Book Review: Most Wanted by Rae Carson

‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ shows us a young Han Solo struggling in the streets of Corellia. Q’ira is by his side, trying to do what it takes to escape from the White Worms and fly away with Han. How did these two bonded together in such a hostile place? Most Wanted by Rae Carson shows us the beginnings of this friendly relationship.

The book begins when Han and Q’ira are assigned different missions, only to later figure out they were having the same objective: trying to get an important object from an auction. Both Han and Q’ira get into trouble, teaming up to face the syndicates that are looking for them. In their adventure they are helped by Tsuulo, a nice Rodian, and Tool, a droid. For the next few days, they are about to learn to trust in each other, handle different plans, and understand that they are much more than just an asset from the White Worms.

Rae Carson’s style allows for detailed descriptions of what is happening in a small amount of time. The whole book takes place for several days, so each chapter happens in real time with few time jumps in between. Don’t be fooled in thinking this is just another mission driven plot. Once the characters are fleshed out, you will not want to drop the book. Even though it is a young adult novel, it handles the tropes really well, meaning that this isn’t another romantic novel.

The highlight of this book is Q’ira. Seeing her in the movie, you want to understand her thoughts and intentions. This book hints at the way Q’ira thinks and acts, making it a more compelling character. From the very beginning, she thinks very practical with subtle hints of weakness after meeting Han.

Even though this is a very well-written book, it has one major problem: it is a prequel book to a prequel movie. ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’ advances the character in some ways, but not all of them because his arch is later developed in other movies. ‘Most Wanted’ suffers from the fact that Han’s arch is very subtle because his major arch occurs later in ‘Solo’. Rae Carson has taken this opportunity to develop Q’ira much more because she is not the main character in the film. The fact that this book revolves around a mission also justifies the fact that Han doesn’t change as much, which is a smart decision from the author.

This isn’t a mandatory read for the movie. What this means is that you can easily watch the movie without this book. What the books gives is 1) A fun adventure for Q’ira and Han 2) A better understanding of Q’ira as a character 3) A glimpse of life on Corellia.

Rae Carson has written one of my favorite books so far of the Star Wars canon. What makes this book great is the detailed descriptions, the internal struggles of the characters, and the right balance of action. Even though it keeps a narrowed story, the book is able to stretch it in such a way that makes it a very compelling read.

What Lucasfilm Could Learn From Marvel

After the box office let down of ‘Solo: A Star Wars Story’, it is difficult to not talk about what Lucasfilm should do going forward. Personally, I never think about the quality of a film depending on its box office success because many of my favorite films were considered huge flops during their initial release. The difference for such blockbuster movies is that they’re supposed to be mainstream media phenomenons, making sure theres a ROI at the box office. For ‘Solo’ to have a return of investment from merchandise and digital sales takes much more time compared to the cinema.

But this isn’t the end of Star Wars, as many articles suggest in the web. This is just a misstep, a huge one, that happened because of several components that Lucasfilm should take care of.

Whats good is that they can learn from a partner, as we might say. It is inevitable to compare Star Wars to Marvel, as they work on a similar film schedule and it creates a whole storytelling universe. Kevin Feige has had its bad moments with Marvel on films like The Incredible Hulk, Thor, and Thor 2. With 18 movies under his belt in less than 10 years, he could be considered that has the same experience as Kathleen Kennedy. Here are some things that Lucasfilm could learn from the mighty superheroes.

Give Permission

With two to three movies being released almost every year from Marvel Studios, it is difficult to think the days when they started released one movie per year.

Back when Disney purchased Marvel, Kevin Feige was releasing two movies the same year and see how they turned out: Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk. In that same year, he released one of the best movies Marvel has ever done and the worst movie in the whole history of the franchise.

How was Marvel able to recover? They retreated and went back to a yearly schedule for the next 2 years. Why?

First, they had to work more slowly paced to learn from the filmmaking process. Second, they just haven’t earned the right to release more films per year. They had to let the audience give them permission to release more Marvel films.

And so they went back to a yearly schedule until the audience in 2012 asked them for more Marvel films with the first Avengers movie. Only then was Marvel fully committed to a more expansive set of films released yearly, up to three movies per year. They understood that they were able to explore more unknown characters for different audiences.

Embrace The Filmmakers

Of the four Star Wars films that have been released under the Disney era, two have had major problems with its directors. Even though Rogue One gives credit to Gareth Edwards as its director, it is known that Tony Gilroy was the actual director during the reshoots after his process for rewriting the final act of the film as well as many other scenes. The most known of all these controversies happened with Solo, when Kathleen Kennedy fired Christopher Miller and Phil Lord as the directors of the movie, being replaced by Ron Howard. Compared to Rogue One, this was a noticeable announcement that created a lot of bad press for the film.

