“These Times Try Men Souls…” Life in the COVID-19 Era

These are the times that try men’s souls: The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of his country; but he that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.Thomas Paine, The American Crisis, December 1776

How will history remember how the United States and its government responded to the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in the first half of the year 2020? Will we – and the Administration of one Donald John Trump – be remembered as the Americans who faced a serious crisis with unity, determination, and courage? Or will we be consigned to the ash heap of history because we allowed – yes, allowed – ourselves to be so culturally, socially, and politically divided that one half of the nation hated the other half so much that it elected the most inept, unfit, and least effective candidate ever to run for President of the United States to the White House.

Seriously, we are where we are today – a nation of over 300 million men, and women, and children coping with an almost unprecedented public health crisis – as a result of a “perfect storm” that started late last fall in Wuhan, China, where a new strain of coronavirus emerged and made people sick. Like all authoritarian regimes, the People’s Republic of China (PRC) mishandled the situation in an effort to cover the Chinese Communist Party’s (CCP) rear end. It arrested doctors that tried to get the word out about the new and deadly virus. It clamped down on data regarding confirmed cases. Once the cat was out of the bag, Beijing might have even deliberately underreported those confirmed cases and deaths to the World Health Organization (WHO) and the world at large.

Worse yet, the PRC was slow to impose both a travel ban and what we now call a policy of social distancing; as late as December of 2019 and January of 2020, Chinese citizens were still traveling to and from other countries, thus inadvertently helping to spread COVID-19 and turning what should have been a local or national public health incident into a global pandemic.

I do not blame Donald Trump for the existence of the COVID-19 novel coronavirus; he did not conjure it out of the ether or order its creation and release as a bio-weapon against China. But I do think his response to the pandemic has been inept, unenthusiastic, and marked by a lack of preparedness and political maladroitness. As I wrote some time ago in my Blogger blog A Certain Point of View:

See, folks, this is what happens when a large segment of Americans decides to put a preening, buffoonish, self-centered real estate “mogul” into the White House in order to turn back the clock and return the country back to the 1950s. Instead of having a President with leadership skills on par with Franklin D. Roosevelt, we are being pushed off the proverbial cliff by an intellectual midget who doesn’t understand how viruses spread, how hard it is to get a handle on a pandemic, and that you don’t tell a virus, “Hey, COVID-19, we beat you, bro! Now be gone by April 12 so we can get the country going again.”

Again, per the New York Times:

Sitting in the Rose Garden earlier in the day for a Fox News “virtual town hall” on the coronavirus, the president said he was ready to “have the country opened up” by Easter and to ease restrictions he said were responsible for harming a flourishing economy.

“You are going to lose a number of people to the flu, but you are going to lose more people by putting a country into a massive recession or depression,” Mr. Trump said, misidentifying the virus. “You are going to have suicides by the thousands — you are going to have all sorts of things happen. You are going to have instability. You can’t just come in and say let’s close up the United States of America, the biggest, the most successful country in the world by far.”

See, this is why a responsible electorate does not (or rather, should not) allow someone as unprepared, corrupt, and inept as Donald John Trump to get elected as President of the United States of America. Trump, after all, is a businessman, one with a troublesome history of bankrupting businesses (Trump Airlines, several casinos in Atlantic City, Trump Vodka, Trump Steaks), shafting contractors, and defrauding people who enrolled in Trump University.

Because Trump is, in my opinion and that of many others, a consummate grifter whose only interest is to enrich himself and his brood, his main “achievement” as President was to be in office during a bull market on Wall Street. Until March 2020, the stock market and the overall economy were doing well, even though there were indications that a “bear market” was in the horizon. For Trump, the Dow Jones Industrial Average and the low unemployment rate in the U.S. were the sine qua non proof that his policies (including the infamous Trump tax cut) had resulted in “the greatest economy in American history.”

What Trump and his besotted supporters never mention – because they don’t want to acknowledge this – is that the economy was healthy and robust when President Barack Obama left the White House on January 20, 2017. In their twisted narrative, Obama had handed “the best POTUS of all time” a nation supposedly in ruins, with an empty treasury and a national defense establishment with no ammunition for “a depleted military.” Only Trump, he said during his campaign in 2016, could fix everything.

