Star Wars And Me

There is a new “Star Wars” movie coming out this week. I should be more excited, but I’m not.

Pretty much all of my enthusiasm for the latest “Star Wars” trilogy died when that goth loser Kylo Ren shoved a lightsaber in Han Solo’s chest and let him fall into blackness.

Yep, I should be more excited about a new “Star Wars” movie but I’m not.

It wasn’t always that way.

A long time ago

The year was 1977. My brother drove my sister and me to the Tower theater in Springfield to see this new sci-fi space adventure, “Star Wars.” Words cannot describe. I walked out of the theater wanting to walk right back in.

I feel nothing but a great swell of pity for everyone who never saw “Star Wars” for the first time in a movie theater in 1977 when it was all pristine and new. If you experienced “Star Wars” for the first time via videotape, DVR or TNT — you have my sympathies. You simply can’t imagine what life was like before “Star Wars.” Science-fiction space adventure movies were crap. It was as if a whole new universe had been opened up for us, thanks to George Lucas.

A few weeks later we went to Columbia to pick up my other sister from college and we saw it again. It was even better the second time. Keep in mind we were poor country folk, we rarely went to the movies at all. Let alone the same one twice.

star_wars_hildebrandt_artI was 15 years old at the time — the prime age for the merchandising machine that would follow. I bought the poster to hang on my bedroom wall (the Hildebrandt version is still one of the all-time great movie posters) and the soundtrack album (which I didn’t listen to much because, you know, it’s just instrumental). I got a watch for Christmas.

I loved “Star Wars” but it didn’t become an obsession. I didn’t buy any action figures, I didn’t bother with the comic books, I didn’t read the novels. The movies were enough.

Like all right-minded people, I believe “The Empire Strikes Back” is As Good As It Gets. The perfect mix of drama, humor, special effects, character bits, Yoda, the giant worm in the asteroid, surprising revelations, Lando, and those giant Imperial tanks that look like dinosaurs.

Sitting through the third film I started to feel that, yeah, maybe it is time to wrap this up. They’re taking down a Death Star — again? Why are trained Imperial stormtroopers being taken down by walking teddy bears? Why teddy bears? Getting a little tired of the Emperor going on and on about “the power of the dark side…”

A Bad Feeling About This

Lucas claimed early on that the plan was for three trilogies and the next one would be a prequel to the original. It took so long to get around to making the prequels that I began to think it would never happen. When “The Phantom Menace” finally showed up some 16 years after “Return of the Jedi,” the expectations were high. The disappointment would take a while to sink in.

starwars-02I don’t need to recite all the ills of the prequels, but let’s go over the major ones:

  • Darth Vader, one of the great villains of cinema, is reduced to a precocious child and a whining adolescent. I’m sure Hitler was a precocious child and a whiny teenager, but I don’t want to know about it.
  • The Jedi Knights, once thought of as samurai cowboys wandering the galaxy fighting evil, are reduced to clueless politicians sitting around debating what the hell’s going on and never figuring it out.
  • Ridiculously complicated plots involving trade federations and clones and the machinations of Palpatine.
  • The worst love story in the history of film.

You’re probably wondering why Jar Jar Binks isn’t on this list, but I think the hatred of JJB is overblown. He’s just another witless comedy relief character. He serves the same role as C-3PO but nobody complains about him.

The prequels do benefit from superior special effects, but here is where I learned that there is more to “Star Wars” than awesome FX. All the pretty planets and weird aliens and exciting space battles don’t mean a thing if you don’t care about the characters. And I just didn’t care about anybody in the prequels — except Obi Wan. And maybe Mace Windu, but even Sam Jackson was wasted in these films — and when you’re wasting a talent like Samuel L. Jackson — you’ve done something seriously wrong.  (I also liked Qui-Gon, but they kill him off in the first film).

For me, “Star Wars” isn’t about lightsabers, odd hairdos or the Millennium Falcon (although those are all important) — it’s about Luke, Leia and Han.