Lets take a look at Marvel.

Never had a movie had any directorial shift, at least known to the public. The Marvel Studios is very tight to their chest, having a clear production focused process that sometimes didn’t let directors fully do what they want with the films. This happened until most movies started looking fairly the same. People started feeling some superhero fatigue and Marvel had to do something about it.

Enter Peter Gunn and Guardians Of The Galaxy.

Kevin Feige knew that if he let other directors explore lesser known superheroes, he could be able to have a new style of movies. He has mentioned that he doesn’t believe in the superhero genre, but on stories with clear character that you can relate with. Guardians Of The Galaxy showed the world that they were able to have movies were the director were able to do their own thing.

Which is what Lucasfilm should do.

Kathleen was able to give Rian Johnson free reign over The Last Jedi, creating one of the most divisive movie ever in the franchise. Say whatever you say, but if the movie is as divisive, it means that Rian was able to do many things that turned the tables. What would happen it they would let Miller and Lord to direct Solo?

Lucasfilm should think of giving more life to their directors, giving them opportunities to expand on the Star Wars franchise.

Keep Your Mouth Shut

Have you heard about a Marvel producer, director, screenwriter, or actor, debating with fans about a movie? No. You know why? Because it is a recipe for disaster.

Marvel knows this, but Lucasfilm doesn’t.

Rian Johnson, Mark Hamill, Chuck Wendig, and other talents related to Star Wars have been vocal about the films and their fans. From Hamill saying he doesn’t like Luke in Episode 8, to Rian just trying to explain The Last Jedi to fans, each moment has affected the franchise. These are ambassadors, like it or not. Yes, they may be able to comment on things, but why going straightforward?

Also, Lucasfilm hasn’t been able to make true statements to the fans, also affecting the perception. You see Kevin Feige doing open interviews all the time, and Kathleen should do it every once in a while. It is healthy for the fandom and it allows Lucasfilm to explain some things without apologizing.

Respect The Fandom

Marvel knows that they are handling characters that people have loved for decades. This isn’t a reason to don’t experiment, but they fully respect their legacy and fans that have followed the comics for so many years. This is why the Marvel Cinematic Universe has worked so well; they are able to take risks while keeping the heart and soul of each comic.

Only ten years after the launch of the MCU they are willing to take some big risks. But the fans are OK with it. They fully invest themselves into the MCU and after ten years of great movies, they know they are in good hands.

But just two years after relaunching Star Wars, The Last Jedi is being released with some significant plot twists for the fans. And these are fans that have followed the saga for 45 years.

Besides this, the creators have been pretty vocal about it. I’ve never seen a Marvel director or screenwriter defend The Incredible Hulk or Thor. Even Avengers: Infinity War hasn’t been fully explained because the creators don’t need to give explanations to the fans.

The fans have their reasons to be upset, and you need to respect that.

Yes, Lucasfilm should be able to deal with the toxic area of fandom, but they should also understand it. Even though Marvel has its own path, one thing they truly do is that they listen to the fans. These people have been reading comics for decades, and they know these characters from top to bottom. Shouldn’t they be at least heard?

Even though we are at the early stages of Star Wars, the best course of action to show respect to the fans is to reflect it in the upcoming projects. They shouldn’t be chained to the fans, but they should at least show that they care about this franchise (Hint: they obviously do!) and show it with the upcoming projects. Only this way can the fans embrace the direction of Lucasfilm.

Im sure there are Marvel fans somewhere that truly hate how the MCU is being handled, but the people who like it far surpasses them. Let’s all remember that Marvel has a new generation of kids that grew up watching their films, thus having more solid ground than Star Wars. But with new films and series, Star Wars will be able to gain some new ground from the smaller generations that are also growing up with the sequel trilogy.

Balancing Acts

Lucasfilm is in a tough position from fans, critics, and news reporters. They need to be able to recover from the bad press of Solo and they haven’t been able to do that. They are just receiving the punches. Is this a conscious thing or does the PR team doesn’t even know how to handle it?

What I believe is that Lucasfilm knew that Solo would be their first major box office disappointment. They knew it the moment they fired directors and when they saw how many movies they were competing with. This was just a move to see how strong is the brand. As we see, it isn’t as strong compared with the mighty Thanos and Deadpool.

A minor change in leadership could go a long way. Not replacing Kathleen Kennedy, who is a veteran filmmaker, but adding a Chief Creative Officer of sorts like someone from the Lucasfilm StoryGroup. This should be able to keep the fans sure that everything is fine. The other major thing is that the Lucasfilm team should be able to speak about their upcoming projects just like Marvel. Kevin Feige constantly talks that they have movies lined up until 2025, showing a strong belief in the brand and showing the fans that they have a road map to make everything logical in the storyline. Star Wars is failing in this aspect, without a clear road map to show the audience.

These small touches, as well as the many mentioned in this article, will be the ones that will make Lucasfilm rise up from this complicated time and move on. If George Lucas did it after the prequel trilogy, then Lucasfilm could do it after this Solo incident.

What’s Next For Cirque Du Soleil At Disney Springs

After the final bow of Cirque Du Soleil’s La Nouba, everybody expected that a new show was in the works. Even though La Nouba kept bringing audiences to the big top, it was a 19-year round with a rough ending. In the past years, acts were added as a way to bring back more audiences from Orlando. Live shows don’t have the rewatchability that parks do, so the show struggled in the past few years.

On December 20th, 2017, they announced that a Disney themed Cirque Du Soleil show was in development as a replacement. This would go in tandem with the circus’ recent strategy, blending IP’s into their shows like Love (based on The Beatles), Toruk (based on James Cameron’s Avatar), and One (based on Michael Jackson). Many months after, we haven’t seen any pictures or promotional material about the show. Taking into account the huge building Cirque has in Disney Springs, I thought the new show will open much faster, probably within this year. If it doesn’t occur like this, then it is because they are working on changing the layout of the multi layered theater. I would also think that the show could open before or after the open of Star Wars Galaxy’s Edge, handling the huge crowds expected at this moment. With a Disney related theme, more families will be interested in the show. In my case, I didn’t go to La Nouba until I was around 10 years old because my family thought that I wouldn’t appreciate the show as a kid. Cirque Du Soleil has always been a more mature, adult oriented show, so the Disney theme helps bringing children to the show and eliminate that barrier.

Even though the press release refers that the show will use Disney movies as inspiration, I don’t know how they will use them. I believe they’ll just use the movies from Walt Disney Animation Studios, recreating some scenes as part of acts. Also, the shows from Cirque Du Soleil don’t usually have a storyline. Even though they try to make a story, it is abstract enough so that everybody can have its own interpretation about it.

The most complicated issue about Cirque Du Soleil’s next show is less on the production and more on the pricing. With the recent pricing inflation in the theme parks, people will be less attracted for extra events that cost more money. These shows usually are expensive by themselves. As the theme parks tickets rise their prices and different offerings, a live show could be more of an afterthought. This wouldn’t be good for Cirque and Disney, as this could mean that less families could enjoy these vacation add ons.

We don’t know much details about Cirque’s next show, but it will sure give a different offering for many people that already saw La Nouba and that want a more Disney experience.

Book Review: Thrawn by Timothy Zahn

One of my favorite characters in Star Wars Rebels is Thrawn, so this book was on my reading list for quite a while. I preferred reading it after watching all the series to see how much it would inform the series. This character centric story is everything you might expect and more for a compelling villain that has reappeared after being one of the main characters of the trilogy that kicked of the Expanded Universe books (now Legends).

Thrawn by Timothy Zahn tells the story of the blue skinned Chiss as he slowly ranks up in the Imperial Academy and beyond. Every chapter builds up the character and moves the plot forward, giving intricate details of the character that are relevant in the book. Thrawn is the most empathetic villain I’ve ever read in the Star Wars books, giving more context to its decisions. Timothy Zahn takes his time to develop how Thrawn obsesses over small details to set up the tactical plans that made him Grand Admiral. The descriptions of how he interprets body language and art give a glimpse of the character in Rebels. I was always curious if Thrawn in the series collected art just because he was powerful enough to acquire it. When the novel explains how he can analyze the culture of a planet just by the art, you understand why he is so passionate about art.

While Thrawn slowly goes up the ranks of the Empire, we see a young Ahrinda Pryce trying to find her place in the galaxy after the political attack that took over her family’s mining facilities of Lothal. This story is as intriguing as Thrawn’s, sometimes even more interesting. Her struggles and feelings are developed to make us care about her. Pryce is trying to gain power as much as Thrawn’s but in the political world. It balances both characters really well and it explains why they have a mutual business relationship during Star Wars Rebels. Thrawn’s lack of knowledge about politics balances out with Pryce’s need of military power.

Other surprising character to appear was Colonel Yularen, which took me a while to remember his importance in The Clone Wars series. This is a light connection to other canon stories that doesn’t intrude nor it makes the world seem smaller. It makes sense that, as Thrawn ranks up, he meets a veteran of the Clone Wars.

