Tag Archive | Lucasfilm

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 8) – The Rescue

These days, it can be nice when in a world rampant with spoilers, some things can still surprise you.

I remember wandering around Star Wars Celebration in 2019, and seeing people psyched up for The Mandalorian. Even with a prop speeder bike from the show on display, I just dismissed the show as some way to placate the Boba Fett fanboys.

Imagine my surprise later that fall, when I found out how series creator Jon Favreau had something a little different in mind: a series that tapped into the western and samurai tales that George Lucas sought inspiration from, and attempted to tell a live-action story outside the confines of The Skywalker Saga.

Pretty soon, I was drawn into the adventures of Din Djarin (aka the Mandalorian), and his unexpected charge Grogu, aka “The Child.” The show managed to hit me with just enough nostalgia, while taking us off into places that the films would not generally go to.

And now, we find ourselves at the end of the second season, and it’s much-anticipated finale.

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With the coordinates to Moff Gideon’s (Giancarlo Esposito) cruiser now in his possession, The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) puts his plan into action to rescue Grogu.

Along with cohorts Cara Dune(Gina Carano), Boba Fett (Temuera Morrison), and Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), Mando recruits fellow Mandalorians Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) to help them out.

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After episode 6 of this season, I did wonder if the season finale could do everything it needed to in just 45 minutes. Turns out, I didn’t have much to worry about.

One thing that has been clear over much of season 2, is how the show feels no guilt in reaching back into it’s cast of characters to pull some into the light for various missions. Characters like Mythrol and Miggs Mayfield were definitely a surprise to see play larger supporting roles this season, but I didn’t expect to see Bo-Katan and Koska return before the season ended.

For much of the episode, the action is split-up (with Boba taking a backseat to much of the action). While Mando goes in on his own, it was a nice touch seeing the women of the episode work together in infiltrating the ship. Each of them brings something useful to the fight, and getting to see them interact was a highlight. One highlight for me, was seeing a bit more action given to Fennec Shand, whom I have felt had been rather downplayed since her return to the series.

Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), Cara Dune (Gina Carano), Fennec Shand (Ming-Na Wen), and Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) infiltrate Moff Gideon’s ship.

Seen briefly in episode 6, we also get some of our first full glimpses of Moff Gideon’s nightmarish Darktrooper squad in action. The Terminator-like creations provide some nice tense moments, with an added musical cue from composer Ludwig Goransson to make things seem even more harrowing when our group encounters them on the cruiser.

Like a number of episodes this season, this one attempts to balance out action with emotion, and when it comes to emotions, this episode might hit viewers in ways they never imagined.

Certain revelations given in this episode did push a number of my emotional buttons, but once I had some time to recover and collect my thoughts, I had to judge the episode on it’s overall merits. In fact, one revelation would have probably pushed the episode to the top of my favorites of the season, if certain information hadn’t been given away a few times prior to this episode.

Mando (Pedro Pascal) encounters a cadre of Darktroopers

One of the things about the first season of The Mandalorian that I really enjoyed, was that Din Djarin seemed to be a part of the Star Wars galaxy, but quite removed from the previous “lore” that had been a major part of our lives. Seeing Mando encounter characters like Boba Fett and Ahsoka Tano I feel is okay, but I often felt that with Star Wars being such a large sandbox to play in, the show could have done a better job of carving out it’s own way in the universe. That to me seems to be the teeter-totter that the series rests on: it tries to make it’s own way, but has a “habit” of diving a little too often into “the familiar.”

The Rescue definitely feels like a turning-point for the series. It draws a curtain over the eight episodes we’ve invested in over the last few months, but much like The Empire Strikes Back, leaves us at a point where we don’t know just where its characters can go. While some mysteries have been solved, new ones have been revealed. It doesn’t feel like there are any easy answers regarding where most of our main characters can go, and that will surely have many of us guessing as we wait once again, for a new season to start up.

I will admit that season 2 of The Mandalorian didn’t win me over as much as the first season, but watching it there were moments where I wished I was watching these episodes with a theater audience. I saw scenes where I could imagine audiences being just as rowdy and enthusiastic as I recall from the opening night of some of the Star Wars films.

If anything, my one hope is when the series returns, we get a lessening of “guest stars,” and focus a little more on developing the cast of characters surrounding Din Djarin, and where his journeys will take him next.

Final Grade: B+

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 5) – The Jedi

When The Mandalorian first started, it felt like we were going to see a world where most of what we had learned via the Star Wars films, would take a backseat. Series creator Jon Favreau, looked to be shifting his focus to the grittier side of the galaxy we had glimpsed just briefly in George Lucas’ films.

With The Child showing a resemblance to Yoda and possessing Force-based powers, there was a hint that the Jedi might be showing up in the series…and now, it looks like that time has come.

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Going on information given to him by fellow Mandalorian Bo-Katan, Mando takes The Child to Corvus, where he hopes to find a Jedi that will accept his young charge.

It is here that he encounters the walled city of Calodan, presided over by the cruel Magistrate Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto), and her lieutenant Lang (Michael Biehn).

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) is escorted into Calodan

Elsbeth requests Mando’s help to take down a Jedi named Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson), who has been attempting to breach the walls of her city.

It just so happens, that Ahsoka is also the Jedi that Mando is looking for.

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While the series has shown us a galaxy following the aftermath of the events of Return of the Jedi, this season has also shown us that the series is not afraid to reference things from the prequel films, let alone The Clone Wars animated series.

With The Jedi, writer/director Dave Feloni gets to bring one of the characters he created to life, showing us Ahsoka Tano far removed from what has been seen. Rosario Dawson disappears into her character, showing us someone who seems to have chosen her own path, but still remembers much of her days before the Jedi Purge. The way she is portrayed here, it’s a good bet that current fans of hers will be pleased, and a number of new fans for Ahsoka will be joining them soon.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) converses with The Child

The episode also gives us some of the most intimate moments with Mando and The Child we’ve seen yet. It feels like it has been awhile since we saw them connect like this, and Ahsoka acts as an intermediary to help Mando better understand the little one (even revealing it’s name!). Though much like his seeking out Mandalorians in the episode The Mistress, Mando’s search for a Jedi does not quite provide him with all the answers he seeks.

In terms of antagonists, Morgan Elsbeth is more of a low-key villain this time around, a figure who stands calm-and-collected in many situations, but is willing to fight if the need arises. A surprising guest appearance was seeing actor Michael Biehn as her lieutenant. Much like Timothy Olyphant earlier in the season, he just blends in surprisingly well for his brief appearance.

For the theming of this episode, the stylings of samurai films are on full display. From the high walls surrounding Caloden, to the barren stalks of trees silhouetted against the moonlit sky, Feloni is tapping into some familiar theming. Even the opening that introduces Ahsoka feels like it has Japanese filmmaker Akira Kurosawa’s fingerprints on it. The episode overall feels more like an exercise in quietness and contemplation, than the pulse-pounding action we’ve seen in recent episodes.

Ahsoka Tano (Rosario Dawson) confronts Morgan Elsbeth (Diana Lee Inosanto)

This is definitely an episode that requires multiple viewings. Much like how George Lucas would layer in details for the prequels, Filoni does the same here, making me think even a few viewings may not be enough to catch a number of the details included here.

The Jedi will surely provide those with fond memories of Ahsoka Tano, an enjoyable trip down memory lane. Its story swings more towards a samurai tale than a western, but it helps act as a nice change of scenery, where we get to slow down and learn more about our lead characters, without having a major threat to contend with. This may also be one of the most emotional episodes we’ve had in the series so far, but we should be wary as dark clouds still loom on the horizon, and the journey for Mando and The Child, may be a ways off from coming to its conclusion.

Final Grade: B+

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 4) – The Siege

The Mandalorian’s quest continues ever onward, but just when it seems his path is clear, we can always count on something popping up to divert his attention.

