Highlighting Asian Directors

If you saw my mini-review for Incredibles 2 on Facebook, you’ll know I’m semi-obsessed with the short film that accompanied Pixar’s latest gem: Bao. Directed by an Asian woman (Domee Shi), this touching portrayal of a mother-son relationship is hilarious, adorable, and shocking all in the span of eight minutes. I really want to see more from Shi…come to think about it, I want to see more from any Asian director. If you think women in film have a hard time finding work, it’s even worse for people who look like me. A 2017 USC study found that the percentage of Asian directors remained nearly unchanged in the previous ten years. Obviously, something needs to change, so I will use this opportunity to shine a light on several movies or TV shows coming soon that are helmed by such people. I may not share the same enthusiasm for all of them, but I think it’s important to shine a light on individuals who aren’t given as much attention.

Jennifer Yuh Nelson: The Darkest Minds (August 3, 2018)
Yuh has primarily made her mark in the world of animation, starting out as the head of story on Kung Fu Panda before switching over to direct its two sequels. While I think the original is still the best, Yuh made history as “the first woman to solely direct an animated feature from a major Hollywood studio” (LA Times). That’s no small feat. Soon, she will make her live-action debut with The Darkest Minds, based on another popular YA novel about kids with special abilities (no, they’re not mutants). Judging from the trailer, there are some interesting visuals, not to mention solid supporting actors like Gwendoline Christie and Bradley Whitford. Sadly, this looks too much like Divergent for me; it could be good given Yuh’s track record, but I think the YA trend has come and gone.

Jon M. Chu: Crazy Rich Asians (August 15, 2018)
You don’t understand how insanely excited I am for this film, despite the fact that Chu has never directed anything good (his last? Now You See Me 2). I don’t remember the last time a movie could even boast an all-Asian cast, headlined by the queen herself Constance Wu and featuring other heavy hitters like Michelle Yeoh and Ken Jeong. Similar to how I imagine African-Americans felt about Black Panther, I’m going all in on Crazy Rich Asians, even buying the book on which it’s based. Please don’t let me down.

James Wan: Aquaman (December 21, 2018)
Why haven’t we seen a trailer yet? Only six months to go and all we have are set photos. I can understand the reasoning behind the long wait though; since Aquaman is no one’s favorite comic book character and his introduction in Justice League was very underwhelming, the first trailer needs to be flawless to effectively sell the movie. Therefore, I’ll reserve final judgment until then, but given the state of the DCEU, I’m not holding my breath (totally unintentional pun).

Ang Lee: Gemini Man (October 4, 2019)
Hey, he went to my alma mater! The two-time Oscar-winning director is back and this time he’s assembled a stellar cast consisting of Will Smith, Clive Owen, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, and Benedict Wong. Reading the initial plot synopsis on Wikipedia already intrigues me: “Henry Brogen, an aging assassin seeking to exit his career, finds himself going against a younger clone of himself who can predict his every move.” We’re over a year away, but sign me up; Ang Lee may not always make the best films, but they’re usually visually striking with complex emotional stories.

Cary Fukunaga: Maniac (Netflix, TBA)
Before we go any further, you need to check out Beasts of No Nation on the streaming platform. Featuring a standout performance from Idris Elba, the film pulls no punches by examining the life of a child soldier. Fukunaga pulled quadruple duty as director, producer, writer, and cinematographer, showing off his full range of talent. What makes me excited for Maniac are two names: Emma Stone and Jonah Hill (a Superbad reunion). It has been described as a dark comedy “about a guy who lives a fantasy life in his dreams, but in reality, is locked up at an institution” (Variety) with the two leads playing patients in said institution. Along with the Coen brothers’ upcoming Western anthology series, Netflix has made some great acquisitions lately that I can’t wait to check out.

Cathy Yan: Dead Pigs (January 19, 2018)
Technically, this film already premiered at Sundance, but I’ve yet to hear anything regarding a wide release. It may not actually make its way into theaters though, which is a real shame because I was looking forward to checking it out. Yan was inspired to make the film “after reading a news story about 16,000 dead pigs mysteriously floating down the Huangpu River, which she found a compelling metaphor.” Described as a dark comedy and starring Zazie Beetz (who you probably know from either Atlanta or Deadpool 2), I hope some theater near me picks it up. In addition, Yan was recently chosen to direct the planned DCEU film Birds of Prey, which would feature Harley Quinn and other heroines/villains from the comics like Batgirl and Catwoman. If this movie actually happens (and knowing Warner Bros, that’s a huge “if”), Yan would be the first Asian woman to EVER direct a superhero film.

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Random Movie Musings: Volume 2

CAUTION: angry Jeffrey ahead.

  • Stop using the phrase “turn your brain off” to describe a movie. Let me get this straight: to enjoy certain movies, I have to act like I’m dumb? Like the rules of physics don’t exist? What sense does that make? It’s not even just the fact that you can’t physically turn your brain off; it’s the implication that one needs to stop thinking to enjoy The Fate of the Furious or Rampage. Since this mostly concerns action movies, I can easily make an argument that well-thought-out entries like John Wick and Mad Max: Fury Road require you to be an active participant. Oftentimes, I’ll find myself not only marveling at the set pieces and choreography, but trying to piece together in my head how the stunt team pulled certain sequences off. Verdict: if you need to “turn your brain off” for a movie, it’s probably terrible.
  • Please stop applauding after movies. I understand the intent; you want to show your appreciation for the people who made the movie, but news flash…they can’t hear you. You’ve already demonstrated your appreciation by paying for a ticket (and as Jordan Peele mentioned in his Oscar speech, that contribution doesn’t go unnoticed). Maybe it’s instinctual, but I honestly don’t see the point of applause; if you really want to clap, go see a Broadway show in an actual theater.
  • People aren’t “reverse sexist” if they only hire female directors for their projects. I’m specifically referring to Ava DuVernay with Queen Sugar and Melissa Rosenberg with the second season of Jessica Jones. I saw online comments that lambasted these two talented women for being narrow-minded in their director search: “There’s plenty of talented men out there, why are you eliminating half of the workforce from the start?” Sigh…I weep for humanity. DuVernay and Rosenberg are simply offering a voice and a platform for the underrepresented in the industry. If women in film had been treated with equality from the beginning, we wouldn’t need to have this conversation, but that’s simply not the case. Men have long dominated nearly all aspects of the filmmaking process and we’re only making minimal progress with each passing year. Who knows, maybe some studio executive will see the work of these women and hire them to do more. In fact, this tweet from DuVernay sums it up quite nicely: https://twitter.com/ava/status/1004752168002387968.
  • Conversely, people (like me) aren’t sexist if they don’t want all-female reboots of previously successful films. I’ve only mentioned this briefly in previous posts, so I’ll fully lay out the reasons why:
    • They’re still directed by men. To make matters worse, these aren’t exciting names like Spielberg or Nolan; in fact, I challenge anyone to name another Paul Feig (Ghostbusters) or Gary Ross (Ocean’s 8) movie off the top of their head. I guarantee that if the producers on these reboots actually tried to find a woman to tell a female-centric story, they would be more successful both financially and critically. It’s exactly why Patty Jenkins was the perfect fit for Wonder Woman. But what would seem to be the easiest step has apparently turned out to be the exact opposite.
    • An all-female reboot will inevitably be compared to the original version. Fair or unfair, that’s how a good chunk of the audience will view these films and it’s unfortunate because most of the women who choose to appear in them are incredibly talented in their own right.
    • It illustrates a lack of creativity in Hollywood. Is it difficult to come up with an original heist movie? Sure, but it doesn’t seem like studios are even pretending to make an attempt. Therefore, the easy way out is to take a popular IP and gender-swap the cast. You put Sandra Bullock, Cate Blanchett, Mindy Kaling, and everyone except Awkwafina in another movie and I will absolutely pay to see it. But since money drives every decision, I’m still accused of sexism.
    • Even if you disregard my previous two reasons, these reboots commit the worst sin by including the original cast in small pointless cameos. I’ve heard this is one of the worst parts of the Ghostbusters reboot and it happens again in Ocean’s 8. Why??? Coast off the success of previous movies, fine. But why not distance yourself a little and make the new film its own thing? Why must you wink at the audience by basically saying, “Hey, we didn’t forget about the people who loved the original stuff!” It doesn’t do anything for me to see Bill Murray pop up for two seconds just because the movie is called Ghostbusters; it’s actually a complete waste that doesn’t do anything to propel the story. Although there are a few instances of this crime in Avengers: Infinity War, characters are not simply introduced for fan service; their actions serve to justify their presence and importance to the overall narrative.
  • Finally, to coincide with the release of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom this Friday, it’s sad that people seem to have forgotten what made the first Jurassic Park great. At the core is a cautionary tale about man’s desire to control nature. Sure, there are groundbreaking animatronic dinosaurs, but I think it remains a classic because of the relevant thematic elements that still resonate today. Unfortunately, Universal seems to have taken the wrong lessons from Spielberg’s masterpiece and adopted the thinking that everyone just wants to see giant dinosaurs fighting…OK, that last part may be true. Furthermore, the franchise has continually recycled the same basic plotline in every subsequent movie. You would think that the characters would eventually catch on and think, “Wait, let’s stop doing things that lead to mass destruction.” But there exists a blurred distinction between fiction and reality: the only reason they keep making Jurassic Park movies is for the money and the only way to explain that away is by writing stupid characters who never learn from their mistakes. The farther away we get from Jurassic Park, the less hope I have that they will ever learn. I’ll eventually see the new one because…I have to? But I’m not looking forward to the experience at all.

