The Last Jedi Trailer • Finally UP!

DLvF7e3X4AIiZTMWe’re almost two months away from the premiere of the eighth film in the Skywalker saga, and we finally get our second look. First, the powers that be at Lucasfilm dropped this amazing new poster, which has a stark white and red theme going.

This is interesting, considering that The Force Awakens poster was splashed with all the colors of the rainbow, as films do these days. But The Last Jedi looks to be a much darker film, and as The Force Awakens harkened back to Episode 4, it appears that The Last Jedi will have similar dark themes as Episode 5. Hopefully just similar themes, and not such a similar storyline!

But these days, a trailer drop is nearly as big an event as the film itself, especially when we’re talking about a Star Wars movie. So without further ado, I give you trailer #2 for Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

 

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Are Christian Filmmakers Being Tapped To Direct Future Star Wars Stand-Alone Films?

A long time ago in galaxy close, close by…

The church had abandoned Hollywood. Then, THE PASSION OF THE CHRIST struck box office gold, studios created FAITH-BASED DIVISIONS, and little Christian films made BUCKETS OF MONEY. Now Christian films have earned over a BILLION DOLLARS for investors and studios over the past thirteen years.

With the recent successes of Dr. Strange, directed by Christian filmmaker SCOTT DERRICKSON and Rogue One, the first Star Wars standalone film, are the forces behind Star Wars hopping on the faith-based bandwagon? Are budding Christian filmmakers being considered as the new hope for the venerable space-based franchise?

Only time will tell….

“The Erwin brothers, Harold Cronk, Kirk Cameron, they’ve all been discussed, especially for a movie about Yoda, which would involve all kinds of spiritual mumbo-jumbo,” an anonymous source told us. But this source, who met with us in a nearby Starbucks dressed in a stormtrooper costume and calling himself “TR-3R”, went on to say that the Christian filmmakers who have risen to the top are veteran brother team, Alex and Stephen Kendrick, creators of the Christian film hits Facing the Giants, Courageous, Fireproof, and 2015’s War Room.

tr3r“The big dogs at Lucasfilm like the Kendrick’s grass-roots style of filmmaking, as well as their overt handling of spiritual issues,” TR-3R said. “They think the Kendricks could take a Yoda standalone to some really interesting places, exploring the spiritual aspects of the Force, maybe telling about how Yoda became converted to the light side in the first place. Me? I imagine it happening in a golden field with lots of sunlight. The Kendricks like to do that. It’s their lens flare.”

Considering the Kendrick’s focus on family issues such as parenting and marriage, we asked the source the odds that a Kendrick-directed standalone film would also explore something of Yoda’s homelife.

“They never tell me the odds, but this is something fans have been clamoring for,” TR-3R said enthusiastically, trying unsuccessfully to sip his coffee through his stormtrooper helmet. “They’ve seen Yoda living as a crotchety old single dude, but was he a good husband? A good dad? He helped train all those force-sensitive kids, but what about his own kids? The big dogs think that the Kendricks could really explore a domestic side of Yoda that we haven’t seen before.”

The source went on to say that a successful Kendrick-directed Star Wars film would also open the door for other filmmakers of faith to step in, as the studio hopes to release a new Star Wars film every year from now until the apocalypse.

When we pressed TR-3R for more details, he grew noticeably agitated and began muttering something about seeing the new VT-16. Then, saying he had to get back to the office, TR-3R quickly slid a folded piece of paper across the table and bolted outside without another word. He jumped into a black 1976 Corvette and drove away.

Incidentally, the Corvette’s license plate read THX-1138.

Unfolding the paper, the first thing we noticed was that it was written on Lucasfilm stationary. It had been stamped multiple times with “TOP SECRET” in bright red letters, and the paper had the heading: “Potential Future Faith-Based Star Wars Projects.”