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With his ship needing additional repairs, Mando returns to Nevarro (where he first got the assignment that led him to The Child). Since the events of last season, the once lawless town has been cleaned up by cohorts Greef Karga (Carl Weathers), and Cara Dune (Gina Carano).

While things appear to be going okay, the two request Mando’s help to take out an operational Imperial base nearby, that could threaten their attempts to keep order.

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After what we learned in the previous episode, I was really looking forward to The Siege…only to find my excitement tempered, when it was revealed that this was another “back to a familiar locale” episode (at this rate, it makes me wonder if the showrunners are going to send us back to the greenery of Sorgan before the season is up).

Unlike other season 1 locations, we return to a destination that has been transformed. With Greef and Cara having taken control, the streets are now thriving with newcomers and more colorful decorations…while still proving that evil is never fully eradicated in some small, action-packed scenes.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) and The Child are welcomed back to Nevarro by Cara Dune (Gina Carano), and Greef Karga (Carl Weathers)

Speaking of “never fully eradicated,” a surprise guest is the aquatic-based Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) from the season 1 premiere episode, who ends up getting dragged along on the mission thanks to Greef. Mythrol almost becomes the C-3PO of the episode, though a tad less whiny in a few situations.

As this is largely a “mission” episode, The Child is put on the sidelines for much of the action. He has a small-but-entertaining scene in the beginning, but the story’s attempts to give him some humor in several other scenes, felt more like the attempts at humor from the earlier episode, The Passenger.

This episode also marks the first directed by a cast member, as Carl Weathers takes on the task. At times, the action-based pacing and setup feels oddly reminiscent of the last episode (The Mistress), but a little more “old-school.” There are even some scenes that made me imagine the excited reactions of a theater audience, given what is put on display here.

Cara Dune, The Mandalorian, Greef Karga, and Mythrol (Horatio Sanz) infiltrate an Imperial Base on Nevarro

The Imperial Base and what goes on within it feels almost like a video game, and the ensuing fight between our heroes and the soldiers that occupy it, feels like some kids playing with their toys in the backyard. There also is the added information that the actions of the shadowy Moff Gideon (Giancarlo Esposito), are not as generalized as we may have thought. One scene caught me completely off-guard, let alone the use of an often-maligned word that had me chuckling at the internet reaction.

The Siege was not what I expected, but it was still surprising once I realized the episode had secrets of its own to reveal. Mando ends up on a mission that reveals things that could send shockwaves through the rest of the galaxy, but it’s too soon to know just what has been uncovered.

It’s a nice little episode to catch up with old friends and reminisce about the past, though it does make me wonder how many additional subplots will be revealed before the season ends, and if the show can find balance once they’ve been revealed.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 3) – The Mistress

As the second season of The Mandalorian hits its third episode, its strong season premiere and decent second episode have brought us back into the series in a big way. Can the third episode improve on what has come before?

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After managing to ferry his passenger from the last episode to her husband, Mando is informed that there are Mandalorians near the spaceport where his ship is. What he finds is quite a revelation, but is a key to him hopefully being able to reunite the child in his care, with the Jedi.

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If you thought the previous episode was short, The Mistress has it beat by clocking in at just 35 minutes. The length of these most recent episodes makes me wonder if episodes 2 and 3 were meant to be one story, but were split in two due to how much was going on.

Bryce Dallas Howard returns to the director’s chair, showing us once again that she knows how to pull at our emotions, and get us pulled into the action. This episode has much more action than her last episode in season 1, and makes me eager to know what more she could do for the series.

The Child and The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) take to the high seas in search of other Mandalorians Warriors.

The environment of this episode is probably the wettest we’ve encountered yet, and makes for a nice change-of-pace. We see a population largely made up of sea creatures such as Mon Calamari and Squid Heads, let alone how this area has fared after the fall of the Empire.

The Mandalorians our lead encounters manage to be quite surprising in their depiction. Led by Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), they reveal some additional information in regards to Mandalorian codes, and the history of the warriors. One can definitely sense some apprehension when they do things that seem outside of the code that Mando has lived by for much of his life, but it is notable that this does not stop them from offering help when Mando needs it in several instances.

Mando meets warriors Koska Reeves (Sasha Banks) Bo-Katan (Katee Sackhoff), and Axe Woves (Simon Kassianides)

This episode also continues the “you have to do us a favor” theme from the previous episodes, as Mando is recruited to help deal with some post-Empire loyalists. Howard’s directing of the event is incredibly exciting, and blends drama, action, and a little humor into the mission.

The Mistress manages to bring us some new revelations amidst an action-oriented episode, making it feel like a short-but-sweet storyline. I like episodes where we learn more about the galaxy, and this one where we learn a bit more about Mandalorian codes and post-Empire actions, delivered very well. The introduction of some new characters here leaves the door open to not only the possibility of us seeing them again, but knowing there is even more about The Mandalorians that has yet to be revealed.

Final Grade: B

Episode Review: The Mandalorian (Season 2, Episode 1) – The Marshal

When The Mandalorian premiered last fall, it felt like a return to what Star Wars creator George Lucas enfolded into his early trilogy.

The Disney+ show chronicled the journey of a lone warrior in a sci-fi mixture of westerns and samurai tales, while adding some humor and heart to the mix. It was a story idea that managed to make me excited for a bucket-headed bounty hunter that wasn’t named “Fett,” and revealed a new spin on a familiar species, that soon ended up becoming a hit that caught The Walt Disney Company by surprise.

Now, almost a year and thousands of “Baby Yoda” products later, we return to following a new season of adventures with Mando and The Child.

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Following the events of last season, Mando is continuing his quest to find other Mandalorian warriors who can help him return The Child to where it belongs.

His journey leads him back to Tatooine, and to the small town of Mos Pelgo, presided over by a man named Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant). The visit is interrupted when a massive Krayt Dragon threatens the town, leading to Mando providing his help, in exchange for some special items Cobb has obtained.

The Mandalorian (Pedro Pascal) arrives in Mos Pelgo.

As soon as I heard of the familiar outer-rim planet, I had flashbacks to the rather average first-season episode, The Gunslinger. I was underwhelmed by that episode’s storyline, and what felt like an attempt to give us a pretty heavy dose of “nostalgic anesthetic” related to some familiar locales.

In the case of The Marshal, writer/director Jon Favreau fortunately has a much more entertaining and interesting narrative to work with, allowing most of the nostalgic bits intertwined within the episode to work in the service of the storyline…though I will say there were a few areas where my eyes opened real wide upon recognizing some unexpected surprises.

The story goes all-in with the Western aesthetic, with Mos Pelgo being the small town at the mercy of the elements and marauders (let alone local creatures), and Cobb is the man who attempts to keep the peace.

Cobb Vanth (Timothy Olyphant) converses with The Mandalorian.

As the town’s savior, Cobb’s characterization came across as surprising, and very involving. While a little rough around the edges, he is a person who manages to seem pretty cool and collected when dealing with Mando, but also has some trepidation when dealing with unexpected surprises. We also learn a little about his backstory, let alone how the fall of the Empire affected the small community he is a part of.

The Child takes a backseat for most of the episode, which becomes more of a “creature-feature,” with quite a number of Tusken Raiders (aka “Sand People”) being utilized. The Gunslinger showed us that Mando could communicate with them, and we get to see a bit more of their culture, often against some rather picturesque vistas.

The big baddie this time around is a Krayt dragon, a creature that has been a part of Star Wars lore for years, and is depicted here as a massive threat that may seem familiar to some creatures in the films Dune and Tremors, with maybe a bit of Moby Dick in how the plan is hatched to bring down this sand-swimming monstrosity. Plus, if you have an “ear” for nostalgia, you may pick up on a familiar sound emanating from its maw.

A caravan of Tusken Raiders make their way over the sand dunes.

The Marshal is an entertaining action-adventure tale, that manages to tell a good story, while also not letting too much of its nostalgia get the better of it. The addition of more information about Tatooine and its creatures helped draw me in, and Olyphant as Cobb Vanth was an entertaining character to meet for the first time. Series creator Jon Favreau brings us back with a solid first episode, leaving us hungry for what is to come in the next episode.

Final Grade: B+

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Star Wars Celebration Chicago – The Place to be for Star Wars Cosplay

When I attended the 2013 and 2017 D23 Expo’s in California, I was surprised by a number of Disney-related cosplays I saw, most notably some that were incredibly creative, and would surely never be seen outside of a Disney-related fan event.

Going to Star Wars Celebration Chicago, I was pretty sure I’d see plenty of the same when it came to a galaxy far far away, and I was not disappointed. Here are some cosplays I managed to snap pictures of, many of them characters you probably won’t see outside of a Star Wars convention setting.

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Sometimes it doesn’t take much to make an entertaining costume. This person dressed up as the island of Ahch-to from The Last Jedi, complete with multiple Porgs.

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I had a feeling I might see some characters from the film Spaceballs, and I was right! There were quite a few people who came dressed as Barf like this fellow here (though didn’t see a single Lone Star!).

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Seeing minor characters is always surprising, and when I saw Larma D’Acy from The Last Jedi walk over to a booth, I had to snap a quick picture (she addresses the Resistance members of Leia’s ship after much of the command has been destroyed by the First Order).

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A real “old-man Skywalker,” if ever there was one. You don’t want to know what he was wagging his finger at me about!

 

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There were a number of Boba Fett cosplays, but this guy was going all-out to resemble the Kenner action figure from the 80’s (right down to the paint-scheme). He would even pose his arms as if he had no elbow joints!

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There were a number of ‘men-in-suits-with-stormtrooper-helmets’ walking about, but this Hamilton-related mash-up was quite eye-catching.

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This fellow didn’t speak English, but he did an amazing job on his battle-damaged Darth Vader cosplay, from the video game, The Force Unleashed.

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Many know that Frank Oz is the voice of both Yoda and Grover, but this was the first time I had seen a mash-up of the two characters (would that make this fellow Yover, or Groda?)!

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My first D23 Expo had me surprised how it wasn’t just youngsters dressing up, and the same held true at Celebration. This woman was dressed as an Imperial Technician.

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I decided to have some fun, and dress up as George Lucas. Imagine my surprise, when I met another George (on the left!) who seemed to have also done his homework! Of the different George’s I saw this weekend, he gets my vote as the best representation of The Maker!

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One character I enjoyed from Episode I, was Captain Panaka of Naboo. I was pleasantly surprised to see this fellow had dressed in his red-and-blue uniform.

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There were a number of Emperor Palpatine’s to be seen, but I liked this guy’s yellowed teeth and demeanor. He even told me how he had sent one Vader to fetch him something…and Vader had complied!

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Given we were dealing with Lucasfilm Ltd productions, I expected to see some Indiana Jones cosplays, but was very surprised when I encountered Dr Jones AND Willie Scott, from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom!

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I was just as surprised to also encounter Short Round from Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom! He even showed me one of the Sankara stones from Dr Jones’ knapsack!

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Did you know Daft Punk were part of the Empire Strikes Back’s Norwegian filming unit? Well, they got the jackets, so it must be true!

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I was hoping to see some more Rose Tico’s at this year’s convention. Out of all of them, I felt this girl pulled off the look very well.

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One of the highlights of Solo, was Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian. This young man definitely looked the part, right down to that “trust me” smile on his face.

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Aside from Lucas, one of the other recognizable behind-the-scenes people to the SW fandom, is Dave Filoni, who helped create the Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows. This guy had a Filoni-style black hat, and he even fooled a few people into thinking he was the real-deal.

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These two are wearing original cosplay garments, inspired by the elitists on Canto Bight in The Last Jedi. Seems they’re checking out the upcoming Galaxy’s Edge Droid Depot, looking for some tech to weaponize and sell across the galaxy.

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Word is this person won the Celebration‘s costume contest. This is a similar type of droid that was seen in The Force Awakens, walking outside Maz Kanata’s place.

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It was exciting seeing how well some people resembled certain characters. This guy’s Count Dooku was spot-on!

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A most unexpected mash-up, was this Tron-style Jedi, complete with neon lightsaber!

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Another character that has rarely been brought to life, is the Dianoga from the Death Star’s trash compactor. It’s eye-stalk had the ability to swivel around.

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A most unconventional cosplay, are these blue-milk men I encountered. The one on the right is also wearing a Blue Harvest patch (which was the codename for Return of the Jedi during it’s production!).

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There were a number of great dresses based on Padme’s attire from the prequels, but I decided to post this woman’s version of her picnic dress from Attack of the Clones. I do like the airy, Shakespearean quality of the design.

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There were a number of Rey’s on the convention floor, but this little girl trying to administer a Force-push had me quickly snap a pic!

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This woman was one of several people dressed as a Canto Bight Police Officer from The Last Jedi. Her helmet even had the light-up designation over the visor!

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I originally just wanted a picture with just the elder Leia, but she insisted I photograph her friends too (she even sounded a little like Carrie Fisher!).

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This fellow is probably the closest many of us will get to meeting Alec Guinness. His uncanny resemblance had me quickly rush over and utter “hello there,” to get his attention and a picture!

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I save my favorite cosplay for last, and for this show, it was this guy who was spot-on as Chirrut Imwe, from Rogue One! He had his eyes closed when I approached, but when he opened them, and I saw the cloudy blue circles, I felt I had chanced upon a really dedicated cosplayer. I’ve seen a number of other people online also be bowled over by his resemblance to Donnie Yen. Excellent work!

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There were plenty more cosplays I wanted to post, but I’ve made it a rule to limit the picture count to 30. There was some wonderful dress-work regarding Amidala’s dresses, and even some great family cosplay groupings I saw. It’s often exciting to see when a whole family gets in on the fun.

If any of you readers are the cosplayers I snapped pics of, please leave a comment! Any tidbits about making your costumes, or stories about their creation, are always welcome!

Book Review: Star Wars – Queen’s Shadow

As he worked on editing his Star Wars prequels, George Lucas soon had to make some storytelling choices. Ultimately, he felt the main focuses for his new trilogy, were the rise of the Empire, and Anakin Skywalker’s fall from grace.

This would lead to drastic scene cuts for one particular character: Padmé Amidala. Gone was the chance to learn more about the former Queen of Naboo, as she became little more than Anakin’s love-interest in Episode II, and a fretting mother-to-be in Episode III.

There were many like myself that wondered about her political backstory, and one of them was author E.K. Johnston. Having already written a story about Star Wars character Ahsoka Tano, Johnston was excited to go back in time, and reveal more about one of her favorite characters.

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Following her final term as Queen of Naboo, Padmé Amidala is unsure of what she should do next. Upon meeting the newly-elected Queen, she is surprised when the new ruler wishes her to represent their planet in the Galactic Senate.

Padmé accepts, and soon finds herself in the capital city of Coruscant. With a new chapter starting in her life, she attempts to find her way in a new political arena, far outside the scope of her home world.

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For much of the story, Amidala is far removed from the main players of the prequel trilogy. While there are some minor asides to R2-D2 and Supreme Chancellor Palpatine, she is usually surrounded by several handmaidens, and some Naboo security forces. It is with the former, that Johnston is most concerned with for supporting characters.

The attempts to give little bits of backstory to almost every handmaiden during the first chapters of the book does become a bit much, and it almost feels like Johnston begins to get a little lost in trying to keep some of them relevant to Padmé’s life. Even a chapter that chronicles part of a mission that her most loyal handmaiden named Sabé undertakes, feels like it could have been jettisoned, and simply replaced with her reporting to Padmé instead.

The main focus of the story regarding Padmé, is her attempting to understand how she can fit into the Senate. Who can she trust? How transparent can she be regarding her actions? And probably most important: does she make decisions for just the good of her home world…or does she have to think moreso of other planets and systems with her senatorial powers?

Much like how some saw parallels to certain real-world events during the prequel film’s releases, some may be a bit surprised at how Johnston writes about Padme’s treatment via holonet newsfeeds. Back in 1999, there were some who mocked Lucas’ idea that a teenager could rule an entire planet when Episode I was released. Johnston channels that mockery into the story, as Padmé tries to prove her worth amid reports that someone like her does not belong in the political arena.

It is also in regards to Padmé’s adventures within the Senate, that I found the story to be lacking. I know politics isn’t necessarily exciting for some, but I felt Johnston could have delved deeper into Padmé’s character, by seeing how she would handle a number of different issues brought before the Senate. As it stands, we only see her tackle a small handful.

There are also a number of references that have been inserted for many different Star Wars fans to pick up on. While I was familiar with names like Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, some such as Rush Clovis and Mina Bonteri, will probably excite anyone who has watched the Clone Wars television series. We also get a return to some familiar locations, including one I definitely did not expect to visit.

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I’ve only read a few books in relation to the Star Wars series over the years, but I was curious as to what Queen’s Shadow could give us regarding Padmé.

E.K. Johnston shows a definite love for her source material, but it feels like she struggles to maintain focus. When the story zeroes in on Padmé herself, that was when I found myself turning pages to find out more. It was half-way through the book that I started to really get pulled in, and it made me a little sad that it took so long for the story to grab my attention.

This isn’t to say I felt Johnston should have jettisoned the handmaidens. Given her wish to hand over some extra character development to them, maybe she could have focused on a collection of short stories regarding the numerous young women who served alongside Padmé during her life.

In conclusion, Queen’s Shadow tells a decent story, but it could have been so much better.

Book Review: George Lucas, A Life (by Brian Jay Jones)

To many of us, there is a name. A name that can cause a person to respond in a number of ways. From a smile, all the way to an eyeball-rolling groan.

That name, is George Lucas.

Following his 2013 biography on Jim Henson, author Brian Jay Jones has tapped into another name many of us recall from our childhoods, but (probably) never fully comprehended.

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A Modesto Bee clipping showing the car crash, that changed (and almost ended) Lucas’ life, in 1962.

George Lucas: A Life seeks to educate the masses, giving us a tome that hits a number of Lucas’ life highlights, from his near-death accident as a teenager, to meeting director Francis Ford Coppola, and much more…but sadly, not as much as I had expected.

Without appendices and the bibliography at the end, Jones’ biography on Lucas clocks in around the same page-count as his Henson bio did. However, upon reading through his latest tome, it feels like Jones was forced to shore up a number of items regarding Lucas’ history.

Unlike his previous book, the doors were not thrown open to Jones, regarding in-depth research on his subject. A few of Lucas’ past acquaintances (such as Randall Kleiser and Gary Kurtz) contribute a few words to the book, but most of their inclusions feel like a small footnote, as the vast majority of information, is culled from other sources.

One habit Jones had in his Henson biography, was a certain ‘geeky giddiness’ when he’d mention Henson working on things in his early days, that he’d accomplish later on in life. Jones manages to tone down some of that geekiness here, but it manifests itself in other ways.

Most notable is in the book’s focus. Overall, it feels like analyzing the Star Wars films is his first priority, and the building of the Lucasfilm ’empire,’ is the second priority.

To many out there, Star Wars is George Lucas’ ‘calling card.’ Most talk about the film series, as if Lucas had known this was what he wanted to do since he was a boy. Of course, those of us who have ‘studied’ Lucas’ career (myself included), know that there’s more to the man than just X-Wing fighters and laser-sword fights.

When it comes to films Lucas worked on that weren’t related to Star Wars, the book’s information in these areas feels so tight, one swears large swaths may have been cut editorially, to fit George’s film career into a neat little package. I was hoping more light would have been shed on some of Lucas’ lesser-known projects like Willow, or 1994’s Radioland Murders (a film he’d been helping develop for over two decades!). Unfortunately, minimal information is provided, as we are whisked on to talk about the effects Star Wars has on Lucas’ life, let alone the constant inquiries in the 80’s, regarding when the public would see more Star Wars.

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Marcia Lucas, and George Lucas

One of the highlights of the book, is how Jones attempts to allow some visibility to one of the lesser-mentioned persons in Lucas’ early life: his first wife, Marcia.

While Lucas could be soft-spoken and quiet, Marcia was said to balance out that trait, often being rather ‘direct’ with him. Both bonded over their editorial experience (women doing editorial work, was extremely rare in the 60’s and 70’s), and it is surprising to find quotes of Marcia, discussing George and the films she worked on with him.

The book tells how she could be rather blunt about some of his decisions (she tells George how THX-1138 feels like a ‘cold’ film), and also how much she contributed to his work (she was the main editor on the climactic charge on the Death Star in the 1977 Star Wars).

Most biographies have the author attempt to find a through line to define their subject’s life, and in the case of Lucas, Jones seems to zero in on one word: independence.

Lucas is painted as a person who seemed most at ease when doing things (mostly) on his own. It often feels like he would have been comfortable just sitting in the editing room, except for his compulsion to have more control over some projects. Jones mentions such a thing happening on some producing projects, here Lucas seemed to take over the story development of some features.

It is also notable how he often balked at rules or guidelines others would set.

For example: his not including cast/director credits in the opening of Star Wars, was in violation of the Director’s Guild of America. This led to him being fined, and eventually resigning from the DCA.

He also seemed to have little time for unions or trade groups, let alone the Hollywood studio system. Many may be surprised that as much as his name is bandied around Tinseltown, George actually makes his home in the San Francisco Bay Area.

In some ways, Lucas seems very much like Walt Disney: a man who was burned by the studio system that sought to control him, prompting him to decide that he would do things his way, and answer only to one person: himself.

However, while Walt Disney’s Kingdom would be easily accessible to many, Lucas’s ‘Empire’ would be largely his own domain to look over. He would choose the film projects, decide where his money went (he didn’t rely on outside investors, or taking out huge loans like the studio system), and keep public access to a minimum (notable is that unlike The Walt Disney Company or Pixar, Lucasfilm never became a publicly-traded corporate entity).

Similarities could also be made regarding their love of pushing technology. Whereas Walt would revolutionize the world of animation, George would do the same in the world of post-production. While many can easily look at his visual effects company Industrial Light & Magic, most discount his push to improve picture and sound quality in theaters, let alone find a way to streamline the film-editing process.

Today’s theater system shows the fruits of that push: many theaters now house digital projectors, and often boast the latest sound systems to show first-run feature films. Plus, the majority of all editing these days, is done digitally.

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Top Image: Francis Ford Coppola, and George Lucas; Bottom Image: Steven Spielberg, and George Lucas.

The biography also shows how George could fall in and out with a number of people. Old friends like Gary Kurtz and his ex-wife Marcia, were completely excised from his mind, while his friend and mentor, Francis Ford Coppola, would be a decades-long on-again/off-again friendship.

Out of all his friendships, it seems that the one Lucas still holds in high regard, is with director, Steven Spielberg.

There is a brotherly give-and-take mentioned in the chapters telling about the Indiana Jones film productions. Even if Steven and George would not agree on something, they would usually come to a compromise, sooner or later.

Much like Walter Isaacson’s biography on Steve jobs, and Jones’ previous biography on Jim Henson, George Lucas: A Life strives to inform people about someone they think they know…but maybe, don’t.

There’s plenty of information for the uninformed, to find out more about one of the most familiar names in popular culture. However, for those of us who were expecting some further revelations about ‘the maker,’ it feels like Jones shuts the door to some minor revelations, that noone ever thinks to consider about Mr Lucas.

In conclusion, George Lucas: A Life is a good read, but probably not as entertaining or informative, as some of my other favorite biographies, such as Steve Jobs, or Jim Henson: The  Biography.

Final Grade: B

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Movie Review: Rogue One – A Star Wars Story

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

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Those were some of the first words, that introduced millions of people to George Lucas’ Star Wars universe. While they offered a small backstory as to this ongoing war raging across the galaxy, there were some over the years who wondered, if they could be expanded upon.

That’s what The Walt Disney Company and Lucasfilm Ltd have done with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Set between the events of Episodes III & IV, we follow that small group of “rebel spies,” and find out how they got those secret plans, into the hands of Princess Leia Organa.

The team consists of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and Bohdi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

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Jyn Erso (Felicia Day) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), walk through the Rebellion’s secret base.

Jyn and Cassian are our main leads in this story, with both having had their fair share of troubles, thanks to the machinations of the Empire. However, it largely feels like we’re supposed to care about them, because they’re the main characters. Most of the time, it feels like they’re simply the driving force in the story, to propel us from one location, to another.

When it comes to director Gareth Edwards, I will admit that I am not a huge fan of his work. Having seen his films Monsters and Godzilla (2014), I can’t help but feel he likes to focus more on the atmosphere and supporting characters, that revolve around his main ones.

Donnie Yen and Wen Jiang’s tag-team of Chirrut and Baze, was a bit of yin-yang characterization that held my attention when they were on-screen. While Chirrut seems to be strongly willing to believe in the power of the Force, Baze relies on his wits and weaponry.

Two other characters that I think will also stick in most people’s minds, are pilot Bodhi Rook, and K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid.

Bodhi is almost like our ‘Finn’ of the piece, and it seemed whenever he was on-screen, I was very much enamored with what he was doing. It feels like out of all the supporting characters, he gets the most development.

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K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) takes the controls.

Much like BB-8, K-2SO proves to be another entertaining droid for people to smile about. The filmmakers manage to find the sweet-spot between making him both informative and humorous, and it was one of the droid’s first lines, that made many in the audience give some of their first applause of the evening.

Also on hand as a new face in the Empire’s cadre of suited figures, is Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). This (previously unseen) mastermind behind the Death Star’s construction, almost seems written in, to give us a taste of how credit and bureaucracy, often don’t see eye-to-eye.

The Force Awakens last year, definitely touched off plenty of similarities to the films we remembered from our past. Rogue One does some of the same, but moreso feels like a less-pandering  extension of those worlds we were first introduced to. We get plenty of new set-pieces, and some familiar ones, expanding on our past knowledge. Plus, for those of you that are die-hard fans of George Lucas, it appears that there’s a subtle reference to another of his early works.

Of course, the time-frame of the film, also gives us a chance for a few cameos. These can often bounce around from good, to bad (though I will admit there were a couple that made my face light up like a Christmas tree!).

Composer Michael Giacchino fills our ears with a score that sounds like a ‘distant cousin’ to the works of John Williams. While a few familiar musical strains are heard, he is able to walk into the universe, and add his own inspired touch to a number of scenes.

Some of the battle sequences, also feel like they are a bit ‘scattershot’ in the way they are put together. While I like a good action sequence in a Star Wars film as much as the next person, it felt like they carry on too long in certain places. This almost made me pine for the tighter editing of battle scenes in some past films. Say what you will about the prequels, but it felt like even the act of juggling multiple scenes at the end of The Phantom Menace was handled better.

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Work is almost complete on the Death Star.

That isn’t to say Rogue One is a bad film. I walked into it just like I did Episode VII last year, asking only that it entertain me, and it did just that.

Like any film that attempts to rewrite something we’re already familiar with, there are certain elements that are embellished and expanded upon. Given the way the series’ fandom functions, it will be entertaining to see if some of the ret-conned items, end up becoming as ‘scandalous’ as some of the items that Lucas wrote about in the prequels.

The film proves that Star Wars can build an expanded universe on film, and should probably give plenty out there hope, for additional Star Wars Stories in the coming years.

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Final Grade: B+ (“Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” is the first attempt to expand the film universe of the world’s most famous space saga beyond it’s typical ‘episodes,’ and succeeds in being an entertaining prequel to the events of “A New Hope.” While our main cast of characters doesn’t prove as overall satisfying as the ragtag band of rogues in “Guardians of the Galaxy,” there’s still enough here that should please “Star Wars” fans, both old and new.)

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art – a rant following the aftermath of its Chicagoland death

When I first heard about George Lucas’ plans to build a museum to house his extensive art collection, its plans were being presented to The Presidio Trust in San Francisco, in 2013.

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Design concept for the Lucas Museum, at the Presidio

Lucas’s vision was to build his museum on park land near the north side of the Presidio (a converted military base near The Golden Gate Bridge), giving it a bay view. The upside to the proposal, was that George would fund both the construction, and endowment for the facility, which would be in the multi-million dollar range.

However, after altering his building design to fit more in line with surrounding structures and guidelines, the Trust was not willing to give him the area he wanted. Though they offered him another section (closer to his Lucasfilm headquarters, away from the water), Lucas decided to pull up stakes and look elsewhere.

A number of other cities voiced their eagerness to take on the project, with George soon accepting the invitation from Chicago Mayor, Rahm Emmanuel.

It seemed like a slam-dunk choice, given that Lucas had married Chicago native Mellody Hobson in 2013, and had now expanded his stomping grounds to the Windy City (where he had been seen at several events).

In the Spring of 2014, a small meeting was held at the Chicago Cultural Center, where a number of persons in the community, were encouraged to come and sound off on the museum.

My friend Donna and I eagerly attended, but most in attendance, were there as representatives from surrounding neighborhoods, and communities.

The majority that came to the podium, envisioned the museum as an iconic facility, that could bring about a rebirth to their ailing communities across the Chicagoland area (one even mentioned how maybe a monorail could take those to the Museum if it were built on the far south side community he supported).

My thoughts on the museum when I got up to speak, were moreso the rantings of a kid who came from Iowa, and was enamored with ‘what’ the Museum could be, instead of ‘where.’ I didn’t quite have the same mentality as those in the room. All I knew, was that I wanted what was being offered to the city.

The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art’s ability to show a variety of art styles beyond the norm (including storyboards, concept, and illustration art), was a big draw for me. There was also talk of how the facility could be used for film screenings/premieres, lectures from those serving in the industry, and…a way to show kids in the Midwest another side of art, that was not currently available!

After leaving that meeting, I couldn’t help but think in my head, that while many had high hopes that Lucas would choose their community surrounding the city, I could easily imagine him looking to centralize the location, closer to the heart of the city.

…and lo and behold, I was right.

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The site Lucas chose, is the large parking lot area on the lower-left of the picture

The announcement came a few months later, with word that Lucas had chosen an area between the city’s Soldier Field stadium, and McCormick Place East convention center structure. The space was  currently serving as a parking lot, used mainly for tailgating for Chicago Bears football games.

However, with the announcement, came word from a non-profit group called Friends of the Parks, that a lawsuit was being filed. The group claimed that the new structure violated the “Lakefront Protection Ordinance,”meant to protect the lake front from private enterprise building upon it (even though Rahm claimed the museum would be a public institution).

A number of other hoops were quickly jumped through regarding approval of the project, but when it came to the lawsuit, it was not easily dismissed, with the judge handling the case, claiming it had a valid point to be looked into further.

Acceptance of the museum didn’t get much better a few months later, when the MAD Architect Firm from Beijing (whom Lucas had commissioned to design the structure), unveiled their design:

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First renderings of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art, released in November of 2014

Needless to say, its radical design immediately rivaled the metal-and-glass retrofitting of nearby Soldier Field, as well as led to all sorts of nicknames from a city that couldn’t understand why George couldn’t just ‘build a building.’

The design garnered such nicknames as “the salt pile,” as well as “Jabba the Hutt.”

The fall and winter period, as Chicago moved into 2015, didn’t get any better. The judge handling the FOTP lawsuit upheld the request to keep any work from taking place, claiming the lawsuit had merit in regards to the concerns of the Parks group.

Even the mayoral election that Spring brought up the museum, with rival candidate Jesus “Chuy” Garcia, claiming it as “a monument to Darth Vader,” pretty much cementing that he wasn’t a fan.

Not much was brought up regarding the Museum in the summer of 2015, but by the fall, revamped renderings from MAD revealed a “compromise” to its design:

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Revised rendering of the Lucas Museum design, released in September of 2015

The design reduced the size of the museum, but also showed that they were willing to add park and prairie area to the surrounding grounds, nestling the design in a more eco-friendly landscape.

But even this didn’t placate the Friends of the Parks, let alone word soon after that the Chicago Plan Commission, had approved leasing the Park District land to the Museum, for just $10, as part of a 99-year lease.

Things then started getting testy in the early part of 2016, when word spread that Lucas might look elsewhere, given the sluggish approval pace. A number of people then threw out their own proposals for alternate sites. Some eagerly suggested again that George bring his museum to one of the south side communities (such as the former South Works US Steel site, 9 miles south of the Chicago Loop), while others said he should build it across the street from the lakefront. Several even suggested that the filmmaker rehab an existing structure downtown.

Famed architect Helmut Jahn even suggested that the Museum could maybe me ‘melded’ into the framework of the nearby McCormick Place East structure, re-purposing it.

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Revised renderings showing how the Museum’s new proposal, would fit onto the McCormick Place East site, presented in April of 2016

Some have to wonder if that idea, may have led to the “Plan B” proposal, that was shown in late April.

The new proposal, called for razing the McCormick Place East convention building. The Lucas Museum would keep its same footprint size, with this latest proposal claimed as a win-win for park and lakefront fans: it would leave the Soldier Field parking lot untouched, AND add 12 acres of parkland onto the former East site, that the museum’s footprint didn’t touch.

Unlike the first plan, this one would end up needing an extra monetary boost…to the tune of $1.2 billion that the city would need to find. The funds would go to razing the McCormick Place East structure, and add additional room to the McCormick Place structures on the other side of Lake Shore Drive, to compensate for the floor space lost from the East building.

Even with the costs to demolish and add-on regarding McCormick Place, Lucas would still fund the museum’s building construction and endowment out of his own pocket.

Murmurings were that this might be the compromise to go with (since the parking lot situation was still tied up) and that Lucas might be okay with the new location, as a viable option! Even so, many complained that with a number of the city’s current issues, spending a billion dollars to knock down a building and build a new one, was really sounding more like a desperate “vanity project” on the mayor’s part.

And then came May 3rd, 2016.

In the morning, word came that the Friends of the Parks were suspending their lawsuit.

To many, it looked like there might finally be a compromise! Surely there must be some hope that the new proposal to raze the convention hall had some merit!

However, as the day wore on, it soon became apparent that this was not the case.

An additional note from a representative of the Parks group a few hours after the suspension news, claimed that they were actually not willing to accept the mayor’s “Plan B.”

The general message was, “while we aren’t against the museum, we don’t want it anywhere near the lakefront…however, we are more than willing to help the museum team find a new location away from the lakefront.”

A few hours later, Lucas’ wife Mellody Hobson then released a statement, claiming that she and her husband, were now officially looking elsewhere for a place to put the museum, and painting the FOTP persons in a not-so-rosy light.

Though she didn’t say the plan was dead, her words, along with the thought that FOTP would surely file a lawsuit blocking any action on the “Plan B” site/proposal, pretty much signaled the end for the city’s chances. By the end of the day, the d-word was being seen across numerous postings and articles on the internet.

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Needless to say, I went through the rest of that day feeling numb. Social media didn’t help dull the pain, with most tweets online sounding like kids who were glad to be rid of the equivalent of a herring pie, given by their grandmother.

As well, looking for any talk about the project on social media over the last few years, had largely been persons just retweeting or reposting currently-running news articles.

If there were others out there who shared my same views on what could be, I never seemed to find them. The most I would often find, was the typical internet snark of people calling it “A Star Wars Museum,” or complaints about its unnatural design.

I had a lot in my head that had been building up over the last few years, and as with quite a few other blog posts I had done, I thought I’d get out some of my own views right here, on my blog.

This entire post is also one of the longest I’ve ever written for my blog (over 5,000 words), so you might want to have a sandwich or a drink nearby, if you wish to settle in for the long run. Above you got a summary of the 2-year debacle, and now, you’ll be able read some of my observations and thoughts, regarding what transpired.

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Chicago isn’t a town largely known for its understanding of art

Though we do have one of the premiere Art Museums in the world, Chicago often suffers from the same issues that most Midwestern areas do: they don’t quite ‘get’ art.

From the start, many couldn’t fathom what “narrative art” was. For someone like me who had grown up understanding about concept art, storyboards, and costume design, it made sense…but to most people, they are usually more enamored with the finished product than the ‘why’ or ‘how.’

Most often think of art in the Midwest in the simplest terms, and sometimes, the only way to get around the weirdness of some art, is to give it a ‘simple name’ or go with the old adult standby (“that looks like something my kid could do!”).

Take the structure known as Cloud Gate in Chicago’s Millennium Park. It’s a massive curved, mirrored structure…but to many, given its kidney bean shape, it is moreso referred to as, The Bean.

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Pablo Picasso’s “Untitled Sculpture.” One of Chicago’s earliest “artistic controversies.”

Chicago has also had those who scoffed at other artistic endeavors over the years. In the heart of the loop, is a 50-foot sculpture, made by Pablo Picasso. Though one would assume getting a Picasso in your city would be cool, many were opposed to it back in the 1960’s (with people at the time mentioning everything from a statue of Ernie Banks, to a giant pickle would better suit the site!). Editor Mike Royko was even quoted as saying upon its unveiling, “Interesting design, I’m sure. But the fact is, it has a long stupid face and looks like some giant insect that is about to eat a smaller, weaker insect.”

Much like the Lucas Museum, it was considered by the artist as “a gift.” Four charities and foundations paid for its $350,000+ price-tag, but Picasso himself was offered a $100,000 payment (which he refused to take).

Chicago has moreso been a town that deals in the realms of business and sports: very ‘adult’ things that feel more like the ‘meat and potatoes’ of the average American. You’re more apt to find someone to talk to you about last night’s baseball game at the watercooler, than to have a discussion regarding The Art Institute’s latest Van Gogh exhibit.

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Most locals couldn’t fathom the design of the structure

Unlike the more straight-lined design that Lucas proposed on the Presidio site, his designs for Chicago were going to take on a more ‘natural’ look.

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George Lucas, being interviewed by Charlie Rose, during Chicago’s Idea Week presentation in 2014

In a stage interview with Charlie Rose (in the fall of 2014), Lucas claimed that the design would be more organic (“like a sponge,” he mentioned at one point), claiming that organic architecture was where he felt design was headed.

Most Chicagoans didn’t get the memo though, when the MAD Architect firm from China, revealed that first design. To most of the pedestrian minds in this major city…it was just, ‘weird!’

It wasn’t so much a sponge, but was moreso void of straight lines, almost like it had grown up through the grassy landscape, like a strange fungi.

It’s stark white structure looked mountainous, with several areas of its design, boasting upper levels would provide several areas to take in views of the surrounding landscape, with a 360-degree viewing area under an awning at the top.

Such stylings are relatively foreign to our shores. Many structures in our country, largely keep with the standard square and rectangle function (with minimal curvature).

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A rendering of the Harbin Opera House in Harbin, China. Designed by MAD Architects.

Even so, the design of the museum wasn’t foreign to the MAD Architects. They have also designed a number of other organic structures, with the most recent completion being the Harbin Opera House, which was completed in China, in December of 2015.

As one can see from this concept picture on the right, its design and integration into the surroundings seems to mirror what Lucas was going for with his lakefront design. Even the description of the Harbin structure, told how it’s design was based on the thought that it had been ‘sculpted’ by the twin forces of wind and water.

One has to wonder if that same thought, may have influenced the architects when they were coming up with the Lucas Museum’s design.

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In the shadow of Star Wars

To many out there, it’s hard to think of George Lucas, without someone immediately bringing up Star Wars.

Since it was announced, The Lucas Museum earned the rather pedestrian nickname of, “The Star Wars Museum.” And to many who read that, that’s all they could see: this weird structure being little more than a repository for props and production material related to George’s films. Pretty much, a shrine to his greatness as a purveyor of popular culture  personification. Even mayoral candidate Chuy’s referencing it, shows how little the locals know, or are willing to know beyond the norms.

What many don’t realize, is that George’s entire life hasn’t always been the pursuit of a mult-billion dollar space opera. Throughout much of his life, Lucas has been a fan of (and studied) anthropology. That seems to be one of the main threads that have weaved through all of his works.

THX-1138 is an anthropological what-if, pushing into the future, based on observations of where we’ve come as a society, and intermingled with the Orwellian tones of 1984.

American Graffiti deals with the teen culture of the early 1960’s, as well as exploring the social norms and political climate, before the upheaval of American values in the late 1960’s.

With the Star Wars series, George was able to take his knowledge, and whirl it into a potent mixture that translated into a space adventure, intermingled with the shades of the sometimes hokey Saturday Matinee Serials of the 1930’s, along with political views of the young, standing in contrast to the rigid systems of an Empirical governing body.

Even with his personal art collection containing pieces by the likes of Norman Rockwell, R Crumb, and John Tenniel, many instantly zoomed in on the sight of anything Star Wars, claiming it as still being the main reason for the facility.

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Alderaan concept art by Ralph Mcquarrie

I will admit that though I did shun people calling it “The Star Wars Museum,” part of me did find the design that was proposed, somewhat similar to an early concept of structures from the planet Alderaan.

Though we never saw the surface of the planet (it was destroyed by the Death Star in the 1977 film), concept artist Ralph McQuarrie had done a painting, showing a number of rounded white structures, nestled into a green area by a body of water. Though the museum’s height would not reach those of the spires in McQuarrie’s work, one can’t help but feel some similarities if one looks at the concept and space that was being requested for the build.

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There is, no, compromise

Throughout the entire debacle, has been mention of the non-profit organization, Friends of the Parks.

As soon as the announcement was made for the parking lot area next to Soldier Field, they immediately claimed they would file a lawsuit to ‘protect the land.’

I think many (including the mayor) didn’t think that case would come to anything, but as the lawsuit kept things halted for a year and onward, he must have started feeling the heat.

He even attempted to ask for the chance to start razing the parking lot (before a decision was made), but was denied even this. The federal judge handling the case, kept pushing onward, requesting the administration turn over all the information it had in regards to how the parking lot site was chosen (with some assuming it was possibly the only site offered).

The main weapon the FOTP organization used, was that the proposal was being done so on public land, left to Chicago via Public Trust Doctrine, which claims that the land should not be used for private enterprise, and remain open to the public (even if that land being considered, is currently occupied by a parking lot).

Given the way the events have gone, it has felt that the Mayor handled things in a decent light, moreso than one would expect. Unlike the days when the likes of the Daley administration would use some of that old-fashioned “persuasive power,” word about the handling of the situation, saw Rahm and the Lucases attempting to reach some form of compromise.

Everything from scaling back the size of the museum, to contributing space to park land, seemed unable to deter the main body of decisions at FOTP from even reconsidering.

There was also concern over the leasing deal being given to Lucas in regards to the spot, in which he would pay $10 for a 99-year lease on the land. Given the current money shortcomings in the city, many felt that the Mayor’s decision was not really ‘charitable,’ but more of a drop-in-the-bucket to a philanthropist valued in the billions of dollars (and to many when the b-word is used, “enough” is never enough).

Even in regards to ‘what’ kind of museum it was was up for debate. FOTP contested that its purpose was more for private purposes, as Rahm contested that it was a public museum. I went looking around online, and found a rather interesting article by The Huffington Post. It seems that in this day and age, the fine line between public and private, is pretty tricky to decipher.

Though in the end, the non-profit organization has never been one to back down from anything park-related. They vocally opposed the futuristic retro-fit on Soldier Field some years ago, and also were against Richard M Daley’s decisions to build parts of his 2016 Olympics bid on park land, as well as his plans to move the Chicago Children’s Museum over near Grant Park.

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A rendering of the 19-acre Burnham Sanctuary proposal, for the lakefront

When it comes to the lakefront, the group has taken an all-or-nothing approach. Last October, word came they were in support of a proposal, dubbed The Burnham Sanctuary.

The sanctuary would reclaim 19 acres along the same area where the Lucas Museum has been proposed to be placed, though as one can see from the rendering, there would be nothing but parkland and trails. Plus, given that the entire area would be devoid of any revenue-generating structures, one would assume it would take someone (an institution or two) with very deep pockets to make this proposal a reality. Rahm Emmanuel’s “Plan B” proposal that called for the removal of McCormick Place East was estimated at $1.2 billion, and one has to assume that this project would most likely be hovering in the same price area.

As of this writing, there has been no further word of any takers to make the sanctuary proposal a reality.

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Struggling for Freedom

One thing brought up on a number of occasions, was many feeling like the citizens of Chicago were kept out of the decision-making process. Some felt that Lucas should have attempted to be more out-going, and come forward moreso to the community as a whole, rather than seemingly just having private, closed-door sessions (word was, discussion for the Presidio site had the same approach).

Even so, George has largely not really been a big fan of committees. He’s been noted over the years as being rather quiet, and oftentimes some of his ideas, are not so easily stomached by a number of persons.

Much of his early filmmaking career was being told what he could and could not do. When Star Wars gave him his “freedom,” George set out to largely do things his way. There’d be no studio executives second-guessing his decisions, and he’d bankroll his own productions, following the success of his 1977 film. Since then, he’s largely been used to being his own person.

Some would claim him selfish, but come on: wouldn’t you want that kind of ease? One of the hardest things about being an artist or a creator, is many times having to deal with someone placing restrictions on what you do.

He’s also never been one to compromise easily. One can see that in a number of instances over his career:

  • When American Graffiti was released, Universal Studios removed 5 minutes from the final print he turned in. After Star Wars was a success, he was able to convince them to put back the cut scenes.
  • Though many praised and loved Star Wars: A New Hope, Lucas had gone on record saying how much of what he released, wasn’t up to his standards. When the 20th anniversary Special Edition of the film was released in 1997, he was able to add scenes in, and revamp certain effects shots, soon after saying it was closer to what he saw in his head.
  • Talk of a fourth Indiana Jones film had gone on for quite some time, though George was adamant that since Indy was now in the era of the B -movies (the first three films had followed adventure serial stylings of the 1930’s), the film’s ‘idol,’ should be related to aliens (which were often a staple of 50’s B-movies). In the end, Lucas compromised with his friend Steven Spielberg, by making them “inter-dimensional beings,” that looked like aliens.

