevin Smith-created Masters of the Universe incarnation, Revelation, picks up right after the Filmation cartoon series ended in the mid-’80s. Yet many fans have already been critical of its strong use of secondary characters – mainly female – largely taking the place of He-Man/Prince Adam (voiced by Chris Wood) and Skeletor (Mark Hamill), who are seemingly killed off here in the very first episode, much like Optimus Prime had been in Transformers: The Movie back in 1986.

As someone who hasn’t personally kept up much on the franchise since I was indeed a kid in the ’80s (and not concerned by all things “canon”), I actually found Smith’s vision exciting and fresh. With so many endless attempts by Hollywood in recent memory to bring back beloved shows and movies based purely on nostalgia, the results are usually varying, and far too often disappointing. Yet I was fully invested in the first episode of Revelation, struggling not to keep watching the entire five-episode series in just one sitting when I had other things to get to.

Although the story lines are a bit easy to get lost in at times, the animation is nearly flawless, and the stellar voice cast – which also includes Liam Cunningham, Sarah Michelle Gellar, Henry Rollins, Stephen Root, Alicia Silverstone, Tony Todd, Justin Long, Lena Headey, Diedrich Bader, and long-time Smith collaborator Jason Mewes (among many more) – is top notch. Seeing characters like Beast Man, Trap Jaw, Stinkor, Tri-Klops, and Mer-Man battling on the small screen again brought back a rush of memories and emotions for me.

Overall, Revelation is a more mature version to the original series, more dramatic and violent, and with much less Scooby-Doo-like qualities, but still with the occasional silly moment thrown in for good measure. In short, Revelation is almost everything I’ve waited for for far too long now; a guilty pleasure from my childhood brought back, but with very little actual guilt attached.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars