Matilda, Annie, and the Generation Gap

“When I’m stuck with a day
That’s gray, and lonely
I just stick out my chin
And grin, and say, oh
The sun’ll come out tomorrow
So ya gotta hang on ’till tomorrow
Come what may”


“Just because you find that life’s not fair, it
Doesn’t mean that you just have to grin and bear it
If you always take it on the chin and wear it
Nothing will change
Just because I find myself in this story
It doesn’t mean that everything is written for me
If I think the ending is fixed already
I might as well be saying I think that it’s OK
And that’s not right”


I never had much of a relationship with any version of Matilda before the recently released film Matilda the Musical now on Netflix. Despite being a Roald Dahl fan as a kid in the 80’s/90’s, I somehow never read the original story. As a result, I didn’t make an effort to see the 1996 film, which I might have felt a little too old for at the time. The 2011 stage musical, which the new film adapts for the screen, never made it to my home of Tucson on its national tour. So despite a passing familiarity with the story and plenty of opportunities to connect with the material through my 38 years, I went into this new version of Matilda the Musical as a mostly blank slate, with my 4.5-year-old son beside me.

It instantly became our new household obsession. We’ve watched it four times in the last nine days, our son demands the soundtrack to be played at every opportunity, and he requests that I sing its climactic number, “Revolting Children,” for his bedtime song every night. It has spectacularly catchy and clever music, kinetic and exciting choreography, gorgeous production design, excellent performances from both the kids and adults in the cast, and a story that speaks to universal values of justice and equality.

It also has a lot of parallels to the iconic musical Annie, which were brought to the forefront of my mind yesterday when by coincidence my wife and I had tickets to see the current national tour. Our son asked to watch Matilda the Musical yesterday morning and our tickets for Annie were in the afternoon, and the juxtaposition of the two similar musicals in the same day had my mind reeling. Unlike Matilda, I have a long relationship with Annie, which was the first musical I ever saw on stage. My mother and grandmother took me to a performance as a young child, and it ignited my love of musical theater. Those first three dynamite songs (“Maybe,” “Hard Knock Life,” and “Tomorrow”) combined with the strong pull on the heartstrings that comes from Annie calling Sandy and having him come to her captured my imagination. We would have taken our son to Annie yesterday, because he would have loved it, but when the tickets were purchased almost a year ago we didn’t know whether he’d be old enough. (As it is, his first musical theater experience was The Lion King, which isn’t a bad way to go either.)

I love Annie. Its songs are almost all iconic for a reason, even as I notice things now as an adult that I didn’t notice as a kid. For instance, Annie opens with its three best songs in the first 20 minutes, and is forced to reprise them throughout while the remainder of the still-great songs fade in comparison. Still, I sang “Tomorrow” to my son when he was an infant, and I look forward to introducing him to Annie the next time it comes through town. But after watching it and Matilda back to back yesterday, I’m much happier to have my son singing along to Matilda (as he currently is while sitting next to me as I type and we watch it again) than to Annie, despite my love for both.

The Annie vs Matilda dynamic seems to perfectly speak to the generation gaps in today’s society, particularly between Boomers and Millennials. The two musicals, so superficially similar with their plucky young female protagonists, were written for very different audiences in very different times and have very different things to say about children, their places in society, and how they should act. Annie and Matilda, the characters, both start in awful circumstances with evil, neglectful, abusive guardians, come face to face with injustice and inequality, and end their stories in the care of loving, supportive parent figures. Their stories, however, couldn’t be more different, and those differences can tell us a lot about the disconnects between Boomers and Millennials.

Annie first debuted onstage in 1977, with music by Charles Strause, lyrics by Martin Charnin, and a book by Thomas Meehan. It’s based on the “Little Orphan Annie” comic strip which began in 1924 and which spawned film adaptations and a radio show before it made its way to the stage. Its high point of popularity was during the Great Depression and before World War II. As such it wasn’t the childhood staple of Boomers as much as it would have been for their parents, though it would have been regularly published in newspapers during Boomers’ youth. 

By the time of the Annie musical, Boomers would have been in their mid 30s, many with Gen-X children of their own to watch it with. The 1930’s setting of the musical, with its hardships of the Depression and the looming prospect of war, was intended to resonate with adult audiences who had lived through their own hardships of the Nixon era and the horrors of the Vietnam War. Its message of optimism and unity in that older era spoke to the need for optimism to try to lift the national mood in the 70’s. I can imagine that message speaking to parents of children who hoped their kids would grow up in a more positive situation.