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Lucas’ (Final) Passion Project

At age 71, George most assuredly realizes he’s in his twilight years. His selling of Lucasfilm to The Walt Disney Company, pretty much cut him off from having a hand in any future films related to that company’s properties.

With his adopted children off and out in the world on their own, Lucas has turned his attention to his wife and new daughter, along with getting the museum completed.

Even so, it isn’t like Lucas has hoarded his money over the years. He is one of the most well-known philanthropists in the world, often making donations to numerous arts and school programs (he and his wife have also donated $25 million to a Chicago after-school program in recent years). There was also word that much of the $4 billion he received as part of the deal with Disney regarding his company’s sale, would also be used for philanthropic purposes.

Given he has turned away from filmmaking entirely, the museum is surely intended as his swan-song.

Some have said his adamant feelings about its location are a bit selfish, but one should also consider seeing things from “a certain point-of-view.”

Architect Helmut Jahn pretty much hit the nail on the head, when he claimed in one interview, that George most likely wants to go ‘all-in’ for the project. This could explain why Lucas has been so adamant to dig his heels in, and not be swayed from certain stipulations: It’s the last major project he’ll have a hand in, and he wants to do it his way.

Of course, my mind often kept coming back to that Cultural Center meeting, where many kept wishing for the museum to enhance their specific neighborhood/community.

Many in Chicago I saw on Twitter as the lakefront battle raged, just kept throwing out all sorts of locations. Though many look at it as just a building, many never seemed to consider Lucas’ original plans in San Francisco, or what was being discussed in Chicago.

There seemed to be a pattern to the areas of interest, in that they be located near a body of water. That seemed to show that Lucas didn’t want his structure to become land-locked. It wasn’t to be like Disneyland, surrounded by hotels, residences, and restaurants. He wasn’t looking to create a Star Wars theme park or shrine to his space opera…this was a museum, and he seems to want it to be a place, that could be allowed ‘breathing room.’

There also is the consideration on how one would access the museum.

The locations Lucas chose in San Francisco and Chicago, are in prominent spots, located around parks and recreation (as well as main thoroughfares). This leads me to believe that Lucas himself was not looking at just building the museum, and walking away. After all, if you have such a great collection of art, surely you’d want to go down and see it every once in awhile.

The Presidio site would have been close to his Lucasfilm headquarters, which had moved into the new Letterman Digital Arts Center in 2005. The site he chose, would have been right across Highway 101, which he surely was familiar with.

In Chicago, word is that George and Mellody have an apartment in a prominent building on North Michigan Avenue (some have even seen George taking a meal in the food court of Water Tower Place). If the museum had gone in at the southern end of the Museum Campus, it would have been easy enough for Lucas to make a straight-shot down the street for visits.

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Though there’s been no official confirmation that The Lucas Museum is dead in Chicago, Mellody Hobson’s letter pretty much seems to signify that she and her husband are done waiting to deal with the current lawsuit (which is still in its pre-trial phase).

Word came at the time of this writing, that an appeal had been filed by the mayor’s office to dismiss the lawsuit regarding the parking lot (the main spot Lucas chose), but one has to figure it’s just one last gasp in the final process of pulling the plug. The mayor’s dream would most likely be for an immediate dismissal of the lawsuit, but one could see this thing dragging on for years…many that George is not willing to wait for.

Much like the submitted US Steel site offer a little while ago, the city of Waukegan (located an hour north of Chicago), has recently said they would welcome the museum along their lake front…though one has to figure if Lucas wasn’t willing to move his museum 9 miles south of Chicago (to the steel plant site), he most likely isn’t prepared to go further north. As well, whose to say the small town doesn’t have their own non-profit group gunning to make that space “open, free, and clear?”

The building of the museum will be an endeavor that will take several years, and I’m sure George would love to see it realized before he turns 80. The Chicago proposal expected an opening in 2019, though if the third times the charm and he finds a city willing to give him a lake view, one would probably expect to now see it open in the year 2021.

Personally, I’ve pretty much given up hope that I’ll ever see the museum built here. When it was being considered for the parking lot site near Soldier Field, it felt like a decent location, with minimal issue for “taxpayer consequences.” My faith in the project wavered when the proposed “Plan B” moved it further south, and included the $1.2 billion amount that would need to take care of removing and compensating for the McCormick Place East convention structure (a plan which would require state approval, in a state whose government is currently dead-locked on a number of other financial issues). I wasn’t as over-the-moon about it as the first site, but thought I’d wait to see what would happen…though deep down, the word ‘billion’ attached to that proposal didn’t sit well (former mayor Daley had used that word a few times when it came to discussing the costs of Chicago’s attempts 10 years ago to be the Summer Olympics’ host-city for the 2016 games).

Its a pity that Chicago lost out on getting The Lucas Museum of Narrative Art. For me, I saw it as being the one shot that the city could use, to get exhibitions regarding animation and film, the likes of which have been shown in major cities like New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. I could easily imagine the world-touring Pixar Exhibition, or maybe even the Tim Burton Exhibition, being part of the gallery space that would house temporary exhibitions. And though some have told me online that “we already have art museums,” I can’t see them expanding their scope beyond what they currently offer.

I’m sure The Art Institute of Chicago would never dedicate space to something like exhibiting stop-motion sets and creations from the likes of Laika Entetainment, or properly give over space to the production art of the golden age of Warner Brothers cartoons. Even the chance that The Museum of Contemporary Art would consider such things, seems like a fever-dream, and The Museum of Science and Industry wouldn’t showcase such things, unless it could work in a learning segment for kids. I guess in seeing how some other exhibitions regarding cartoon and animation art have been presented in several of my visits to California, it feels like the city is sorely lacking the capacity to open up past’ the norm.’

Some online who have seen me wax poetic about my thoughts on the museum, have inquired if I’m thinking about the city, or myself. I still feel that the museum could be a benefit to a place that many amazing exhibitions bypass in favor of more world-renowned cities, or overseas venues (Chicago often feels like a second or third-tier city much of the time). Chicago keeps wanting to pride itself on being a world-class city, but I often feel when it comes to more regarding the arts, that well-roundedness is sorely missing, and often leads persons like myself and others, to travel elsewhere, to seek out those things that we often know will never be considered for the museums the city houses.

Mellody Hobson said in her letter the other day, that many kids in the area would be missing out on what the museum could offer, and I agree with her. I wanted to study animation growing up, and coming from the state of Iowa, finding a place that would seem to encourage one in that regard, was non-existent. The museum’s intent to focus on a mixture of different media arts, makes it a unique creature, and one could definitely imagine the items on display here (as well as various programs and activities), inspiring future filmmakers, many who would be eager to escape the city’s confines, and head out west (or possibly consider the local film or animation programs at Columbia College).

LucasMuseum8

MAD Architect’s rendering of the interior of the Lucas Museum of Narrative Art

One of the major cities that has come up in the news, has been Oakland, CA, which is right across the bay from San Francisco, and word is, they would be willing to discuss giving the museum a lakefront placement. I personally feel George will take another look around California. He’s spent much of his life in Northern California, and if he can stay close to the Bay Area, he won’t have to go far to visit the museum.

One can imagine him maybe one day in 6 years, taking his daughter to the museum. They would be seen walking around its curved floors, admiring the illustrations by John Tenniel and Arthur Rackham. Maybe they’d sit in one of the theaters for a bit, listening as a film historian lectured about Kurosawa’s Rashomon, before heading up to the cafe at the top for a snack. As their attention turned to look out over the waters to the western horizon, the skyscrapers of San Francisco would fill George’s eyes, as he thinks about where he’s come from, and where he’s going.

I hope you’re able to find a community willing to help you make your museum a reality, George…it’s a pity Chicago wasn’t able to give you a hand.