All of this talk of Trump’s business-centric mentality and his claims that he inherited a nation (and an economy) in decline is relevant to the topic of COVID-19. His emphasis on “his” economy and his stewardship of same lie at the heart of his Administration’s lackluster and uneven response to the pandemic. His concern that calling for what amounts to a total shutdown of the nation to bring down the numbers of new COVID-19 cases and reduce the spread of the virus was based on the knowledge that his house-of-cards economy would collapse when it was implemented.

In other words, much of Trump’s COVID-19 decision-making wasn’t based on medical considerations or advice from experts such as Drs. Anthony Fauci and Dorothy Birx, but from his financial advisors and his fellow billionaires.

Add to this his total disinterest in taking responsibility for his bad decisions (such as closing the National Security Council’s pandemic unit at the behest of John Bolton) and his lack of good leadership, and we have the antithesis to President Franklin D. Roosevelt.

I do not understand how and why Trump supporters insist, even now, that Donald Trump is the “BEST President EVER.” Until the COVID-19 pandemic, he basically shucked and jived through his term, surviving several political pitfalls solely because the Republican Party, especially its representatives and Senators in Congress, are not willing to let him fall from power lest they, too, fall down with him.

In my history buff’s mind, the pandemic is Trump’s first true test as the nation’s Chief Executive. It’s this Administration’s equivalent to the Pearl Harbor attack of December 7, 1941, at least in social impact. And as a taker of a big leagues leadership test, Donald J. Trump is failing, big time.

To borrow (and twist) a now-famous quote from Sen. Lloyd Bentsen (D-TX), “I know about Franklin D. Roosevelt. And you, sir, are no FDR.”

Many years ago, when I was helping a friend write a research paper about what makes a good leader for his Public Administration class at Florida International University, I learned that one of the most necessary skills that is needed is getting others to follow your lead, even if your ideas are not popular or easy to carry out.

As Reid Hoffman, founder of LinkedIn, said in his Masters of Scale podcast some time ago, “Every leader has to create a drumbeat for their company.”

This applies also to political leaders, especially on the head-of-state level. And I fear that Donald Trump is drumming us all into a path that leads to the edge of a seaside cliff.

Trump Wants U.S. ‘Opened Up’ by Easter, Despite Health Officials’ Warnings, by Annie Karni and Donald G. McNeil Jr., New York Times, March 25, 2020. Source:

Coming Soon to “A Certain Point of View, Too”

Coming soon to a galaxy near you….

Hello, there! Welcome to another edition of Bloggin’ On in A Certain Point of View, Too, my new WordPress blog, the best place in the blogsphere to get my latest reviews, essays, and political commentary.  I hope you are staying safe and healthy in these weird and troubled times of the COVID-19 pandemic, and that the world can get back to normal in the not-too-distant future.

I don’t have any reviews or essays ready for you today; I spent much of my morning playing Sid Meier’s Civilization IV in offline mode, and after I completed my game with a Space Victory, I spent about an hour writing a blog post about coping with COVID-19 for my original A Certain Point of View on Blogger. Consequently, I don’t have any reviews or news-based posts to share here today. I’m tired, for one thing, and I’m not quite sure if I want to spend another two hours at my desk writing a longish article.

Promotional photo of The Skywalker Saga 4K UHD/HD Blu-ray box set, a Best Buy exclusive. I got mine on Wednesday. (C) 2020 Best Buy, Buena Vista Home Entertainment, and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Rather, I’m going to give you some idea of what I have in store for this blog in the near-future, sort of like a Coming Attractions trailer at the movies.

So, without further ado, here’s what is coming soon to A Certain Point of View, Too:

  • 1917 movie review
  • Star Wars: The Black Series Sith Jet Trooper action figure review
  • Star Wars: Resistance Reborn book review
  • Star Wars toy & collectible review, TBD
  • Great Voices Sing John Denver Blu-ray review
  • The Skywalker Saga Best Buy exclusive 27-disc Collector’s Edition box set
  • Behind-the-scenes looks at A Simple Ad and Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss
Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss

I usually write my blogs in a “seat-of-the-pants” improvisational fashion, so I might not adhere strictly to this list, but this is all on my “to-do” list at the moment.