Then, the following items were listed:

forceThe Force’s Not Dead – set between Episode 3 and 4, a young Luke Skywalker attends Mos Eisley Agricultural College only to find that his moisture farming professor doesn’t believe in the Force. Luke stands up to him, determined to prove that the Force is real. The film ends with an extended Figrin D’an and the Modal Newsboys concert in the cantina while the professor gets run over and killed by a landspeeder outside. Potential director: Harold Cronk. Potential producer: David A.R. White. Release date: December 2019.

Ben Hutt – set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, Ben Kenobi, masquerading as a Hutt prince, is falsely accused of treason by his adopted brother (a clone soldier in the Republic Clone Army). After spending years exiled in space, Ben returns to Tatooine to seek revenge, but ultimately finds redemption. Possible roles for Ewan MacGregor and Morgan Freeman. Potential producers: Mark Burnett and Roma Downey. Release date: May 2020.

I’ve Got A Bad Feeling I’ve Been Left Behind – also set in the time between Episodes 3 and 4, this film would explore the chaos and mayhem resulting when the Jedi vanish in an instant, leaving behind smoking piles of clothes and lightsabers. Possible starring role for Nicolas Cage as a force-sensitive sceptic. Potential director: Paul LaLonde. Release date May 2021.

Droid’s Night Out – set in the time between Episodes 4 and 5, R2D2 decides to take C3PO out on a night on the town, leaving Luke, Han, and Chewie to take on all of the etiquette and protocol responsibilities at the rebel base. Of course, mistaken identities and disastrously hilarious mayhem results. Potential director: The Erwin Brothers. Release Date: December 2022.

Lumpawarrump’s Saving Life Day – set in the time between Episodes 5 and 6, Lumpawarrump is enjoying the annual Life Day extravaganza thrown by his sister until he realizes he needs to help out his visiting father, Chewbacca, who blames himself for Han Solo’s abduction by Boba Fett. Lumpy’s fresh look at Life Day provides Chewbacca the chance to see that the universe is bigger than his little problems, and that he needs to pull up his Wookie panties and go save his friend from the clutches of the vile gangster, Jabba the Hutt. The film ends with an extended wookie dance-off. Potential director: Kirk Cameron. Release Date: Life Day 2023, or perhaps Festivus.

star-war-roomStar War Room – set in the time between Episodes 6 and 7, Han Solo and Princess Leia’s marriage is in trouble, and it will take the efforts of the strange, wizened old Miss Maz to help Leia learn to tap into the force and save her marriage. The film ends with an extended force-enabled jump rope competition. Possible roles for Sadie Robertson as a young Leia and Alden Ehrenreich to continue playing young Han. Potential director: The Kendrick Brothers (if the Yoda movie is a success). Release Date: December 2024.

 

Thimblerig’s Spoilerific Thoughts on Star Wars Episode 7: The Force Awakens

Star_Wars_Episode_VII_The_Force_AwakensI never thought being in Kazakhstan could give me a pop culture advantage. In this case, I was able to enjoy a most surreal experience: seeing Star Wars Episode 7 in English in a cinema in Almaty, Kazakhstan, a full day before most people in the United States. And it was a treat to be sitting in the audience with my 12 year old daughter and my 14 year old son, a multi-generational viewing experience that I’d not had before with a Star Wars movie.

After the lights came up, and the credits were rolling, I desperately wanted to write four words on my social media. Four small words that would have been the spoiler of spoilers. I actually laughed, thinking about how many friends I would lose with that little stunt.

And so I didn’t do it. I resisted the dark side.

Because I like my friends.

That, and I didn’t want to wake up some night with a lightsaber buried in my chest.

But be warned. Now, that I’m home, writing on my blog, I will write those four words. Not now, but very soon.  So, if you have not seen Star Wars Episode 7 yet, and you are trying to steer clear of spoilers, then steer way clear of this review. Because it will be chock-full of spoilers.

***SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS***

Having gotten that out of the way, I’ll start my review with four other small words, not spoiler words, but important words nonetheless.