There is Another 

With the tepid reception to the prequels, and anger over Lucas tinkering with the originals, it seemed unlikely we would ever see that third trilogy. Then Disney bought out Lucasfilm and the next thing you know — Everything’s Star Wars.

starwarsjpg1445279779When I learned that Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher and Harrison Ford had signed on for the new movies — I was excited about “Star Wars” for the first time in a long time. Oh sure, they’re older and they’ve been through the wringer, but then, haven’t we all? I just wanted to see Luke, Leia and Han all back together, cracking wise and fighting the dark side, one more time.

And then that f—king Kylo Ren shoved a lightsaber in Han Solo’s chest and let him fall into blackness.

I mean, seriously? Han Solo and Princess Leia have a son and it’s this loser? We go from the great Darth Vader to this loser? I’d be more scared of the offspring of Jabba the Hut and an Ewok than I am of Kylo Ren.

The rest of the additions are fine but I’m not in it for them. I want The Beatles, not New Kids on the Block. Which leads me to my next great analogy.

Let’s say The Beatles announce they are planning a reunion concert (I know two of them are dead — work with me). You’re excited, right? You mortgage your home to buy a pair of tickets. You show up at the concert hall. The curtain goes up and there are Paul, George and Ringo playing all the hits. You’re enjoying the show, but at the same time you’re thinking “Where’s John?” Intermission. Act 2 begins and there’s John! with George and Ringo. But now Paul’s missing. You’re enjoying the show, but at the same time you’re thinking “Where the hell did Paul go?”

In the end, you did see The Beatles, but not all four together like you were hoping and expecting. Still a good show, but still somewhat disappointing.

And that’s where I am with “Star Wars.” I suppose they could bring Han back somehow but there’s no bringing Carrie Fisher back, so I’m not going to get what I really wanted.

At any rate, I’ll be sticking with “Star Wars” to the end (although now that Disney is in charge, I doubt there will ever be an end). I am excited to see Luke again and see where he fits into this strange, new galaxy. And I need to know what happens to Leia. And I am pretty fond of Rey. Maybe there is hope.

But I’d still like to see the Fab Three again.

 

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On Stage: The King and I

After entertaining audiences with the modern musicals “On Your Feet!” and “The Bodyguard,” the Fox Theatre is dancing back to Broadway’s golden age with Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic “The King and I.”

The show is based on the life of Anna Leonowens, who served as governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. Her story was made into a book — “Anna and the King of Siam” — by Margaret Landon in 1944. Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II turned the tale into a musical that made its Broadway premiere in 1951.

The current touring production, directed by Bartlett Sher, won four Tony awards in 2015, including Best Revival of a Musical.

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in Rodgers & Hammerstein's The King and I. Photo by Matthew Murphy_preview

Jose Llana and Laura Michelle Kelly in “The King and I.” Photo by Matthew Murphy

Laura Michelle Kelly stars as Anna — the “I” in the title — a widowed mother of one who has come to Bangkok to teach the many children, and wives, of the King (Jose Llana). The king wants to be considered a modern-day ruler but continues to cling to old ways. It’s a puzzlement.

Both Anna and the king are strong-willed and the challenging nature of their relationship is the heart of the story. There’s a subplot involving a young princess (Q Lim) who doesn’t want to be the king’s property.  Also playing a key role is Joan Almedilla as Lady Thiang, the first among the king’s wives.

The leads all have powerful voices as they deliver such standards as “I Whistle a Happy Tune,”  “Getting to Know You” and “Shall We Dance?” Kelly performs the role of classic musical heroine with grace and style while Llana is a supercharged powder keg of explosive energy.

The set design is minimal for the most part while the costumes are bright and elaborate. The music is sharp and memorable and the performances are all strong. “The King and I” isn’t a holiday classic, but it’s a fine diversion for the holiday season.

“The King and I” runs through Dec. 10. www.fabulousfox.com

 

 

 

The RRoy Report Holiday Gift Guide 2017

So you’ve got stuck playing Secret Santa and you don’t know what to do? Or say you’ve got some great co-worker, friend, brother, cousin, former co-worker, husband and you really want to show your appreciation for all that person has been to you — but what to do, what to do?

Well, that’s why I’m here. And that’s why every year I struggle to bring you the latest and greatest in gift ideas for the holidays. To be honest, I didn’t struggle too much this year — the holidays have kinda snuck up on me. Doing “Justice League” week last week really threw off my schedule.

Still, I scraped together a few things so let’s get through this so you can get back to turkey leftovers or football or whatever you do today.

Movies

download2017 was lousy in many ways, but it was stellar when it comes to superhero movies. Many of them are available now on blu-ray (my preferred format) or DVD. If you want to spend the holiday darkly depressed, check out Wolverine’s last run in Logan. It’s violent and sad and very well done. If you need something much more lighthearted, Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming offer laughs, action, special effects and decent villain turns by Kurt Russell and Michael Keaton. If you want all of that (except Keaton and Russell) and a heaping dose of feminism, check out Wonder Woman.

If you can only buy one — why can you only buy one? You’ve got a computer and internet, you can’t be that poor.

Music

I tend to latch onto bands and musicians because (a) they put out that one song that really grabs my attention (b) a friend/nephew/roommate turns me on to them (c) there is no c.

Green-Day-Gods-Favorite-Band-billboard-embedI’m not a fan of Green Day. I’ve heard some of their stuff but they’ve never had that one song that really grabs me. Still, I know they’re popular and I’d probably like their stuff if I tried it and they do have a greatest hits album coming out for the holidays, so BAM! it’s on the list. Besides, apparently they’re “God’s Favorite Band,” so they must be good.

The New Pornographers, one of my favorite modern bands — maybe my only favorite modern band — put out a new record this year. “Whiteout Conditions” starts out with a couple of really strong songs, has an OK middle and then loses steam at the end. I’d still recommend it. U2 will have a new album out December 1. I don’t need a copy of “Songs of Experience” because they’re sending us 2 copies for advance purchasing tickets for their St. Louis show. I don’t know what I’ll do with the second copy — maybe I’ll do one of those “Like and Share” things on Facebook for some lucky winner. Since I haven’t heard it yet I can’t tell you if it’s any good, but hey, it’s U2 — how bad can it be?

Books

9780785194521_p0_v2_s600x595Uhm, don’t have much in the way of book recommendations this year. Susan Sagarra didn’t write one. I mentioned this last week, but DC is releasing an omnibus version of the wonderful Justice League International comic book. If you enjoy some Bwah-Ha-Ha with your superhero action, it’s worth checking out. It will not fit in a stocking.

Otherwise, the only thing I can think of is the collection edition of Secret Empire. This is the controversial (because everything is controversial these days) story in which Captain America turns out to be a secret Nazi — I mean, Hydra — and takes over the world. Some nerds just don’t understand that heroes temporarily being turned into bad guys is a staple of comic books and — spoiler alert! — Cap isn’t going to be evil by the story’s end.

As you probably expect, I’m only recommending this because there’s some decent Hawkeye/Black Widow moments. Although it doesn’t end well for Natasha.

Station Trinkets

I learned a new term this week: Station Trinkets. Apparently that refers to all the crap that people put on their desks to give it a personal feel and help convince you that you’re not really wasting your life away at a desk like a cog in a machine for some cold, impersonal company.

Some people, of course, put up family photographs. Many people in my office like those god-awful ugly Funko dolls. Others prefer different forms of memorabilia.

heroclix

My personal recommendation: Heroclixs. They’re game pieces (I’ve never played the game and have no idea how) that come in the shape of your favorite comic book characters. They are small, so you can have several on your desk. They are cheap, so if someone steals them it’s no big loss. And they look cool. Although to be fair, the quality of some of them varies– especially the faces. So check them out before you buy.

In Conclusion

I went out recently looking for superhero Christmas sweaters but all they had was Deadpool and I don’t like ‘Pool enough to wear him for the holidays. Target had an amusing light-up Star Wars sweater, but I’m not enough of a Star Wars geek to want that. But then, I’m not you.

As always, if for some reason your taste in holiday gifts veers towards automotive-related items, check out all the great deals at www.etrailer.com.

Now get out there and go shopping. Our nation’s economy is counting on you.

 

 

 

Thanks

That for which I am thankful, 2017:

We have survived Year 1 of the Trump Administration

A&W Root Beer (and Cream Soda)

A fine year of superhero movies (even Justice League)

People who don’t touch my stuff

People who do

scotttouch (2)

Insurance

Olives

Drugs that don’t have negative side effects

People who stand for the National Anthem

People who take a knee

golden nuggets

Leah

All my musical favorites who haven’t died this year

The music left behind by those who did

real news

And, as always

tahoe9

At The Movies: Coco

This holiday week we should be thankful for Pixar Animation, which continually gives us quality, heartfelt animated feature films. It’s latest, “Coco,” is no exception.

Young Miguel Rivera (Anthony Gonzalez) loves music. Unfortunately, his family has banned it. Three generations earlier, the family matriarch (and her daughter Coco) was abandoned by her husband — an aspiring musician. Mama Imelda (Alanna Ubach) went on to form a successful shoe-making business in a small Mexican village. Music was never allowed in the house.

Coco, Miguel’s great-grandmother, is wheelchair bound and pretty much lost in her own world. Grandma Abuelita (Renee Victor) is in charge of keeping the home and business music free.

coco_payoff_ig_jpeg_v7_1_750x938_by_loldisney-dbn7ohsWhile everyone else in the family is content making shoes, Miguel dreams of being a great musician like his hero — the late Ernesto de la Cruz (Benjamin Bratt). Miguel decides to enter a music contest at the Day of the Dead festival, but needs a guitar.

He decides to borrow one from Ernesto’s mausoleum, but when he takes the instrument something strange happens. Namely, he winds up in the Land of the Dead.

Miguel wants to go home, but Imelda will not help him unless he vows to give up music. So instead he seeks help from Ernesto, but to reach the popular singer, he will need help from a questionable character named Hector (Gael Garcia Bernal).

“Coco” has all the familiar elements of a Pixar film. A smart, tightly woven plot; charming characters; a moving, family-friendly message; a goofy animal; a few nice songs; some thrilling action scenes; and gorgeous, dazzling animation. The Land of the Dead is surprisingly colorful and inspired.

So why don’t I rank it among Pixar’s greatest films? Because it’s a little too familiar. So many elements here have been done before in countless animated features. Granted, that won’t bother the target audience, but it takes some of the thrill out of it for an old, jaded dude like me. And the final, climactic scene with Miguel and Coco doesn’t just tug at your heartstrings — it pulls at them like a power winch.

Still, “Coco” is shiny and pretty and funny and smart and follows its familiar path well.

 

 

 

Gone: Malcolm Young

Stand up and be counted for what you are about to receive
We are the dealers
We’ll give you everything you need
Hail hail to the good times
Cos rock has got the right of way
We ain’t no legends ain’t no cause
We’re just livin’ for today
For those about to rock, we salute you

‘Cause the walls were shaking
The earth was quaking
My mind was aching
And we were making it
And you
Shook me all night long
Rode down the highway
Broke the limit, we hit the town
Went through to Texas, yeah Texas, and we had some fun
We met some girls
Some dancers who gave a good time
Broke all the rules
Played all the fools
Yeah yeah they, they, they blew our minds
And I was shaking at the knees
Could I come again please
Yeah them ladies were too kind
You’ve been
Thunderstruck
If you’re havin’ trouble with the high school head
He’s givin’ you the blues
You wanna graduate but not in his bed
Here’s what you gotta do
Pick up the phone, I’m always home
Call me any time
Just ring 362 436 oh
I lead a life of crimeDirty deeds, done dirt cheap
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap
Dirty deeds, done dirt cheap
(Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap)
(Dirty deeds and they’re done dirt cheap)

Ridin’ down the highway
Goin’ to a show
Stop in all the byways
Playin’ rock ‘n’ roll
Gettin’ robbed
Gettin’ stoned
Gettin’ beat up
Broken boned
Gettin’ had
Gettin’ took
I tell you folks
It’s harder than it looksIt’s a long way to the top if you wanna rock ‘n’ roll