As James Garner used to say in those old 1970s Polaroid Camera commercials, “Let’s see what develops.”

Book Review: Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Expanded Edition

Cover Art: Andree Wallin. (C) 2020 Random House/Del Rey Books & Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

On March 17, Del Rey Books (an imprint of Random House based in New York) published Rae Carlson’s Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker – Expanded Edition, a novelization of Star Wars: Episode IX The Rise of Skywalker, the last installment of the Skywalker Saga. Published nearly 44 years after Alan Dean Foster’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker, the novel concludes the story arcs of Rey, the scavenger girl-turned-Jedi trainee and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, the heir to the Skywalker bloodline who was seduced by the Dark Side and is obsessed with finishing what his grandfather, Anakin Skywalker, started when he became the evil Sith Lord Darth Vader.

Set 35 years after the events of the original Star Wars film from 1977 and roughly one year after the Battle of Crait (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker depicts that galaxy far, far away once again embroiled in conflict. As the brief prologue – which is lifted straight from the film’s title crawl written by director J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio – declares:

The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE.

GENERAL LEIA ORGANA dispatches secret agents to gather intelligence, while REY, the last hope of the Jedi, trains for battle against the diabolical FIRST ORDER.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader KYLO REN rages in search of the phantom Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power….

Like her fellow Sequel Trilogy authors Alan Dean Foster (Star Wars: The Force Awakens) and Jason Fry (Star Wars: The Last Jedi), Carson takes a short detour in the narrative before jumping into the film’s opening. The first chapter is set on the lush jungle moon of Ajan Kloss, where Leia Skywalker Organa is training Rey in the ways of the Force. Here, we learn that this is the place where the Princess of Alderaan trained as a Jedi with her twin brother Luke (who called Ajan Kloss “Nice Dagobah,” in reference to the boggy planet where he’d trained as a Jedi with Jedi Master Yoda over three decades before).

In this first chapter, Carson delves into the thoughts of Leia and Rey as the girl from the desert world Jakku undergoes the rigors of training as a Jedi Knight under the tutelage of someone who ended her formal training as a result of her vision of the future.

As Rey tries – and fails – to connect through the Force with “those who have come before,” she asks Leia about her decision to not follow her brother’s – and her father Anakin’s – footsteps as a fully-trained Jedi Knight:

She didn’t want to admit she was failing, so instead she said, “Why did you stop training with Luke?” Her words came out too harsh, almost as a challenge.

Leia took it in stride. “Another life called to me.”

Eyes still closed, Rey asked, “How did you know?”

“A feeling. Visions. Of serving the galaxy in other ways.”

“But how did you know these visions were true?” Rey pressed.

“I knew.” She heard the smile in Leia’s voice.

Rey didn’t understand how Leia could be so sure. Of anything.

“I treasured each moment I spent with my brother,” Leia added. “The things he taught me…I use them every day. Once you touch the Force, it’s part of which you always. Over the years,I continued to learn, to grow. There were times on the Senate floor when the meditations I’d practiced with Luke were the only thing that kept me from causing a galactic incident.”

Rey frowned. Leia didn’t need patience. She could have made anyone do anything she wanted, with the power of the Force. Surely she’d been tempted?

“Was Luke angry? When you quit?” She hoped Leia noticed that she could talk and float at the same time. That was progress, right?

Leia paused to consider. “He was disappointed. But he understood. I think he held out hope that I’d return to it someday.”

Rey almost laughed. “He should have known better.” Once Leia made a decision, it was for keeps.

“I gave him my lightsaber to convince him otherwise.Told him to pass it on to a promising student someday.” But Leia’s voice had gone tight. Rey sensed she was holding something back.

“Where’s your lightsaber now?”

“No idea. Now stop trying to distract me,” Leia said. “Reach out.”

In this chapter, Carson gives us Rey’s insights and suppositions as to why training with a Master who isn’t Obi-Wan Kenobi or Luke Skywalker – Jedi Masters whose pupils fell to the Dark Side – is an advantage rather than a weakness. She also uses Rey’s growing connection to the Force to show glimpses of a nightmarish notion: something more wicked than either Kylo Ren or his late Master, Supreme Leader Snoke is making its presence known to Rey, calling to the darkness she fears lies inside her. She doesn’t know what it is, but the Force shows her brief images of something monstrous that she can’t quite understand:

The monolith shifted. Became a giant face of stone, cloaked in evil…

No, not a stone at all. A form of something, part human, part machine, with tubes stretching away from it like tentacles, all filled with a strange liquid. Was this creature alive? Or was it –

Flashes of Luke’s face. Then Kylo’s. Han Solo, his hand against Kylo’s cheek. A young woman in a hood. A freighter flying away from Jakku….

Finally, a burning voice in her head, as clear and unbearable as a desert storm: “Exegol.”

It is in Chapter Two of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker that the novel depicts the scene that opens Episode IX: Supreme Leader Kylo Ren and a mixed array of First Order stormtroopers and Kylo’s own Knights of Ren are slaughtering a group of colonists in one of the few “cool” areas of Mustafar – the lava world where a young Darth Vader was maimed by his friend and former Jedi Master Obi-Wan Kenobi in a fateful lightsaber duel half a century before. Kylo Ren’s grandfather barely survived then, kept alive by Emperor Palpatine’s Sith powers and his strong will to survive. Here, on Mustafar, are the ruins of Vader’s castle – as well as a Sith Wayfinder that will lead the man once known as Ben Solo to Exegol, an uncharted world in the Unknown Regions.

Victorious at last and with the Wayfinder in his grasp, Kylo Ren flies his advanced TIE Whisper (Carson, inexplicably, uses a lower case “w” whenever she names Kylo’s personal fighter in the text.) on a long journey to find “the Phantom Emperor,” who was reportedly killed by none other than Vader himself in his throne room aboard the second Death Star at the Battle of Endor all those years ago,

Much to Kylo’s dismay, the broadcast that shocked the galaxy and all the rumors that Palpatine – the architect of the Jedi Order’s demise and the rise of the Galactic Empire that Kylo’s parents and Uncle Luke helped destroy somehow survived. On Exegol, which is populated by millions of Palpatine loyalists who call themselves the Sith Eternal, Sheev Palpatine, also known as Darth Sidious, informs Kylo that it was he who was behind the creation of the First Order, the existence of Snoke, and Ben Solo’s tumble from the light into darkness. As Palpatine says to a stunned Kylo: “My boy, I have been every voice you have heard inside your head.”

Knowing that Kylo is obsessed by the quest for ultimate control of the galaxy, Palpatine makes a Faustian offer: The Emperor is willing to let the heir to Vader’s legacy rule a new Empire in exchange for one thing: Kylo must kill Rey, the last hope of the Jedi.

Over the next 16 chapters, Rae Carson follows the intertwined paths of Kylo Ren and Rey in a gripping adventure that spans the galaxy and sees heroes from two generations’ worth of stories – including Resistance X-wing ace Poe Dameron, former First Order stormtrooper Finn (FN-2187), Chewbacca the Wookiee, Rose Tico, Leia Organa, Temmin “Snap” Wexley, Maz Kanata, Lando Calrissian, Wedge Antilles, R2-D2, C-3PO, and new allies Jannah, Babu Frik, and Zorii Bliss – joining forces one last time in a do-or-die battle against a reborn Palpatine and his so-called Final Order.

Witness the epic final chapter of the Skywalker saga with the official novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, including expanded scenes and additional content not seen in theaters!

The Resistance has been reborn. The spark of rebellion is rekindling across the galaxy. But although Rey and her fellow heroes are back in the fight, the war against the First Order, now led by Supreme Leader Kylo Ren, is far from over.

Rey, Finn, Poe, and the Resistance must embark on the most perilous adventure they have ever faced. And this time, they’re facing it together. With the help of old friends, new allies, and the mysterious guidance of the Force, the story that began in Star Wars: The Force Awakens and continued in Star Wars: The Last Jedi reaches an astounding conclusion.
– Publisher’s dust jacket blurb

My Take

When George Lucas was in the midst of making Star Wars back in 1976 (it would not be known as Star Wars: Episode IV A New Hope until 1981), Lucasfilm Ltd. wasn’t as prominent as it is now.

Most studios, including 20th Century Fox (the studio that financed Star Wars) believed that science fiction and fantasy films had little to no audience appeal.

Based on this premise, Fox executives eagerly signed away the marketing and licensing rights to “The Star Wars Corporation,” which would later be folded into Lucasfilm itself.

Because Fox wasn’t enthusiastically marketing Star Wars, Lucas and Charles Lippincott, then Lucasfilm’s vice president for marketing and media affairs, took matters into their own to create “buzz” for the then-unfinished Star Wars among comic book fans and sci-fi aficionados. In those pre-Internet days, one sure way to do that was to release media tie-ins in advance of an upcoming film. Releasing a novelization several months in advance was one such technique.

In the 1970s, this was not unique to Star Wars. In 1969, Erich Segal turned in a screenplay to Paramount Pictures called Love Story. For some reason or other, the film took longer to make than expected,so the studio asked Segal to adapt his script into a novel. He agreed, and Love Story became a best-selling book long before it became one of the biggest box office hits of 1970.

On a similar vein, when Warner Bros. and Robert Mulligan were making the coming-of-age comedy-drama Summer of ’42, the studio (perhaps looking at the success of Love Story a year before) asked screenwriter Herman Raucher to write a novel that would be published in advance of the film’s release. The book version of Summer of ’42 also became a best-seller, and because it was so faithful to Raucher’s script, many viewers thought the film was a perfect adaptation of a literary work. (It was, of course, the other way ’round, but you know, marketing….)

Naturally, Lucas and Lippincott were aware of this marketing tactic, so they hired a young science fiction writer named Alan Dean Foster to write a novelization based on Lucas’s fourth revised draft script.

Foster was already a known commodity in the science fiction fandom, for in addition to penning his own stories, he had successfully adapted Star Trek: The Animated Series in a string of paperbacks known as the Star Trek: Logs. (Foster also penned the story “In Thy Image” for the never-produced Star Trek: Phase II television series; his basic premise later became the basis for Star Trek: The Motion Picture.)

The hardcover edition of Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. Cover art by John Berkey. (C) 1976 Del Rey Books and 20th Century Fox Film Corporation

If you’re a Star Wars fan of a certain age, you know the rest of the story. Late in 1976, Del Rey Books published Foster’s Star Wars: From the Adventures of Luke Skywalker. It was credited to George Lucas, and not only did it faithfully adapt the screenplay (albeit with a few divergences here and there), but it also included a prologue (based on notes given to Foster by Lucas) that is a barebones outline for the Prequel Trilogy and introduces Emperor Palpatine as the catalyst for the Empire’s rise and the destruction of the Jedi Order.

In Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, California-born but now Arizona resident Rae Carson is the last of a series of writers who have adapted the 11 live action Star Wars films that have been released so far. By penning the novelization of Episode IX, she will be remembered for concluding not just the Prequel Trilogy’s three-book cycle (to which Alan Dean Foster contributed in 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens) but the Skywalker Saga overall.

Overall, Carson does a good job of adapting the screenplay by Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams, which itself was based on the screen story by Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow with adjustments by Abrams and Terrio. In the grand tradition of Star Wars novelizations, the author deftly blends material from early versions the script and the original story treatments with some of her own bits of narrative, most of which (like the excerpt from Chapter One above) serve as exposition that helps fill in “plot holes” in the movie or foreshadow events that do appear on screen.

The quality of the writing is good. Carson is a solid professional and her prose is crisp, clear, and concise. Moreover, the basic story arcs, pacing, tone, and spirit of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker are all present in the novelization. When I read the dialogue spoken by any of the major characters, it’s not an exaggeration on my part when I say that I could hear the voices of Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, Oscar Isaacs, John Boyega, Domhnall Gleeson, Richard E. Grant, Keri Russell, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, Anthony Daniels, Billy Dee Williams, and Ian McDiarmid.

The only complaint I have beyond Del Rey’s unnecessary labeling this book as an Expanded Edition is that it was released in March of 2020, three months after Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker‘s theatrical premiere.