Even though the novel is character centric, it has enough action in between. We see how Thrawn handles different missions, sometimes not understanding his decisions until the very end. That keeps you engaged in such a way that you just want to keep reading. There’s a moment when you think the story plateaus because of the several missions that happen one after the other, but the payoff at the end makes you understand why these missions are relevant to the story. Thrawn’s obsessions with Nightswan, an unknown bounty hunter, leads him slowly to find out who this character really is.

Overall, I can’t explain how good this book is. If you’ve enjoyed Thrawn in Rebels, this book will develop the character in such a way you’ll want to watch the series again. I haven’t read the classic Thrawn trilogy, but it will sure be in my reading list after enjoying this one so much. Take this book as soon as you can. A sequel, Thrawn Alliances, will be released soon. So if you’ve only read action packed Star Wars novels, take this book to deepen your toes in more character based stories.

‘The Incredibles 2’ Review: A Deserved Sequel That Is Just Popcorn Fun

It is hard to release a sequel 14 years after the original film and still live up to its predecessor.

It is hard to release a sequel 14 years after that feels completely different from its predecessor.

It is hard to release a sequel 14 after that is able to compete will all the superhero films that have been released in the past years.

Brad Bird did all of these with ‘The Incredibles 2’.

Believe me when I said this. Some critics will say that this movie isn’t better than the first one, and they have the right to say so. But they can’t say that the film brings many elements that lives up to its predecessor.

It is difficult to pinpoint how ‘The Incredibles 2’ manages to achieve so much in the movie, so let’s begin with some specific aspects.

It Isn’t a Superhero Film

Yes, The Incredibles are superheroes, but the plot doesn’t necessarily revolve around this. More than that, this is a film about family and trying to live up to expectations (kinda meta for a sequel).

Helen Parr tries to have a superhero life so politicians can approve the work of supers, while Bob tries to be a good father with all his children who are in different stages of life. Violet deals with the mood swings of a teenager, while Dash tries to balance school life with having fun. And Jack-Jack tries to handle its superpower but he can’t.

Every single member of the family is dealing with its own problems, which makes the film much more complex than the first film. The fact that Brad Bird decided to make the sequel without time jumps, barely a few months after the first film, allows for these conflicts to work. They are all relatable, making it the ultimate family movie for this year’s summer season.

This isn’t your Marvel origin story. In fact, the film makes the superheroes feel like they are just doing their job. This is a welcome idea because of how many superhero films we have consumed over the years that is just about the superhero struggling to use its powers, having an all-evil villain, and later saving the day even though he barely knows how to use his powers.

The Action Sequences Should That Kevin Feige Envies

From the very first action sequence, there’s a style and a pacing that feels fresh, original, and impressive. Every single frame explains the actions in a clear, directed manner that even ‘Avengers: Infinity War’ struggles to do in its big action set pieces. This shows the ability that Brad Bird has to strip down every single detail that confuses the audience, using the camera from different angles to establish the movement.

The action sequences that ‘The Incredibles 2’ delivers has a clear through line and art direction that make them unique and different. The fight scene between Screenslaver and Elastigirl is one of the most impressive animation I’ve scene in a while, with and art direction that makes it unique.

Which is exactly what many action sequences miss in other superhero films. It isn’t only about the action sequence, but about how you can deliver insightful information and make it visually interesting besides the camera movement.

In this area, ‘The Incredibles 2’ gets an A+.

Pure Pixar Comedy

This film has so much comedy without feeling like the kind of comedy you could be used to from a Marvel film. Jack-Jack steals the show when we talk about comedy, but there are many subtle details and gags in the movie. What makes them original is that the comedy relates to the story and the gags are true to the situations of each character.

The interactions between Edna Mode and Jack-Jack are one of the highlights, creating a unique relationship to both characters. This is a clear example of how situations could be created in such a way to create funny moments that have more legs beyond the simple laughter.

It Is A Genre Film, Not An Animated Film

Brad Bird has created an action packed genre movie while using animation as a medium. This is something that gives ‘The Incredibles 2’ its own identity. It still feels like a Pixar film, but it deviates in many ways.

A Compelling Villain

In a world were superhero films are filled with disposable enemies, ‘The Incredibles 2’ has a villain that has a clear intention that relates to the conflict suggested throughout the film of legalizing supers. Evelyn Deavor fights against it with smart plans that really cornered the main characters in compelling ways.

Popcorn Fun

In the end, this is a fun film for everyone to enjoy. Even though the plot leads to some deep themes, it all works in favor of the story development. Many people will consider it is a superior film than its predecessor, others will think it lives up to the first film. It doesn’t matter what you think, this is a well written and spectacularly directed film from Brad Bird, whose taste for action movies has been translated from live action to the animated medium.