I’m rolling thunder pouring rain
I’m coming on like a hurricane
My lightning’s flashing across the sky
You’re only young but you’re gonna die
I won’t take no prisoners won’t spare no lives
Nobody’s putting up a fight
I got my bell I’m gonna take you to hell
I’m gonna get ya satan get yaHells bells
Hells bells, you got me ringing
Hells bells, my temperature’s high
Hells bells

Rock ‘n’ roll ain’t noise pollution
Yes I’m back in black
Back in the back of a Cadillac
Number one with a bullet I’m a power pack
Yes I am
In a bang with the gang
They’ve got to catch me if they want me to hang
Cause I’m back on the track and I’m beatin’ the flack
Nobody’s gonna get me on another rap
So look at me now I’m just makin’ my play
Don’t try to push your luck just get out of my way
Cause I’m back
Yes I’m back
Well I’m back
Yes I’m back
Well I’m back back
Well I’m back in black
Yes I’m back in black
0000826057
Livin’ easy
Livin’ free
Season ticket on a one way ride
Askin’ nothin’
Leave me be
Takin’ everythin’ in my stride
Don’t need reason
Don’t need rhyme
Ain’t nothin’ that I’d rather do
Goin’ down
Party time
My friends are gonna be there tooI’m on the highway to hell

Justice League: Read More About It

I’m looking at DC’s latest listing of “essential graphic novels” and it turns out the company and I are not in agreement on what makes essential reading. I would never recommend anyone (especially anyone new to comics) to suffer through the convoluted, confusing “Final Crisis.” Nor would I point you in the direction of the creepy and depressing “Identity Crisis.”

81c3FTam4sLSo let’s throw the list away. Here are some of the books that made me love the JLA. Some may be out of print but you can find ’em on Amazon, so they’re out there somewhere.

My first experience with the Justice League of America was the early 1970s. I don’t remember the writers but the art was by Dick Dillin. He wasn’t a “hot” or flashy artist but his style was clean and sharp and I liked it.

You can find most of this stuff in DC’s “Showcase” series. Volumes 5 and 6 cover the years I was reading the book.  It was good stuff for a kid, it probably hasn’t aged well. But that’s OK, the best comics are the ones you loved as a kid.

61-OvGyiIPL._SX320_BO1,204,203,200_I left DC for Marvel in the mid-70s and didn’t come back until George Perez, who made a name for himself drawing “The Avengers.” jumped ship to DC for a long run on “Teen Titans” and a short run on “Justice League.” His JLA work is available in 2 volumes — titled, appropriately enough, “Justice League of America by George Perez (DC Classic Comics Library).”

When Perez left, so did I. My next foray into Justice League lore would also be my longest. In 1987 the book was revamped for the 347th time — this time as a workplace comedy.

Keith Giffen and J.M. DeMatteis weren’t allowed to use Superman or Wonder Woman in the beginning and had limited use of Batman so they put the focus on Z-listers Blue Beetle, Booster Gold, Guy Gardner, Fire, Ice, Maxwell Lord and more characters you’ve never heard of. Giffen and DeMatteis were joined by artist Kevin Maguire, whose wonderfully expressive faces just added to the fun.

JLIOmnibusGranted, taking a serious book like Justice League and playing it for laughs didn’t sit well at first, but it was so well done it quickly became a hit, spawning a sister title, “Justice League Europe,” and several specials. When Maguire left the book he was replaced by the equally gifted Adam Hughes.

A big chunk of the run was recently collected in “Justice League International Omnibus Vol. 1.” I don’t buy omnibi — they’re too big and clunky and difficult to read, but I’m not you so do what you want. If you are also put off by the omnibus format, the initial run is collected in “Justice League: A New Beginning.” Start there and you’ll probably be able to find the rest collected somewhere.

There have been a couple of other JLA incarnations I’ve checked out over the years but nothing that stands out as something worth mentioning here. Some people really liked the Grant Morrison years — I was not one of them.

81dcYjT13fLIf you’re looking for something more in line with the movie, your best bet would be the recent “New 52” revamp of the team. “Justice League: Origin” collects the 2011 new beginning that tries to explain why Cyborg is now a Justice Leaguer when he should be chillin’ with Beast Boy, Starfire and Raven. The story is no great shakes but it has some sweet Jim Lee art.