Matilda, the novel, was published in 1988 and many Millenials doubtlessly grew up with either the book or the popular 1996 Mara Wilson film. By the time the musical debuted in 2011, with music and lyrics by Tim Minchin and a book by Dennis Kelly, those Millennials had grown into young adults of the sort likely to go see a stage version of a story they loved as kids. And now with the movie another decade later, many of us now have children of our own to introduce to the story. But what speaks to us is very different from what spoke to parents of young kids in the 1970’s.

What is Annie’s defining characteristic? What motivates her? How does she follow that motivation and where does it lead her? Annie is primarily defined by her goodness and her sunny optimism. She looks after the other kids in Miss Hannigan’s orphanage, helping them when they wake up crying in the night. She dreams of finding her parents, who left her a note and a locket, and she runs away determined to do so. She has an irrepressibly positive attitude, as we hear in her signature song, and every move she makes is rooted in that attitude.

Matilda’s defining characteristics, on the other hand, are her genius brain and her sense of justice. Her motivations are to learn and to fight for fairness. These lead her to be a troublemaker, to challenge authority, and to ask questions of those in charge. Both girls try to protect their friends and those who are oppressed or down on their luck, but they do it in completely different ways. 

Annie shines her positive light to inspire the grownups to be more like her, good and kind. She brings together Republican billionaire Oliver Warbucks and Democrat president Roosevelt (who was hated by “Little Orphan Annie” creator Harold Gray) to catch the bad guys, create the New Deal, and eliminate the Hoovervilles like the one she passes through early in the play. Unity, honesty, and benevolence save the day in Annie’s world.

Matilda inspires those around her as well, but she doesn’t waste her time trying to appeal to the better nature of those in authority. Instead she uses her powers to destroy the tool of Miss Trunchbull’s oppression (the nightmarish “Chokey” dungeon), lends her bravery to her peers so that they stand on their desks in open rebellion against their headmistress, and frightens and then flings her bodily (at least in the new film) from her seat of power. Her righteous anger about the state of things makes her fight back in a way that’s completely foreign to the world of Annie.

The musical Annie treats its children like plot devices. Sure, Annie is a great character, with pluck and wit and charm, with great songs to sing. She sees the good in the world and helps things to turn out better in the end. But other than running away at the beginning she doesn’t actually do much other than be a positive presence. She melts Daddy Warbucks’ heart and inspires Roosevelt and his Cabinet, but she doesn’t drive the plot once Warbucks takes her in. Miss Hannigan’s and Rooster’s plot comes and goes without any particular input from her. Warbucks’ assistant, Grace, first notices the scam and it’s foiled due to Warbucks and his government connections to Roosevelt and the FBI. A wealthy benefactor having his attitude changed just by Annie’s mere presence is all it takes to save the day.

Matilda treats its children like humans, with agency, skills, and power. Matilda, the character, drives the plot. She’s thrown from one awful situation in her home into another awful situation at Trunchbull’s school. She bonds with her schoolmates and helps to protect them when they’re in danger. She uses her cleverness to foil Trunchbull’s plans, and when injustice happens she dares to shout, “No!” in the face of those in charge, inspiring everyone around her. As her power grows and Trunchbull’s rage to match it, she uncovers the headmistress’s evil past, tears down the Chokey, exposes Trunchbull’s crimes, and eventually drives her away for good. All of the positive change happens because of the children, and not Matilda alone. She doesn’t lead the final revolt, though her stands earlier in the film helped inspire the bravery of the others.

Annie and Matilda treat the systems we have to deal with completely differently. Annie sees its conflicts resolved by working within the system to find compromises between those with power to craft a New Deal. The massive amount of unhoused people are helped by being given jobs that will ultimately make one of the richest men on Earth even richer. The rising tide will theoretically lift all boats, and they’ll be well prepared to fight the enemy looming on the horizon, while the rich who never had to suffer any of the hardships of the common folk will continue to thrive. Matilda resolves its larger conflicts by ultimately tearing down the system, removing the unjust from power, and building something completely new. The evil headmistress is banished, the oppressive school is rebuilt into something completely different, and the neglectful parents are sent away. Matilda argues that sometimes there is no common ground, that those in charge who made things the way they are should be removed from power, and that the systems that enable abuses should be dismantled.

Even the good adults of these stories speak to very different values. Daddy Warbucks is one of the richest men in the world, a billionaire among millionaires, who isn’t in any way required to be kind or generous, but ultimately decides to be thanks to the goodness of his adopted daughter. His staff are all kind, good people, but they’re also presumably well paid with a generally benevolent boss in a time when those living in the Hoovervilles would probably do anything for their jobs. Can you imagine a popular musical today where the hero is a billionaire industrialist whose powerful connections help save the day?

Matilda‘s heroic adults are her teacher, Miss Honey, and the operator of the mobile library, Mrs. Phelps (not coincidentally, two women of color). Having a teacher and a librarian as the only two good adults in the story was a move that has only gotten stronger in the decade since the musical debuted, given how threatened our schools and educators, libraries and librarians are these days. Mrs. Phelps offers Matilda a refuge (though she does not know from what), an outlet for her stories and imagination, and an endless supply of knowledge through her books. Miss Honey is just as bullied by Miss Trunchbull as the students, as much of a victim of both the woman in charge and the system as a whole. Miss Honey admits after a question by Matilda that teachers are very poorly paid, and she is paid less than most. She lives in a rundown shack but has come to accept that, “it isn’t much but it is enough for me.”

In the opening number of act two (at least how the story is split on stage), “When I Grow Up,” Miss Honey even joins in singing with the children as they dream about being strong and brave enough to endure the challenges of the world. Miss Honey, relatable to many Millennial adults, still dreams of being those things despite already being an adult, as the system and those in charge treat her as if she is still a simpering child so that all she knows is fear. She is inspired by the children just as Warbucks is in Annie, but she doesn’t need to be inspired to goodness as she already has it within her (something common to the many teachers I know). Instead, she is inspired to have the bravery to fight back against the systems that have oppressed her and those like her, just as the children do.

As nice of a kid as Annie is, the Matilda of the musical is much more the sort of role model I would hope my son would emulate. That’s nothing against optimism, which I also believe is supremely important, but when faced with injustice I would always want my child to fight back, even if it means they have to be “a little bit naughty.” I’d rather have a child who is willing and able to tear down oppressive systems than one who only hopes and waits for things to get better. Many Millennials like myself would love to be Matilda, tearing things down and building something new and better in its place. But we’re more likely to be Miss Honey, quietly trying to do good and be kind in a world that is harsh and unfair. It isn’t much, but sometimes it’s enough or it is all we feel we can do. If we can’t be Matilda, then the best we can do is set up our children to be the fighters we wish we could be.

One of the most powerful moments in Matilda the Musical comes near the end but before Matilda’s final confrontation with Miss Trunchbull. She has discovered her telekinesis when she and the other children were finally pushed too far, when in her head “the noise becomes anger and the anger is light.” Miss Honey takes Matilda back to her shack for a cup of tea, and Matilda learns that Miss Trunchbull was responsible for the deaths of Miss Honey’s parents and her current awful situation. Matilda, resolved now to be proactive in the fight instead of just standing up in the moment, storms off in the rain, ready to do something. Miss Honey stops Matilda and warns her, “You need to be very careful. Miss Trunchbull is… capable of awful things.”

“I’m not scared of her,” Matilda replies.

“You should be,” Miss Honey tells her. “She’s dangerous.”

“So am I.”

Can you imagine anyone describing Annie as dangerous? Can you imagine Annie viewing herself that way? This exchange highlights one of the biggest disconnects of the generation gap in our age. Because the truth is, plenty of older folks do view children (and by extension youth, young adults, and basically anyone younger and more different than themselves) as dangerous. Millennials are used to being blamed by screaming editorials for everything from the trivial to the extreme, as if we’re ruining the world that was carefully crafted by previous generations out of spite or laziness. But while the young are dangerous, as Matilda understands, they’re only dangerous to the obstacles that stand in their way, the injustices and oppression that they see, and the systems and structures that create those things.

When you spend your life being told you’re a nothing and a burden and a waste, as Matilda and her classmates have been, you lose the respect and fear of those systems and structures that help to keep the young and the oppressed in line. That makes the young dangerous and powerful, and it’s why some of the biggest cheerleaders for Gen Z and their disregard for rules and tradition are the Millennials like Miss Honey. And I can only hope the next generation, like my son, are even further freed from those burdens and limitations society tries to set on them, because imagine what a generation of Matildas could create if they didn’t have to focus all of their energy on tearing down the walls built to hold them back.

Matilda inspires me to hope for the future, but not in the style of Annie, where the hope is that everyone will decide to be good and work together. Instead, the hope comes from the belief that the next generation, given the example of Matilda (and Newsies, and other works with similar messages) will fight and win in ways we couldn’t. Annie is an iconic and immensely entertaining piece of musical theater, but today its message of the power of optimism to bring about change merely by existing couldn’t hope to resonate with younger audiences the way Matilda will. (If you want a more challenging and rewarding story of optimism and its place in today’s world, I of course will point you towards Tomorrowland.) I will continue to push my son to be one of Matilda‘s revolting children: one who is dangerous, who won’t let a little thing like being little stop him, and who’s not afraid to get a little bit naughty.

“You mighta’ thought we were weak but we’re strong
Mighta’ thought we would break but you’re wrong
Because you finally pushed us too far
Now there’s no going back ’cause we are

Revolting children
Living in revolting times
We sing revolting songs
Using revolting rhymes
We’ll be revolting children
Til our revolting’s done
It is 2-L-8-4-U
We are revolting!”

-“Revolting Children”

Review and Analysis – Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

I haven’t written about movies in over a year and a half, so please bear with me. I just couldn’t let a Star Wars movie pass without making an attempt. This first review section will be spoiler-free, while the second section will be spoiler-filled and have ample warning before you get to it.
Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a mess. It’s also highly enjoyable. It is satisfying. It is disappointing. It is lazy, pandering, and focus-grouped. It is emotional, heartfelt, and genuine. It honors the legacy and themes of the entire saga. It misunderstands what Star Wars is about. It is silly and dumb. It is a thought-provoking discussion-starter. It is unpredictable. It is so predictable. It wastes characters. It gives characters the opportunity to shine. It answers many questions. It wastes many opportunities. It is the safest Star Wars ever. It is the craziest Star Wars ever.
The best description of The Rise of Skywalker is one I’ve seen making the rounds quite a bit. It is “a lot.” I truly did enjoy it but I can’t honestly say it’s very good. One of the benefits to it simply being “a lot,” jam packed with plot and answers and action and humor and moments to cheer, is that there’s something for almost everyone to like. Conversely, there’s something to bother almost everyone. I feel like The Rise of Skywalker, and perhaps the sequel trilogy as a whole when people look back on it, will end up being a Rorschach test for how people feel about Star Wars and how they approach storytelling generally and the revival of beloved franchises specifically.
On the whole, though, I enjoyed The Rise of Skywalker. It has humor and heart, it serves as a broadly satisfying close on the story of the Skywalkers, and it is generally fun. It has some of the best performances of this sequel trilogy, particularly from Daisy Ridley as Rey and Adam Driver as Kylo Ren, while Anthony Daniels gets to shine as the inexhaustible C-3PO. JJ Abrams and company manage to do a good job crafting a final role for Leia from Carrie Fisher’s deleted scenes from The Force Awakens, and it would have felt wrong for her not to be there. There are moments in the film that made me cheer, made my heart swell, and brought tears to my eyes (an admittedly easy feat).
But I wouldn’t call The Rise of Skywalker a particularly great movie. The script from Abrams and Chris Terrio is riddled with coincidences, plot holes, unexplained important events, and occasionally flat dialogue. Rose has been relegated to a criminally minor supporting role, but even Poe and Finn (who had great arcs in The Last Jedi) are mostly misused. There are new characters like Naomi Ackie’s Jannah and Keri Russell’s Zorii Bliss who are nice additions but aren’t given much of a chance to make an impact in a script that is too stuffed to let things breathe. So much of the movie is devoted to action/plot or to the Rey/Kylo/Palpatine triangle that there’s hardly room for anything else.
The Rise of Skywalker has about 50% too much plot. It’s too obsessed with answering questions that didn’t need answering, and with throwing bones to fans who didn’t like The Last Jedi. It’s never openly antagonistic to Rian Johnson’s vastly superior film, but there’s enough of a course correction there to please fans who felt burned by the previous movie. It feels like it was constructed by committee who sent out surveys to fans on what they’d want to see from the final chapter and wrote the script based on the statistics of the responses. The result isn’t bad, per se, it’s just lazy and pandering, not to mention often extremely predictable.
My ultimate conclusion is that JJ Abrams is a great trailer director. What I mean by that is that he knows how to engage an audience from the start, and he has far less interest in the story as a whole or its conclusion. (And this is coming from someone who deeply loves Super 8.) The sequel trilogy suffers from not having a plan from the start, with Abrams doing his thing (like he did on Lost) getting the ball rolling and letting other people sort things out from there. It really illustrates the limits of “mystery box” storytelling, and I hope Lucasfilm finds a new method going forward. The trilogy was redeemed in my eyes by Rian Johnson’s middle chapter, and from that perspective The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable but only serviceable finale.
I’m sure my thoughts and feelings about this Episode 9 will change over time. I wasn’t particularly a fan of The Force Awakens when it first came out, and some things about it still bother me, but it’s grown on me over the last few years, largely due to the strength of the characters it created. I went into The Rise of Skywalker with lower expectations than I usually would for a Star Wars film, and came away generally pleased and entertained. My childhood wasn’t ruined, the sequel trilogy wasn’t ruined for me, and I’m eager for more Star Wars in the weeks, months, and years ahead. It’s still a mess, with some objectively bad mistakes and missteps as well as some things that just didn’t work for me personally, but I’m looking forward to watching it again. The last four years have brought us five Star Wars movies, ranging from spectacular to just fine, and if this is the way this period ends I’m ok with that.
***Spoilers Below***
So Rey is a Palpatine. It was one of the popular theories, and one that seemed more and more likely to me once it was announced that Palpatine would return for TROS. (Even if I originally assumed she was Luke’s daughter after TFA.) Generally, I’m ok with her being a Palpatine even if it wasn’t what I would have preferred. I liked the idea from TLJ that she really was a nobody, and the idea that you don’t have to come from some famous background to be a hero or be important. On the other hand, there’s something to be said for the more broad idea that you’re not defined by your background, and your name or your parents are not responsible for your legacy. Rey is able to set aside her shameful family name and her evil grandfather and choose a family and a name that has more meaning to her. Star Wars has always been about the families you create being more important than those you’re born with, so in that sense it fits thematically.
Rey’s struggle throughout the trilogy has been about identity. First she defined herself solely by the parents she was waiting for and the longing she had for a family that wanted her. She learned to stop waiting for that family and went looking for “someone to show me my place” in TLJ. But she eventually learned that she alone was enough, and she didn’t need to be defined by a family she had waited for that would never come back. In ROTS she learns she’s a Palpatine and that her parents abandoned her for her own safety, which is kind of a cop out from TLJ’s claim that they sold her for drinking money, but both have enough truth to work with the “certain point of view” theme that is a constant through Star Wars. And I could totally see how choosing the Skywalker name could feel like a step backwards for many people, but I look at it as coming full circle for her, not waiting for someone to bring her meaning, and no longer feeling like she has to stand alone, she chooses to take the name of those who meant so much to her, to keep what they fought for alive in a way that is stronger than blood.
