Retrospective: 40 Years Since ‘E.T.’ Phoned Home By Jesse Striewski

Long before Stranger Things, are imaginations were captured by a man named Steven Spielberg, and a loveable little guy known simply as “E.T.” The film became an immediate hit, and a staple for every ’80s kid such as myself (what kid back then didn’t want to be able to fly on their bikes with their friends, and after dark at that?!).

Originally released on June 11, 1982 (after premiering at Cannes on May 26), E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial follows the story of Elliot (Henry Thomas), a suburban ten-year-old who discovers his newfound friend from another world in his backyard. Along with his older brother Michael (Robert MacNaughton) and kid sister Gertie (Drew Barrymore), Elliot keeps E.T. a secret from his single mom (Dee Wallace) and government agents hot on the trail, all while bonding with the little fella and incorporating some of his traits.

The film sways from Sci Fi/adventure to drama (with just a hint of horror in the beginning), and broke the record of highest grossing film of all time, knocking Star Wars out of the coveted spot and remaining there until another Steven Spielberg film, Jurassic Park, took the title of number one eleven years later in 1993.

It also spawned countless toys and merchandise, including the ill-fated Atari game, notoriously remembered as one of the worst video games of all time after being rushed for a Christmas 1982 release (to this day it still remains a topic of lore to many). There’s even been theme park rides, such as the original E.T. Adventure ride still operating at Universal Studios Florida to this day.

Copies of the ill-fated Atari 2600 game and an original VHS of E.T. – the Extra-Terrestrial from the author’s collection.

In a 2020 interview with the film’s star Dee Wallace, I had to ask her what made the film so endearing after all of these years. Her response was simple enough; “I still cry, I still laugh. As we all know it’s just a magical movie, and has become a part of our consciousness. I never get tired of it, or talking about it – and I can’t say that about all of my movies (laughs). It opens hearts and reminds people of what’s really important, and we just need a lot more of that these days.”

I couldn’t have possibly said it better myself if I tried. All these years later, instead of terrifying, this little green man from another planet still manages to pull at our heart strings. Spielberg has entertained us all and caught lightning in a bottle both before and since its release, yet there’s still just something special about E.T.

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: The Mandalorian Season 2 (Disney+)

By: Jesse Striewski

Last year, series creator Jon Favreau surprised the world over with hands down one of the most imaginative additions to the Star Wars universe in recent memory, The Mandalorian. Favreau has opened up all new worlds, ripe with possibilities for the franchise, and it’s no surprise the show has taken off the way it has.

In the first season we met Din Djarin, or “Mando” (played by Pedro Pascal), a bounty hunter who is assigned a bounty known only as “The Child” (now of course known to fans as “Baby Yoda”), but rather than turning him over, ends up going rogue and protecting him in a very father-like role. Carl Weathers and Gina Carano helped round out that season.

Without giving too much away, season 2 expands on that same premise, and brings back a number of the same cast as the first season, and each episode still plays out like it’s own, separate mini movie. But what really moves The Mandalorian along is it’s use of drama, and the addition of such beloved characters from the franchise as Boba Fett, and even the one and only Luke Skywalker, that has propelled season 2 to new heights.

The response and momentum caused from this season undeniably infectious; at least three more spin offs like it have already been announced (The Book of Boba Fett, Rangers of the New Republic, and Ahsoka). From the looks of things, The Mandalorian was only the beginning. This is the way indeed.

Rating: 4/5 Stars

Book Review: I Am C-3PO – The Inside Story By Anthony Daniels (DK)

C3PO - Edited (1)

By: Jesse Striewski

There’s no denying Anthony Daniels will always be best remembered for portraying the golden droid/servant C-3PO in each of the Star Wars films, going as far back as the original in 1977. And if you’re skeptical as to how this could possibly be an entertaining read because Daniels isn’t your typical big name Hollywood movie star, toss out your doubts and just dive in, because it is completely worth the ride.

Daniels doesn’t even waste much time digging into his own personal background much, or try to preach some political agenda to his readers here. Instead, he simply offers an honest, heartfelt summary of his journey as C-3PO, starting with his first meeting with George Lucas back in the mid-70s, and leading up to his last round as everyone’s favorite humanoid protocol droid in last year’s The Rise of Skywalker. Every detail he can possibly seem to think of (including the passing of his beloved co-star Carrie Fisher) is included in this well thought-out account. And with a forward by current Star Wars director J.J. Abrams, fan boys (present company included) should eat this up. Go in this with an open mind, and you won’t be disappointed here.

Rating: 3.5/5 Stars

 

Film Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker (Walt Disney Studios)

Star Wars - Edited

By: Jesse Striewski

Star Wars has been interwoven in our culture for more than four decades now, and after nine films in the Skywalker saga, the series’ inevitable conclusion has finally arrived. The film has already received its fair share of negative feedback, with some critics citing it as too predictable or even pandering to die hard fans. But here’s the thing; so was Return of the Jedi, and today that film is now regarded as a classic.

Sure, The Rise of Skywalker might not be flawless, but it does bring back that same sense of excitement I felt when watching the original trilogy as a kid. Director J.J. Abrams has done wonders redeeming the entire series with this sequel trilogy that began with The Force Awakens in 2015.

In this chapter (without giving too much away), we learn that the evil emperor Palpatine, again played by Ian McDiarmid, is back (no doubt a bit of a hokey concept) and planning on a destructive up rising of the entire galaxy. Of course Rey (Daisy Ridley) and the rebel alliance must overcome obstacles (and inner demons) to stop this from happening in the most good vs. evil sort of way.

For all the logic it might ask you to put aside, it makes up for with heart tenfold. I was completely brought back to when watching the “new” Star Wars movie was an event with the entire family in my household growing up. And I’m not ashamed to admit I was fully in tears by the end of Skywalker. If you’re able to just put aside that “I’m too cool for this” mentality adopted by all the negative keyboard warriors out there, you might be able to enjoy this for what it actually is; an overall pretty great film.

Rating: 4.5/5 Stars