I understand why The Walt Disney Company asked Del Rey and other publishers to hold off on releasing media tie-ins till after the film opened. In the age of the Internet, there will always be people who will leak spoilers even before Opening Day, thus ruining any viewer’s delight at the new film’s revelations and plot twists. So, yeah. Of course Lucasfilm and Disney have to put these holds on novelizations till after the films have left theaters and hit home media and streaming services.

But just because I understand the reason behind Disney/Lucasfilm’s scheduling of tie-in media releases, it doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Overall, the novelization of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable literary roller-coaster ride to that galaxy far, far away, full of heroes, villains, and aliens from a thousand worlds. I enjoyed it, although I wish Lucasfilm would tell the author that Kylo’s starfighter is a TIE Whisper (with a capital “W”).

Movie Review: ‘Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker’

Slipcover art for the Multi-Screen Edition Blu-ray of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Star Wars – Episode IX: The Rise of Skywalker (marketed as Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker(2019)

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

Written by: Chris Terrio and J.J. Abrams

Story by: Derek Connolly, Colin Trevorrow, Chris Terrio, and J.J. Abrams. Based on characters and situations created by George Lucas

Starring: Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Adam Driver, Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Anthony Daniels, Joonas Suotamo, Keri Russell, Kelly Marie Tran, Ian McDiarmid

The dead speak! The galaxy has heard a mysterious broadcast, a threat of REVENGE in the sinister voice of the late EMPEROR PALPATINE.

GENERAL LEIA ORGANA dispatches secret agents to gather intelligence, while REY, the last hope of the Jedi, trains for battle against the diabolical FIRST ORDER.

Meanwhile, Supreme Leader KYLO REN rages in search of the phantom Emperor, determined to destroy any threat to his power… – Title crawl from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker

On December 20, 2019, 42 years and seven months after the theatrical release of George Lucas’s Star Wars (aka Star Wars: A New Hope), Walt Disney Motion Pictures Studio released Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, the ninth and final episode of the Skywalker Saga. Set 35 years after the events of the original film, director J.J. Abrams’ second Star Wars film pits the remnants of General Leia Organa’s (Carrie Fisher) Resistance against the mighty First Order and a shadowy adversary from the past.

Co-written by Abrams with Academy Award-winning screenwriter Chris Terrio and based on a story by Abrams, Terrio, Derek Connolly, and Colin Trevorrow, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker begins on Mustafar, the lava planet where a young Darth Vader was defeated by his former Master Obi-Wan Kenobi and sustained the severe injuries that necessitated the use of his now-iconic cybernetic life-supporting armored suit and breath mask.

On that hellish planet, Vader’s grandson Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) is seeking a Sith relic that will lead him to Exegol, an uncharted world from whence a mysterious message from Emperor Palpatine (Ian McDiarmid) was recently broadcast. Ren, who is consumed by the need to rule the galaxy on his own terms, is desperate to determine if Palpatine, who was believed to have died 31 years earlier when the Empire’s second Death Star was destroyed at the Battle of Endor, is really alive.

Ren, whose birth name is Ben Solo and is the last of the Skywalker line, eventually makes his way to the Unknown Regions and Exegol itself. There, the leader of the Knights of Ren makes an unexpected and most unwelcome discovery:

Emperor Palpatine: At last. Snoke trained you well.

Kylo Ren: I killed Snoke. I’ll kill you.

Emperor Palpatine: My boy, I made Snoke. I have been every voice…

Snoke: ..you have ever heard..

Darth Vader: …inside your head.

Emperor Palpatine: The First Order was just the beginning. I will give you so much more.

Kylo Ren: You’ll die first.

Emperor Palpatine: I’ve died before. The dark side of the Force is a pathway to many abilities some consider to be… unnatural.

Kylo Ren: What could you give me?

Emperor Palpatine: Everything. A new empire. The might of the Final Order will soon be ready. It will be yours if you do as I ask. Kill the girl, end the Jedi and become what your grandfather Vader could not. You will rule all the galaxy as the new emperor. But beware. She is not who you think she is.

“I made Snoke…” Screenshot from the Movies Anywhere digital release of Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (C) Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Meanwhile, Rey is continuing her Jedi training under the tutelage of General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher, in cleverly repurposed footage from Star Wars: The Force Awakens).  In the year since the Battle of Crait, the scavenger girl from Jakku has learned much from Leia, who herself was trained by her brother, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) after the fall of the Empire but stopped her journey along the Jedi path after sensing her son Ben’s ultimate fall to the Dark Side of the Force.

But in an echo of a much younger Luke’s destiny, Rey discovers that all roads lead to Exegol. Her journey – and the final confrontation between good and evil, seduction and redemption – begins when Resistance heroes Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) and Finn (John Boyega), accompanied by Chewbacca (Joonas Suotamo) return on the Millennium Falcon with the information provided by a spy within the First Order: Palpatine has indeed returned, and he is amassing a huge fleet to re-establish his regime throughout the galaxy.

Of course, since Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is the conclusion of the nine-episode Skywalker Saga, the final outcome is not in doubt. But as the old saying goes, “it’s not the destination that matters, it’s the journey.”

Because Abrams and Terrio (and before them, Derek Connolly and Colin Trevorrow, the original writer-director team for Episode IX before they were replaced by Lucasfilm in 2017) have kept George Lucas’s ethos that each Trilogy in the Star Wars mirrors the themes of the others in different iterations, we see familiar plot points from the Prequels and the Original Trilogy as Rey and Kylo Ren both deal with their inner demons and their shared destiny vis a vis the Force itself.

Rey trains on the lush moon of Ajan Kloss. Screenshot from Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. (C) 2020 Buena Vista Home Entertainment and Lucasfilm Ltd. (LFL)

Obviously, the biggest influence on this last of the sequels is Star Wars: Return of the Jedi. Not only do we see that Palpatine somehow survived not only his fall down that long shaft in the second Death Star, but that he did discover a way to cheat death per his “Tragedy of Darth Plageuis” monologue in Star Wars; Revenge of the Sith. The film also takes us to a remnant of the aforementioned Death Star II  that ended up on Kef Bir, an ocean moon in the Endor system, and features several exciting lightsaber duels, thrilling cliffhanger sequences, a climactic space battle, and even a resolution to the conflict between the two central families of this saga: the Skywalkers and the Palpatines.

My Take

Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is, for good or ill, the summation of a saga that unfolded over 42 years. It not only has to satisfactorily end a three-film cycle that focuses on Rey’s hero’s journey; it also has to wrap up a nine-part story, told in the style of 1930s matinee serials a la Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers.  And even though the story told in The Rise of Skywalker leaves the viewer asking more questions at the end than, say, Peter Jackson’s The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, J.J. Abrams and Chris Terrio accomplish both goals…at least to my satisfaction.

Honestly, bringing back Ian McDiarmid as a resurrected Emperor Palpatine and revealing him as the puppetmaster behind Supreme Leader Snoke and the rise of the First Order makes sense. The “Emperor reborn” concept is not exactly a new idea in Star Wars lore;  Tom Veitch’s Dark Empire trilogy for Dark Horse Comics resurrected Palpatine in an eerily similar fashion in the early 1990s. The revelation that Palpatine created Snoke in order to turn Ben Solo into “a new Vader” is both simple and logical; Snoke, in essence, was just an avatar for the galaxy’s most powerful villain and just a “training tool” intended to turn Leia’s son – the last of the Skywalkers – into Palpatine’s final revenge on Anakin, Luke, Leia, and everyone who fought alongside them to end his tyrannical rule three decades before.

Is the film perfect? In some respects, no. It’s a bit more convoluted than I’d have liked, and it leaves it up to ancillary media (such as the Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker: The Visual Dictionary and Rae Carson’s novelization of the Terrio-Abrams screenplay) to provide answers to some of the questions viewers are left with after the final credits fade to black and the last notes of John Williams’ Finale linger in the air at the movie’s conclusion.

Still, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is a fun roller coaster ride to that galaxy far, far away. It captures the thrilling sense of “what’s gonna happen next” that made the original 1977 film so much to watch. As I said before, its beats and themes dovetail nicely with the other Trilogies’ concluding Episodes, even recycling elements from Revenge of the Sith and Return of the Jedi, including cameos from characters seen in those films and, in at least one case, lines of dialogue as well.