Best/Worst Movie Dads

Happy early Father’s Day!

  1. Marlon Brando as Vito Corleone in The Godfather: Are his actions questionable? Absolutely. But no one can question the Don’s motive: family above everything. I would prefer if my dad didn’t leave a severed horse head in my enemy’s bed, but at least he’s looking out for me?
  2. Robin Williams as Daniel Hillard/Mrs. Doubtfire in Mrs. Doubtfire: Yeah, I understand why Sally Field would quickly grow tired of his parenting style, but outside of Corleone, is there another movie dad who cares more fiercely for his children? He literally disguises himself as a woman just so he can spend time with them!
  3. James Earl Jones as Mufasa in The Lion King: We have another “Bambi’s mom” situation here. Although this one hurts more because it happens right before young Simba’s eyes. I have a good feeling you’ll see Mr. Jones on this list again very soon.
  4. Roberto Benigni as Guido Orefice in Life is Beautiful: If I actually went through the trouble of ranking these, he’s easily #1. Maintaining an upbeat personality for your son DURING THE HOLOCAUST is definitive proof of an outstanding father.
  5. Albert Brooks as Marlin in Finding Nemo: At first, Marlin reminds you of the annoying parent who never leaves you alone. But then you realize the sacrifice he made traversing the dangerous ocean just to bring you back home. It’s already bringing tears to my eyes.
  6. Craig T. Nelson as Bob Parr/Mr. Incredible in The Incredibles: Not all fathers are perfect and that’s OK. Mr. Incredible sneaks around, lies to his wife, and tries to do everything himself when it’s his family he really needs. This might be the most realistic portrayal of fatherhood to date in all of Pixar history.
  7. Will Smith as Chris Gardner in The Pursuit of Happyness: Down on his luck. Desperate for success. Forced to take care of Jaden. Through it all, Will Smith remains the rock of the family; this is him at his dramatic best.
  8. Liam Neeson as Bryan Mills in Taken: Never taken (pun intended) the time to watch any of the movies, but because it’s been referenced so often in pop culture at this point, I feel like I have seen it. Just the basic premise of old man Neeson enacting revenge on the guys who kidnapped his daughter easily vaults him into the top ten.
  9. Nicolas Cage as Damon Macready/Big Daddy in Kick-Ass: Putting aside the fact that the real Nicolas Cage should not be anywhere near children, I want someone to teach me how to fight like he taught Hit-Girl. What other dad will educate you about bulletproof vests by literally shooting you? I realize this is a dangerous path to go down, but the father/daughter relationship just works.
  10. Ethan Hawke as Mason Evans Sr. in Boyhood: Why in the world did Patricia Arquette ever settle for those other terrible husbands? Sure, his life may not be completely in order, but Hawke plays such a sincere dad that you can’t help but root for him.

 

  1. James Earl Jones as Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back: Couldn’t pick Return of the Jedi because he actually turns into a good father by the end of that one. But in the middle chapter, he chops off his son’s arm and tries to lure him to the dark side. Not great.
  2. Jack Nicholson as Jack Torrance in The Shining: Actually, doesn’t the ending mean Danny can’t be Jack’s son? Who knows, but if we follow the film’s narrative, then he’s certainly a bad father who goes on a murderous rampage and chases his son through a hedge maze.
  3. Kurtwood Smith as Mr. Perry in Dead Poets Society: In all my research, none of the articles mentioned him, so kudos to me! But how could you not include a father whose strict nature is the direct cause of his son’s suicide? No matter how much you want him to attend medical school, could you not see you were making his life miserable?
  4. Henning Moritzen as Helge in The Celebration: Thanks to my Scandinavian Cinema class, I had the pleasure (?) of watching this Dogme 95 film about a father who sexually abused his children. Literally don’t remember anything else.
  5. Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham in American Beauty: Oh boy. Not only does he often neglect and mistreat his wife and daughter, but (as I’m sure you know) he also harbors a secret crush on his daughter’s teenage friend. Plus…it’s Kevin Spacey; knowing what we do now, this movie has been deemed unwatchable in my eyes.
  6. Gene Hackman as Royal Tenenbaum in The Royal Tenenbaums: Unloved by his kids. Faked cancer just to move back in with the family. Shot his own son with a BB gun. Even if the movie ends with him improving as a paternal figure, that’s still a serious list of offenses.
  7. Willem Dafoe as Norman Osborn/Green Goblin in Spider-Man: A literal supervillain. Even though his main target is his son’s best friend, he willingly puts Harry in harm’s way on multiple occasions.
  8. John Noble as Denethor in The Return of the King: The opposite of Roberto Benigni in the sense that he would easily be my #1 worst dad. How many other dads would try to cremate their son without confirming his death? Thankfully, he pays for his actions by falling off a cliff on fire.
  9. Daniel Day-Lewis as Daniel Plainview in There Will Be Blood: Only saw it the one time, but he adopts an orphan solely so he can present himself as a family man to investors. A dad who uses a child for his own benefit is not fit to be a dad in the first place.
  10. Josh Brolin as Thanos in Avengers: Infinity War: Strike while the iron’s still hot (or at least lukewarm), right? Yes, Gamora and Nebula are his adopted daughters, but aside from a brief glimpse of the former’s mom, we never meet their biological parents. Meanwhile, the California Raisin (SPOILER) kills one and constantly tortures the other. Oh, did I mention he’s also trying to wipe out half of humanity in the process?

MVP Watch: 2010

MVP: Date Night
Wait, hold on a second. How can a whole movie win MVP? Well, I would invite you to take a look at the cast. Not only is it filled to the brim with stars (some bigger than others), but most of the actors also appeared in other popular 2010 films (hence the case for MVP). Allow me to break it down:

  • Steve Carell: Despicable Me, Dinner for Schmucks
  • Tina Fey: Megamind
  • Mark Wahlberg: The Other Guys, The Fighter (also producer)
  • Taraji P. Henson: The Karate Kid
  • James Franco: Eat Pray Love, 127 Hours (nominated for Best Actor)
  • Mila Kunis: The Book of Eli, Black Swan (five Oscar nominations)
  • Mark Ruffalo: The Kids Are All Right (four Oscar nominations), Shutter Island
  • Kristen Wiig: How to Train Your Dragon, MacGruber, Despicable Me

This doesn’t even include the host of other actors who show up in small roles: Common, our Wonder Woman Gal Gadot (in only her second film role), Olivia Munn, will.i.am, and the legend from Goodfellas himself Ray Liotta. Date Night, as a personal favorite, might be the most underrated comedy of the past ten years and it just happens to star a ton of famous people. I doubt it will happen again, but just this once, a single movie will take home MVP. No honorable mentions needed.

Casting the Bible Vol. 3

David Oyelowo as Joseph
Very easy for me to envision Oyelowo serving dual purposes as (1) as the youngest of 12 who’s sold by his brothers into slavery and (2) as the second-most powerful man in Egypt behind Pharoah. His standout scene would have to be the interpretation of Pharoah’s dreams; Oyelowo already gave impassioned speeches as the Reverend Martin Luther King, so this should be a breeze for him.

Kurt Russell as Moses
Oh yeah…I’m going all in. Following my casting of Tom Hanks as Noah, we’re dipping back into the legend pool with Russell. Obviously, he’s the perfect age (and can easily rock a sweet beard) for an older Moses, but as they proved in Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2, you could also de-age him and it would look seamless. As leader of the Israelites, there are many opportunities for Moses to monologue. In The Hateful Eight and the aforementioned Guardians 2, the directors just let Russell loose sometimes to tell a story and it is GLORIOUS.

Sandra Bullock as Miriam
Aaron Eckhart as Aaron
I have to partially agree with The Prince of Egypt on this one; although it’s animated, Bullock is a perfect fit for Miriam as a caring yet tough-minded sister to Moses. However, I didn’t want to stick with Jeff Goldblum for Aaron because…it’s too weird. There will be other parts for Goldblum, I’m sure, but for now, I picked another actor with the first name Aaron. Aside from The Dark Knight, I don’t know if I’ve seen much of Eckhart’s work, but that performance alone in Nolan’s film says enough. His portrayal of a morally ambiguous character who switches between good and bad (sort of like when Aaron helps the Israelites make the golden calf) suits this role well and I could easily see him playing off Bullock effectively. Yes, technically these two should be Moses’ older siblings, but I focused more on the character traits and not the age.

Andrew Garfield as Joshua
Who can conceivably play Moses’ aide and then take over as leader? Although abrupt, Garfield’s career trajectory has followed a similar path, going from a supporting role (The Social Network) to a leading man (Hacksaw Ridge). With the latter, Garfield has already proven he can work in the war genre; once he sheds the pacifist label, he’s good to go as the strong and courageous Joshua.

Obviously I won’t go through every single one of the judges, so here are the most prominently featured ones.

Rebecca Ferguson as Deborah
A woman who’s all business and can match up against the best, even the likes of Tom Cruise in the Mission: Impossible series. Sure, she’s been in some less-than-stellar movies recently, but her performance in Rogue Nation (and Fallout coming soon) trumps any argument against her.

Chris Pratt as Gideon
Knowing the story of Gideon, I wanted to pick an actor who looks like he could hold his own in a fight, but ultimately ends up finding unconventional ways to win (with God’s help of course). If you’ll remember, Pratt as Star-Lord saved the galaxy by distracting Ronan with a dance-off. I always imagined Gideon as a buff guy and Pratt sure fits that criteria.

Dwayne Johnson as Samson
Sofia Boutella as Delilah
Easy picks, but doesn’t mean they’re the wrong ones. Unlike other muscular actors like Diesel or Bautista, The Rock has proven that he can work with long hair (important for Samson) in The Scorpion King. But like his current larger-than-life persona, once you shave off the hair, the fun begins. Imagine the scene where Samson calls upon God for one last feat of strength and brings down the Philistine temple? I’m getting goosebumps just thinking about it. Whereas The Rock is in everything, I feel like we don’t see enough of Boutella even though she’s been in a lot of blockbusters over the last few years. You might think Delilah is merely a love interest for Samson, but she has to match wits with him and eventually wear him down with mind games. Boutella has a natural seductive quality, but also the acting chops to hang with The Rock.

Random Movie Musings: Volume 1

I’ve come up with another fun idea that could be considered a spin-off to my Week in Review series. You know who has a lot of unconnected thoughts about movies? This guy! Want to find out what the more interesting ones (at least in my mind) are? Of course you do! This is…Random Movie Musings!

  • All future movie sequels should do something creative with the title rather than just sticking a number on the end of it. Sure, it’s easier to refer to them in conversation, but you can’t tell me with a straight face that Thor: Ragnarok isn’t more fun to say than Thor 3. Other great examples include Mad Max: Fury Road and Spider-Man: Homecoming (technically reboots, but you get the idea) or any of the episodic Star Wars films. Even something as simple as calling the John Wick sequel John Wick: Chapter 2 sounds intriguing, as if there’s a whole book on the criminal underworld in which he operates. If Hollywood is going to continue pumping out sequels until the end of time, why not have some fun with it?
  • Someone please tell me why there hasn’t been any recent news on the Narnia film series? All I know is that they are indeed planning on making a fourth one, The Silver Chair, and Joe Johnston is slated to direct. But aside from those initial details, we haven’t heard any casting news or other reports. I can’t be the only one who wants to see these movies done right.
  • I wrote something last December lamenting the insane amount of trailers and short films that precede a movie in the theater, effectively delaying the actual start time and costing the audience precious minutes. Let me expand on that: from now on, there shouldn’t be any trailers before a movie unless it is showing FOR THE VERY FIRST TIME. Can you imagine how exciting it would be to see a trailer for Avengers 4 on the big screen before it appeared on the Internet? Almost no previews they show in the theater now can be considered new; in all likelihood, most people have already seen each one several times online. So I say scrap them all and make it an event; then you might actually get more butts in seats.
  • While we’re on the subject of movie theaters…just get rid of 3-D. Or at the very least, stop making people pay extra for it. Honestly, there are only a select few movies that benefit greatly from the “enhanced experience” and even then, it’s not enough to justify spending $15 on a ticket or however expensive it is now. The last movie I remember seeing in 3-D was Avatar and that was nearly a decade ago.
  • Finally, this one is addressed to Marvel: can we please set the maximum of post-credit scenes to one per movie? You’re starting to learn after Infinity War, but if you actually go through the list, there are very few that make an impact on the overall story. Literally, the one at the end of Captain America: The First Avenger is a teaser trailer for The Avengers! Others like Ant-Man and Doctor Strange feature “cut-down scenes” from future movies, so you essentially have to watch those twice when the new one comes out. My proposal is: change all your post-credit scenes to mid-credits ones so the audience can still leave relatively early to do other things. I read somewhere that Kevin Feige wants the audience to acknowledge every single person who worked on the film, but let’s be realistic. No one’s actually paying attention to all those names; if someone out there actually cared about who did what, they could go home and look it up on IMDB. If the MCU only included mid-credit scenes that mattered (or shockingly didn’t feature any), I think a small yet significant section of the fanbase would feel a lot happier.

Solo: A Star Wars Story Review

Firing a director (technically two directors since it’s Lord AND Miller) halfway through production. Hiring an acting coach to help out your main star who, according to fans, was predetermined to pale in comparison next to Harrison Ford. Putting out underwhelming trailers only a month before release. It’s fair to say that all the odds were stacked against Solo: A Star Wars Story; I wasn’t particularly excited either even though this franchise holds a special place in my heart. Despite the baggage, I made a conscious effort to judge the film on its own merit. Well…that experiment didn’t last long; barely 15 minutes in, I was audibly sighing. While a competently made film, Solo misses the mark by relying heavily on callbacks to previous entries in the series.

How is Alden Ehrenreich as the wise-cracking smuggler? Not as bad as everyone expected; once you accept the fact that he’s not going to be Harrison Ford 2.0, he actually gives a decent performance with flashes of charisma and wit. In addition, he demonstrates reasonable chemistry with the other cast members, namely Emilia Clarke as Qi’ra and Donald Glover as Lando. But the phrase “not going to be Harrison Ford 2.0” still carries significance; Ehrenreich and Glover find themselves in an impossible situation doing impersonations of superior portrayals from the original trilogy. Which begs the question on everyone’s mind: why did they make this movie again?

Before I continue that train of thought, I want to touch upon the way this movie is shot. The cinematographer Bradford Young already boasts an impressive early résumé with Selma and Arrival, but he was hamstrung in this one by terrible lighting. Several moments, particularly the opening chase, are so dimly lit that it felt like the third act of Spider-Man: Homecoming all over again. I honestly don’t know why this is the case; maybe they were trying to hide unfinished special effects, but it severely weakens the movie when I can’t clearly make out what’s happening onscreen.

Even when the film does manage to impress me with action set pieces, it’s compounded by other frustrating decisions. Take the train heist for example; I fairly enjoyed this well-staged sequence, but then they decide to kill the most interesting new character in the entire movie: Val Beckett (Thandie Newton), the wife of Woody Harrelson’s character. Think about it, this is the first black woman to be featured in any Star Wars movie and she’s killed off before given anything substantial to do. This is not my own idea, but I would’ve preferred a scenario where they switched her and Harrelson’s roles. While we’re still on the topic of supporting characters, I hated the new droid L3-37. She’s basically the more annoying version of K-2SO; if the most important detail I learn about her is the fact that Lando has sex with her, then something’s gone wrong.

On Facebook, I called Solo the cinematic equivalent of “hey, remember this other thing?” In recent memory, I cannot recall seeing a franchise film that made this many callbacks to previous entries. Do you want to know how Han met Chewie? How he won his ship from Lando? The FREAKING KESSEL RUN? Words can’t express how hard I groaned when we find out the origins of his last name; it would’ve been funnier if the imperial guard talking to Han had turned to the camera and winked. This just illustrates the first of many problems with these spin-offs Lucasfilm insists on doing: the story takes place too close to the other films. Therefore, filmmakers are tempted and think it’s cute to tease you with references instead of trying to make the best movie possible. If you absolutely have to make Solo, show me something new and not just cheap “wish fulfillment” scenes. By the end, I’ve learned nothing about Han that I didn’t already know; he’s still the same scruffy-looking nerf-herder we first met in the cantina.

Perhaps the worst example of wish fulfillment comes in the form of a confusing cameo. Minor spoilers ahead for a 30-second bit, but I think the Darth Maul reveal is an egregious mistake on the part of Ron Howard (or whoever gave final approval). So now the animated TV shows are required viewing? I don’t care if any of those are actually canon. Imagine if Marvel did the same with Agents of SHIELD; I can see them losing a lot of fans that way. I was vaguely aware that Maul came back in the Clone Wars show, but if we’re strictly going off the movies, he died in The Phantom Menace (igniting the lightsaber for no reason only added to the stupidity). The whole situation screams of desperation as if Star Wars will now try anything to make sure their hardcore fans are satisfied (while ignoring the fact that the majority of people who watch these movies are more casual).

I can already see the angry commenters typing, “But wait, what makes Rogue One any better? Isn’t that also an unnecessary film?” Rogue One at least took its premise and made one of the best war films in the franchise. It also gave us interesting and more fully realized characters like Jyn Erso and Chirrut Imwe so that when they all die, there’s weight behind their sacrifice. The characters Solo chooses to eliminate have little to no bearing on the story nor carry the same weight.

In conclusion, Solo acts as a double-edged sword. On one hand, I think you would enjoy it if you have never seen a Star Wars movie (strange, but a real possibility). However, many beats and plot points are predicated on having obtained knowledge from previous films. This internal conflict simply results in an OK film, neither the best nor the worst. I did also enjoy parts of John Powell’s score, but as of this writing, I would rank Solo slightly below Revenge of the Sith. Perhaps like Edgar Wright and Ant-Man, Lucasfilm  should’ve stuck with the more eccentric choice of Lord and Miller to direct. I’m not guaranteeing their finished product would be bulletproof (after all, it was described as “Ace Ventura in space” upon their firing), but different and intriguing? Of course. Don’t forget these are the same guys who took projects that audiences also deemed unnecessary (21 Jump Street, The Lego Movie) and made incredible hits out of both. But Star Wars appears headed down a path that leads to further mediocrity. For me, Star Wars films are meant to be a magical experience that only comes around once every few years; the anticipation factor alone is unmatched by any other franchise. Now that Kathleen Kennedy and company have committed to demystifying every single character from the lore, the magic has quickly evaporated. Solo is merely the beginning of the end.