I appreciated the return to Tattooine as a fan, but it doesn’t make a lot of sense as a final resting place for the lightsabers from Rey’s perspective. Leia has no connection to the Lars homestead, but whatever. It’s symbolic more for the story than for the literal actions of the character. What I don’t understand is people claiming online that the scene means Rey is going to now live there? That doesn’t seem implied or stated by the scene at all. I guess it comes from the title of the track on the soundtrack, “A New Home,” but I think believing Rey is actually going to live there seems like a misreading of the character even in a movie as messy as TROS. I kind of hope that she took the kyber crystals from the two sabers and is using them in her new, yellow saber, though.
Then there’s Ben Solo. I haven’t been a fan of Kylo Ren at all. I thought he made for an interesting villain, but I wasn’t eager to see his redemption and I certainly didn’t ship him and Rey. But I very much enjoyed his arc in TROS, and especially Adam Driver’s performance. I appreciate that he was able to be redeemed as Ben Solo without an unrealistically happy ending after participating in the murder of billions with Starkiller Base. I don’t think I would have been able to buy that, though had he survived and gone into hiding to do atone in secret I could have accepted that too. There’s definitely some nice parallels to Anakin with Ben having the power to bring Rey back from death, and his sacrifice was a fitting end to the Skywalker line, a line of Jedi who came into being to balance out Palpatine’s rise and which ended with Palpatine’s fall. I can get on board with that. The scene with his memory of his father was an emotional, but predictable, surprise, and I especially love that his mother was the one to turn him and Rey back from the darkness. Driver really sold the transformation, and his wordless performance as Ben for the rest of the film was truly special.
I’ve admitted to not being a Reylo shipper, and I’m happy to admit that shipping has never been a particularly passionate thing to me in fandoms generally. I enjoy the anticipation of possible relationships, and I definitely have couples I ship, but I’m rarely too upset when things don’t work out. But I also recognize that as a man there is probably something significant I’m missing in Reylo, so I’m trying to do my part to listen to why some people are so upset. I know many women identify with Rey and were thrilled to have a character they could see themselves in in Star Wars. So I can see how it feels like a betrayal that the relationship between Rey and Ben ends in tragedy because it feels like the powers that be are saying to women that they simply can’t have it all. They can be heroes but they have to be alone. I don’t personally read the story that way, but I can definitely see how it would feel like that kind of statement and I have no interest in dismissing that pain or that interpretation. I believe and I hope that Rey goes on to a full and happy life with her friends Finn and Poe and Rose and the droids, finds love and happiness and family and gets to continue being a hero to the galaxy. I don’t think the film contradicts that vision, it just doesn’t take the opportunity to show that a woman can have it all, which is understandably like a betrayal to many.
Speaking of Finn and Poe, what a wasted opportunity for the two of them. There are racial implications to Poe’s backstory as a drug smuggler that I don’t feel qualified to address and which I admit didn’t occur to me until they were pointed out. After all of his growth in TLJ, he basically became Han Solo this time around. Finn had one great scene with Jannah about leaving the First Order, but that was most of his story, too. Apparently his secret for Rey is that he’s Force sensitive? I don’t have an issue with it, but it didn’t add anything to the film and felt kind of tacked on. Really, the biggest missed opportunity was for Finn and Poe to become a couple, which would have worked so well in the film’s finale, but I have no doubt the powers that be weren’t ready to go that bold. LGBTQ+ representation is extremely important, and it’s no small deal that TROS has the first onscreen same sex kiss for Star Wars. But how awesome would have been for Finn and Poe to kiss upon their reunion? That could have been Finn’s secret.
I don’t really know what to say about Palpatine being the puppet master this whole time. It seems like it was the easy decision for the production team to make to please fans and find a way to wrap up the trilogy where they clearly didn’t have a plan. I don’t particularly care that Snoke was grown in a vat, but I don’t have a problem with it either. I can accept Palpatine surviving the end of Return of the Jedi even if it’s inherently silly. It’s just… fine. The Palpatine stuff was the least interesting aspect of the film for me, and this is from someone who loves Palpatine in all of the Lucas films. He’s a fascinating character in the prequels and in ROTJ, but here he was just kind of cartoonish. He’s probably the only villain that would have felt big enough and provide enough of a threat to work with Rey and Ben’s story, so it’s fine from that standpoint, it just wasn’t super interesting to me.
I was kind of overwhelmed by the Jedi voices encouraging Rey, so I’ll have to pay closer attention on the next viewing, but I love that they brought in more than just the obvious ones from the films. Nice to hear Ahsoka and Kanan! As far as other cameos, it was nice to see the Ghost from Rebels and Wedge return in the finale (though right after Wedge lost his adopted son, Snap), and I’ll be curious to watch people dissect the footage as time goes on to see what other hidden gems are scattered among the fleet. I loved the “They’re not a navy, they’re just… people” line so much, and it was one of the most Star Wars lines in the film. The idea that “Rebellions are built on Hope” is one I cling to desperately, and I loved the idea in this film that villains win by making people feel alone.
There’s a lot of healthy debate going on about how much TROS was intended to undo TLJ, but a lot of that comes from having lived the fan backlash the last two years. It would be impossible for the experience of watching the movie not to be colored by everything that has happened. But for the most part I read a lot of the “corrections” as growth and development rather than antipathy towards TLJ. Things like Luke preventing Rey from destroying the lightsaber feel like Luke acknowledging his failures, something that feels very in tune with his character growth in TLJ and Yoda’s lesson for him. I choose not to buy into the theory that JJ and Rian hate each other and there’s some kind of war between them. That’s just silly to me, even if they have very different styles of filmmaking and storytelling.
In all, I’m curious to see how and if my feelings about The Rise of Skywalker change with time and repeat viewings. I know I won’t become more accepting of things like the sidelining of Rose or the flattening of Poe and Finn. But things like the overstuffed plot and the Palpatine stuff that I’m neutral on now could go either way. Could I go back in time I would have given this trilogy to a single director, or at least found someone with a singular vision for the sequels. I don’t begrudge anyone being disappointed or hurt, but for now I’m choosing to be positive. It doesn’t undo the things I found most meaningful in The Last Jedi, particularly Luke’s story. It gives Leia a loving ending and Carrie a beautiful sendoff. It leaves the door open for more adventures while putting a reasonably satisfying cap on the Skywalker Saga. And Rogue One still exists. I can be happy with this messy, pandering film for now, and maybe one day I’ll grow to love it.

Let’s talk about Luke, and other spoiler-filled thoughts on Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Our son’s name is Luke. I have a ring I wear at all times with his name on it in his memory after he was stillborn nine months ago. And while there were plenty of Luke’s that could have, and did, inspire our son’s name (including the Biblical Luke as well as Lukes Danes and Kuechly), I’d be lying if I said he wasn’t named after Luke Skywalker. It was such an obvious name choice for me that it was set in my mind long before I ever met my wife, and despite never discussing it my best friend still accurately guessed it before we made the name public. My point in all of this is so that when I say that Luke Skywalker is my favorite character from anything I have ever watched, read, seen, or experienced, you understand the depth of what I mean. I’d pick Luke Skywalker over the countless characters who have meant so much to me, from Atticus Finch to Data, more than Hermione, Neville, and Luna, beyond River Tam or Buffy Summers, past even WALL-E or Casey Newton. Luke Skywalker helped me through some of the most difficult times in my life, through depression and isolation. He taught me about storytelling, sparked my love of movies and fanned the flames of my love of reading. So needless to say I had a lot of fear going into Star Wars: The Last Jedi over how my favorite character and my son’s namesake would be treated and used. Ultimately, directory Rian Johnson made a completely different choice than I would have at every possible turn, and the result was a bold, thrilling, adventure that advanced Star Wars in unexpected ways filled with new depths. But I have many, many thoughts to wrestle out with regards to Luke Skywalker that simply couldn’t be discussed in a spoiler-free review. So read on for a more in-depth SPOILER-FILLED look at not only Luke’s story but other aspects of The Last Jedi worthy of discussion.


Continue reading

So, about the ending to Baby Driver…

I really enjoyed Baby Driver. Edgar Wright delivered a tightly crafted, exquisitely choreographed thrill ride of a movie, with a killer soundtrack and some of the best action sequences of the year. I loved the eccentric characters, the chemistry between Ansel Elgort’s Baby and Lily James’ Debora in particular, although at times it felt like it was trying a little too hard to be a Tarantino film, particularly with bits of the dialogue. I’m still amazed by the intricacy of the filming and post production work required to make each moment of the film move in rhythm with whatever song happens to be playing on Baby’s iPod. Baby Driver was a solid A film for me, and I look forward to seeing it again as I know I’ll pick up on many details I missed the first time.

However, I find myself still hung up on Baby Driver’s ending. (Spoilers below, obviously!) Continue reading

Rogue One is not Jyn’s story, it’s the Rebellion’s, and other thoughts

I’ve had all sorts of thoughts rattling around in my head since I first saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. I gave it an A in my review, and I stand by that, especially as a reflection of how I feel about the film having now seen it twice. On the other hand, I don’t think Rogue One is necessarily that great of a movie either. It has some major character development issues that are for me its biggest shortcoming, particularly when held up to The Force Awakens whose greatest assets was its characters. So I wanted a chance to talk about the things I love about Rogue One, the things that frustrate me about it, and any other observations I might have. (I did something similar for The Force Awakens.) Needless to say there will be Spoilers Below for anyone who hasn’t seen the film. Here, in no particular order, are some Rogue One thoughts and opinions that continue to clog up my brain. And of course, keep in mind that all of this is coming from someone who unashamedly loves the prequels.

Continue reading

Contact, the Lonely Scientist, and the Loneliness within us all

The Lonely Scientist

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehnerand Silver Screenings. Day 1 is all about good scientists, day 2 is for mad scientists, and day 3 covers lonely scientists. 

Scientists are often lonely creatures. Between the time they spend in labs, doing research, sorting through endless data, and working on equipment, it’s easy to see why. But while scientists in the real world often work in teams with others, movie scientists typically don’t have that luxury, making movie scientists some of the loneliest characters onscreen. In the movies, scientists are often at odds with society or those in power, often serving as the lone voice of reason in a chaotic story. Frequently they have to pursue their studies alone, whether by choice or because they’ve been ostracized from everyone else, and sometimes their passions and beliefs make it hard for them to connect to others when the opportunity arises. No matter if the movie scientist is a good one, a mad one, or even an evil one, loneliness seems like it’s typically part of the journey for these characters. And in my mind there’s no lonelier scientist on film than Ellie Arroway from Contact.

Continue reading

Tony Stark the Mad Scientist – Avengers: Age of Ultron

Peace in our time 

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Day 1 is all about good scientists, day 2 is for mad scientists, and day 3 covers lonely scientists. 

The idea of “mad scientists” is probably as old as science, and it’s certainly been around since the beginning of cinema. There are countless iterations, from Victor Frankenstein to Dr. Jekyll, and it’s easy to see why the concept makes for such compelling storytelling. They’re often tragic heroes in the classic sense, full of noble intentions but undone by their own ambition or shortsightedness. The mad scientist is of course distinct from the “evil genius”. Where an evil genius is typically the villain of a story, using their knowledge and ability for nefarious purposes, the mad scientist is typically a character with noble intentions who is subject to the tragic flaw of being unable to see the consequences of their actions until they’re too late. (Then there are good scientists who are just kind of crazy or reclusive, whom I wouldn’t typically classify as “mad.) To me, there’s no better use of the mad scientist trope than in last year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron.

Continue reading

Jurassic Park and the Responsibility of Good Scientists

This post is part of the Movie Scientist Blogathon, hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings. Day 1 is all about good scientists, day 2 is for mad scientists, and day 3 covers lonely scientists. 

What makes a scientist “good”? Some scientists cure diseases, other scientists research new technologies that help people, while others fight to protect the planet, and we’d probably call all of these “good” scientists. But what makes a movie scientist “good”? In many films about scientists, they’re often using science to overcome impossible odds, or trying to uncover the truth when those in power would rather keep it quiet, but for me the defining “goodness” of a movie scientist is measured by their devotion to scientific ethics, to using science for the betterment of society rather than for personal gain or glory, and to understanding the consequences of science. And in my book, there’s no better example (outside of Star Trek, of course) than the scientists in Jurassic Park. And the qualities that make them good scientists are all on display in one key scene in the film.

Continue reading

France on Film Blogathon: Le Pacte des loups (Brotherhood of the Wolf)

This post is a part of the France on Film Blogathon, hosted by Serendipitous Anachronisms. Day 1 focuses on French cinema, while day 2 will cover France as a film subject.

I can probably count on my two hands the number of French films I’ve seen. I’m in no way an expert on French cinema, despite having a great appreciation for it. I’ve been to France twice, but only as a tourist. I don’t speak the language, and while I know more than the average American about French history I’m sure my knowledge pales in comparison to the average European. Basically, I have no authority to speak with any certainty on French culture, history, or cinema, with one exception: one of my all-time favorite films is French. Le Pacte des loups (in English: Brotherhood of the Wolf), is a bizarre, unique mash-up of period drama, monster movie, and martial arts action film, but it’s also intense, emotional, funny, sexy, and simply gorgeous to look at. And, above all, it feels like the sort of film that could only have been made in France.

Continue reading

My Top 12 (and Bottom 3) at the Movies in 2015

We’ve almost reached the end of 2015, and it was a big year for movies. It’s been a year of long-awaited sequels, broken box office records, and some really fantastic movies. There was a lot to love from the movies in 2015, and a few things that weren’t quite so good, so here are my favorite and least favorite things from the world of cinema this year. I generally don’t do a “top 10 films” list, because I don’t get a chance to see everything, and many of the so-called “Oscar bait” films don’t get wide releases until after the year is over. Of course, the best part of 2015 at the movies was getting to interact with so many great people here on the blog, and on Twitter and Tumblr, but I lack the words to properly express my grattitude for you taking the time to read what I write, comment, and discuss movies with me. So instead I present my favorite (and least favorite) movie-related items from the year, comprised of films, characters, scenes, events, themes, and trends from 2015. And let’s hope 2016 is even better!

Continue reading