Once again, J.J. Abrams (who is a lifelong Star Wars film and is the only other person, besides George Lucas himself, to direct more than one movie in the franchise) gets great performances from his cast, which was slated to be led by Carrie Fisher before she died in late December of 2016. Episode IX was originally set up to be “Leia’s film” when Lucasfilm began making the Sequel Trilogy; Star Wars: The Force Awakens was “Han Solo’s film,”while Star Wars: The Last Jedi was Luke’s.

Addressing Fisher’s death and trying to figure out Leia’s role was the challenge that stymied the Connolly-Trevorrow team; Abrams eventually discovered a way to use unused footage from The Force Awakens and write the scenes with Leia around that material. Thus, the director gets kudos from this writer for successfully blending material shot in 2014 with new material featuring Daisy Ridley, Oscar Isaac, and other cast members that was filmed in 2018 and early 2019.

As always, Industrial Light and Magic created beautifully rendered special effects that takes the viewer, at least for The Rise of Skywalker’s 142 minutes’ worth of runtime. Cinematographer Dan Mindel gives us a wide variety of vistas that range from hellish Mustafar to the snowy planet of Kijimi (which is also the Sequel Trilogy’s first reveal of a planet under First Order occupation), and all points in between. And, of course, Maestro John Williams (who has a cameo as a bartender on Kijimi) works his usual musical magic in this, his final Star Wars score.

All in all, Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker is an enjoyable film experience, as well as a nicely satisfying conclusion to the cornerstone saga in a space-fantasy franchise set “a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.”  

Hello, There…

…and welcome to A Certain Point of View, Too, my new WordPress blog.

I created this blog out of necessity; apparently, someone on Facebook took issue with a post from my original Blogger blog, A Certain Point of View and reported me as a spammer. Consequently, since March 26, Facebook has been removing my posts and blocking my blog’s domain so I can’t post any new entries on “the Social Network.”

Whilst this does not “kill” my blog outright – A Certain Point of View still got 205 hits today (so far), the block on Facebook does deprive me of a large audience. I estimate that visits to my blog have been cut by 50% despite my blog’s longevity and established worldwide audience. That, my friends, is quite a substantial loss of readers and ad revenue.

So, after mulling over my options, I decided to purchase a premium WordPress account for $96 a year, complete with my own domain, in order to get around this unfair block. I wasn’t “spamming” anyone; I was quite picky about where to share my blog. But I suppose some of my decidedly anti-Trump blog posts (or maybe some of my Star Wars reviews) pissed someone off so much that I had to be silenced.

And so, Dear Reader, here we are, in terra incognita on WordPress. It’s all new to me; I still haven’t figured out how to add YouTube videos to posts, for instance, much less monetize my blog.

But I’m a smart guy. I’ll figure it out. And you, Dear Reader, will get a kickass blog worth your while.

Oh, and to the coward who reported my blog to Facebook as “spam”: Screw you, dude, and the horse you rode in on.

Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss

This is the third and latest short film that I’ve either written or co-written with Juan Carlos Hernandez for his production company, Popcorn Sky Productions. It’s a comedy about a politically-divided family in New York City during the Trump era.

As Denise Longrie says in her review:

This amusing and enjoyable short depicts the fireworks that erupt when the Ronderos’ son Jerry (Anthony James Hernandez) comes home from college for a visit. Mom Veronica (“Ronnie”), played by Adria K. Woomer-Hernandez, lays down the law to her husband Guillermo (Juan Carlos Hernandez): no talking, not even whispering, about politics.

Although Juan was gracious enough to give me the sole writing credit for Ronnie, the truth is that much of the finished film was based on on-the-spot rewrites by the cast and crew in New York. I was asked to go to the Big Apple to be on hand, but I couldn’t afford the cost of an airline ticket plus a long extended stay at a hotel. So even though I was consulted, Juan, Adria, and Anthony had to rework the story and script to make Ronnie work well as a comedy with some serious commentary about the divisiveness in Trump-era America.

The film is 22 minutes long, but it’s a complete story with a beginning, middle, and end. I think it’s both hilarious and relevant.

If you have not watched it yet, here it is, in all its YouTube glory.

%d bloggers like this: