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What an amazing treat Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens has been. It provided a nice afterglow at the end of 2015, and now you have the pleasure of watching it at home in 2016.

The Blu-ray version and the digital download are both stunners, providing the best in video quality and sound—sure to stretch the limits of your home-entertainment system. It was a blast in theaters, and it’s equally fun on the home front.

Newcomer Daisy Ridley gave the best dramatic performance not only in this film, but in all of the Star Wars films thus far. She should’ve been an Oscar contender. It was no small feat to become the star of history’s biggest movie franchise—and she rocked it. For great acting, look no further than her interrogation scene with the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver).

She more than holds her own with Harrison Ford and Carrie Fisher, reprising their roles as Han Solo and Princess (now General) Leia. Other newbies include John Boyega as Finn, a disenchanted Stormtrooper, and Oscar Isaac as Poe, the best damn pilot in the galaxy. Domhnall Gleeson is the only newcomer who strikes an overbearing note as General Hux.

Ford is great as solo, but Ridley and Driver steal the show. It’s wonderful knowing that the next chapter in the Skywalker saga will arrive next year—and that we get another Star Wars movie this December with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Who cares about Marvel and DC? We are getting a whole bunch of Star Wars movies!

Special Features: There’s a nice four-part documentary on the making of the movie, along with numerous featurettes, including a look at the infamous table read. You also get some deleted scenes—which were clearly deleted for a reason. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

The new Star Wars doesn’t suck! The new Star Wars doesn’t suck!

What a relief, right? Ever since Disney absorbed the Lucasfilm empire, some fans and cynics have speculated that the Mouse plus George could equate to shite. Then the Mouse handed the reins of the Star Wars universe to that bespectacled guy who reinvigorated the Star Trek universe.

Fret not, for director J.J. Abrams and crew have done exactly what they did with Star Trek: They created a fun movie that not only respects the blessed canon of a beloved franchise, but stands on its own as a piece of supreme entertainment. It is 2015’s most entertaining film, and a movie that stands up proudly in the realm of Star Wars movies.

In many ways, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is the best movie in the franchise. I won’t say it’s my personal favorite. (I think The Empire Strikes Back still holds that post; a little more time will tell.) Its storytelling is solid; its special effects are first-rate; and the performances are easily the best the franchise has ever seen.

That’s due in part to Daisy Ridley, an incredible talent who is now an instant star as Rey, a scrappy scavenger on a Tattooine-like desert planet. She delivers the best all-around dramatic performance in the Star Wars universe. She does some of the year’s best “face acting”; you’ll have to see the movie to find out what I’m talking about. With this new star at its center, the revitalized Star Wars universe takes life around her with a bevy of new characters and, of course, returning oldies.

Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan, who happens to be the guy who wrote Empire, combined on a screenplay that follows a lot of the familiar beats from past Star Wars films. They took over writing duties after Michael Arndt (Little Miss Sunshine) took a failed stab at the task. (Arndt still gets a credit.)

The universe is being tormented by the First Order, an offshoot of the former Empire. Rey, after rummaging around in a fallen Star Destroyer, discovers a lost droid (BB-8, who is adorable), and eventually finds herself on a space adventure with familiar and new faces.

That’s it. That’s all I’m saying about the plot.

Harrison Ford, cryptic and snarky about his Star Wars pedigree in the past, returns as Han Solo, and his newfound enthusiasm for the part is infectious. Ford slips back into that laid-back, charmingly sarcastic smuggler role with ease, while his old buddy Chewbacca has become some sort of comedian in the last 30 or so years: The old Wookiee scores some of the film’s biggest laughs. Seeing the pair together again is an invaluable movie gift to be treasured.

As the movie’s central villain, Adam Driver is multi-layered and appropriately disturbing as Kylo Ren, a masked, obvious riff on Darth Vader who is a bit of a fanboy of the long deceased Sith Lord. I’m a Star Wars fan, and I have a few nice toys in my possession—but Kylo Ren has the Holy Grail for Star Wars collectors in his chambers!

John Boyega brings a new, welcomed dimension to the Stormtroopers. (Hey, there are actual people under those helmets!) Oscar Isaac a brings funny charisma to Poe, the best pilot in the galaxy.

I think I got through this review with no major spoilers, so no Star Wars geeks will kill me. My life force will not be extinguished, and I will make it to next year’s Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, and Episode VIII, which is due in the summer of 2017.

Gone are the days when we waited decades for new Star Wars chapters. Oh, the spoils of Disney.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens is playing at theaters across the valley in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

On this week's jingle-bell-laden Independent comics page: The K Chronicles reviews Star Wars: The Force Awakens; This Modern World begins a two-part year in review; Jen Sorenson talks to some government shopaholics; and Red Meat endures a painful recall.

Published in Comics

On this week's full-of-the-Force Independent comics page: Red Meat enjoys some nipply new gifts; Jen Sorenson examines Star Wars mania; The K Chronicles says this is a week that will go down in history; and This Modern World enters the realm of the Quantum Republican Universe.

Published in Comics

The year is loaded with intriguing movie releases! Here, we have listed but a small sampling. Keep in mind that all dates are subject to change, and the only thing that really matters is there is a new Star Wars movie coming out in December.

Well, actually, the fact that new Twin Peaks, Wet Hot American Summer and Evil Dead stories are going into production this year matters—but those are all happening on television. TV is getting really cool!

But we’re not here to talk about TV; we’re here to talk about the next 11 months of movies. Here we go!

Jupiter Ascending (Feb. 6): The long-delayed next picture from the Wachowskis (The Matrix) looks … goofy. Mila Kunis, who is quite lovable but simply can’t act, and Channing Tatum co-star. Tatum has what looks like Vulcan ears and some really bad haircuts in this one.

Fifty Shades of Grey (Feb. 13): If you are excited about this movie, I weep for you and the souls of your present and future children.

Hot Tub Time Machine 2 (Feb. 20): If you are excited about this sequel, which is sans John Cusack … well, you are excused. It does look pretty funny.

Chappie (March 6): Neill Blomkamp (District 9) makes a movie about a kidnapped robot. I would much rather see that Alien 5 thing he was supposedly working on.

Insurgent (March 20): A sequel to Divergent, aka a sequel to a humongous piece of crap.

Zombeavers (March 20): This is a film about zombie beavers. I don’t think it is getting a major release, but I just had to mention it.

Furious 7 (April 3): I’m thinking some cars drive around really fast and stuff in this one.

Ex_Machina (April 10): Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, directs this film about the complications of a world part inhabited by very realistic robots.

Avengers: Age of Ultron (May 1): Super-mega summer-movie season basically kicks off with the second Avengers movie. This one has Steff from Pretty in Pink (James Spader) voicing the evil title character.

Mad Max: Fury Road (May 15): After many false starts and the jettisoning of Mel Gibson, George Miller brings his iconic character back with Tom Hardy in the big role, and Charlize Theron sporting a shaved head.

Warren Beatty Movie That Has No Name Yet (May 21): Warren Beatty plays Howard Hughes … old Howard Hughes. Beatty directs for the first time in 17 years.

Tomorrowland (May 22): George Clooney stars for director Brad Bird in a film that may or may not have something to do with the Disney attraction. This is a passion project for Bird, who passed up directing the next Star Wars in order to make it.

Entourage (June 5): I went through an Entourage phase. It ended well before Sasha Grey joined the cast.

Jurassic World (June 12): Judging by the trailer, this looks awful. Like, really awful. Domesticated raptors running along Chris Pratt’s motorcycle? What are they thinking?

Inside Out (June 19) and The Good Dinosaur (Nov. 25): These would be the TWO Pixar movies you are getting in 2015. Feel blessed.

Terminator: Genisys (July 1): Arnold Schwarzenegger, who has been box-office poison as of late, looks to perk things up in yet another cyborg movie. It looks better than that Jurassic Park sequel.

Ant-Man (July 17): Edgar Wright was supposed to direct Paul Rudd in the latest from Marvel. He is not directing any more. I am worried.

Poltergeist (July 24): Normally, I would not be excited about yet another remake. But this stars Sam Rockwell, so I am marginally excited about yet another remake.

Pixels (July 24): Adam Sandler and other nerds are hired to fight 1980s-era video game-villains attacking New York City. This may be one of the greatest films ever made. I’m not being sarcastic.

Fantastic Four (Aug. 7): Fox is trying again. Miles Teller of Whiplash fame plays the rubber guy; Kate Mara plays the invisible woman; Michael B. Jordan is The Human Torch; and Jamie Bell (yes, that Jamie Bell) is The Thing. Sounds really weird.

The Walk (Oct. 2): When Philippe Petit walked between the Twin Towers on a tightrope in the 1970s, I was a totally freaked-out little kid. Now, with Robert Zemeckis directing and Joseph Gordon-Levitt starring in a re-creation of one of history’s greatest stunts, I expect to be totally freaked out as an adult.

Vacation (Oct. 9): Chevy Chase and Beverly D’Angelo return, but this one is more about a grown-up Rusty (Ed Helms) taking his family on a trip. It all seems kind of farty.

Crimson Peak (Oct. 16): This gothic haunted-house story is another one of the projects Guillermo del Toro wanted to make instead of getting bogged down in Hobbit hell. Based on Pacific Rim, del Toro made the right choice. I’ve got a good feeling about this one.

Knock Knock (Oct. 28): Let’s see if Keanu Reeves can stay on a roll after John Wick. This one is directed by Eli Roth, who also directed Cabin Fever, Hostel and The Green Inferno, a cannibal movie that got caught up in litigation and was supposed to be released in 2014, but wasn’t. Actually, I’m far more interested in seeing The Green Inferno than Knock Knock.

Spectre (Nov. 6): James Bond is back with both Daniel Craig and Skyfall director Sam Mendes returning.

The Peanuts Movie (Nov. 6): Charlie Brown gets an updated, more detailed look, and it seems like they’ve done a good of job nailing the voices. I will be there, York Peppermint Patties in hand.

The Hateful Eight (Nov. 13): Quentin Tarantino does another Western. Django Unchained was his weakest movie, but I do cherish the idea of Tarantino going wild in the West again.

The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 2 (Nov. 20): The games come to a conclusion, and Jennifer Lawrence gets freed up to do other things. Rumor has it she wants to be a Ghostbuster.

Midnight Special (Nov. 25): Jeff Nichols, the man who gave us Mud and Take Shelter, returns with Michael Shannon as a dad who discovers his son has special powers.

Star Wars: Episode VII—The Force Awakens (Dec. 18): In case you haven’t heard, there’s a new Star Wars on the horizon, and J.J. Abrams, the man who made Star Trek cool again, is at the helm. Harrison Ford … Han Solo. That is all that needs to really be said about this.

Mission: Impossible 5 (Dec. 25): Yes … Cruise is still making these.

Published in Previews and Features