Star Wars is back.

If the prequels showed us anything, they showed us that it was easy to lose sight of the feel and the energy of the original trilogy. It was easy to set out to make original trilogy prequels, but to make something else altogether. While each prequel episode had something redeeming, there was quite a bit more that sent them spiraling off into space.

The prequels were not terrible movies in and of themselves, but they were terrible Star Wars movies.

But now? Star Wars is back.

J.J. Abrams brought it back.

Yes, with this film, Abrams managed to restore several of the things that made the original trilogy great.

Star Wars is about people

harrison-ford-han-solo-xlargeEpisode 7 works because it is a movie that is primarily about people, not trade federation blockades or secret clone armies. Yes, big events are playing out in this film, but they are the backdrop, not the focus. People are what matter in this film, and not just the good guys – both sides. Not only do the people matter, but they also act like real people. They relate. They argue. They emote. They struggle. They risk everything for each other, and for bigger things. They live, and they die.

Oh, boy, do they die.

But I’ll get to that.

Star Wars is about risk

In this new/old universe that J.J. Abrams has given us there is risk. Risk that someone may not make it out alive. Risk that someone may run away from their destiny. Risk that the darkness is much too powerful, and that the light side will never be able to defeat it. Even risk that the bad guy might fall to the light.

In this new film, everything can be questioned, the outcomes are not a given, and power is found in the strangest of places.

Star Wars is about fun

finn-new-star-wars-teaser3-xlargeThe movie also brings back the fun. We loved the original trilogy because they were fun rides they didn’t get bogged down in bureaucratic proceedings, or endless scenes of people sitting in chairs talking about things. The movies were about people in motion, taking us along with them as they lived on the brink of disaster. Episode 7 is a fun ride from start to finish. People do talk about things, but usually while taking deep breaths after just escaping one catastrophe, and right before plummeting into another.

And it’s not just roller-coaster fun, it’s also laugh-out-loud fun. This is a movie that is brimming with wit and humor. Not in a silly way (ala Threepio in Attack of the Clones), but in a real way. People say the kinds of things that people might really say in an attempt to blow off steam, or reacting to the madness around them, and you can’t help but laugh.

Finn and BB8’s interaction on the Falcon…

Rey and the stormtrooper in the interrogation room…

When the two stormtroopers come around the corner as Kylo Ren is destroying the interrogation room…

Finn suggesting to Han that they use the force, and Han’s reaction…

Han using Chewie’s crossbow for the first time…

And on and on…

Star Wars is about the mysteries of the universe

ew_21-xlargeSpecifically, the force – and the nature of the force. The prequels got all bogged down trying to make the force into a science. Episode 7 turns it back into a mystery. In this movie, the force is something that is unknown but not unknowable, and we get to see a new generation start to learn about it.

And there’s nary a mention of a single midi-chlorian, thank the Maker.

Ultimately, I walked out of the cinema feeling like I had just read a love letter. A love letter written by J.J. Abrams to all of us who loved the original trilogy. This was the movie we wanted the prequels to be, and then some.

Given, just like the films in the original trilogy, this is not a perfect film. The dialogue might be light years ahead of both trilogies, but it is still sometimes a bit corny. And in his attempt to make an homage to the original trilogy, Abrams veered dangerously close to just plain copying some pretty big ideas, situations, characters, and settings.

But it worked. Even with the flaws, the movie worked in spades.

All of that said, here are some bite-sized spoilerly thoughts:

share_1200x627There is no creature resembling Jar Jar in this film.

I now have some new favorite images of the Millennium Falcon, which still kicks butt.

X-Wing fighters are cool once again, especially when being flown by Poe Dameron.

Apparently, stormtroopers are now trained to duel with swords, and by extension, light sabers.

J.J. Abrams kept the sex out of Star Wars.

Kylo Ren is not nearly menacing enough, even with the heinous act he commits, but he has potential to grow into something pretty menacing.

Enough with the doomsday devices with kill-switches, already. An homage is great, but again with the one weak spot on the big space station? Please, no more.

Han Solo said “I have a bad feeling about this”, but Admiral Ackbar did not say, “It’s a trap.”

What happened to Wedge Antilles?

Teasing Luke before running the credits definitely answered the question of why he wasn’t in the trailer or the poster, and it’s because he’s really not in this movie. In fact, if this had been a Marvel movie, the scene with Luke would have been an end-credits scene – a tease about what was to come.

But the film worked. On all different levels, for this lifelong Star Wars fan, it worked. I am fully re-invested in the franchise, and will be there on opening night for Episode 8, if I am able.

And oh – I almost forgot. The four small words I really, really wanted to post on social media as soon as the lights came up? The spoiler of spoilers? The “I am your father” moment of this film?

Abrams killed Han Solo.

And while I may never forgive Abrams for doing this, I do have to admit that it was the perfect death for the old scoundrel – dying trying to save his son from the dark side, and then Chewie’s chilling reaction?

A tear-inducing moment the likes of which we haven’t had since Nicholas Meyer killed Spock.

hqdefaultBut one point that I feel I should point out – in this case, Han most definitely did not shoot first.

 

 

 

 

 

How George Lucas Helped Shape The Christian Film Industry

A long time ago, in a cinema far, far away…

Episode 1:  A New Resource

It is a period of spiritual war…

war-roomWar Room opened up last weekend in 1,100 theaters around the country, and made an impressive 11 million dollars. Not bad for a movie made with a 3 million dollar budget, and the movie’s just getting started.

Made by filmmakers Alex and Stephen Kendrick, who also made Facing the GiantsCourageous and Fireproof, War Room is the latest offering in the burgeoning Christian film industry (read my thoughts on that idea here), and stands to turn a healthy profit, as all Kendrick-made films since Facing the Giants have done, thanks to good grass-roots style marketing and the legions of loyal Christian fans who consistently turn up to support their films.

Christian filmmakers, Kendrick brothers included, have been learning quite a bit from their secular counterparts these past few years – how to make a film look and sound better, how to help actors act better, and even (on the rare occasion) how to write a better screenplay.

But the thing that really stands out? How to turn a profit.

And this is what has gotten the attention of the big boys in Hollywood.

Of course, making money from art is not a new thing for Christians. Back in the days of Bach and his contemporaries, musicians and artists were commissioned by the church to create, giving us beautiful and important work that continues to be cherished today. Locally, churches have been paying artists for ages to minister as organists, choir masters, worship leaders, and praise band members.

And it’s also not a bad thing. “Don’t muzzle the ox while it is treading out the grain,” Paul said in the book of Timothy. In other words, when people work hard, they should be able to enjoy some of the benefits of their labor. In filmmaking, that means if someone makes a movie, and it earns buckets of money, that filmmaker should be able to have a few buckets for themselves to do with as they please – even if the film is being made as a “ministry” or an “outreach”, and not just as typical profit-grabbing entertainment.

Of course, there are more and more potential buckets available for successful films. We have the obvious box office buckets, but if the film has been distributed in the traditional way, the majority of those buckets go back to the studios and distributors. So another option is the bucket of merchandizing.

And there are lots of buckets in movie merchandizing, even with Christian-made films.

Warrom-DisplayUnlike secular movies, where the merchandizing can run the gamut from video games tie-ins to kid’s meals at fast food restaurants, Christian-made movie merchandizing primarily means the creation and selling of what the Christian marketing world calls resources.

What are resources? One kind of resource is the study guide. These are written so that Christians can watch the film with their Sunday school or small group and then engage in a Bible study inspired by the film, and it’s something that is particular to the faith-based film genre. For example, Marvel doesn’t typically mass produce study guides to the MCU movies, nor does J.J. Abrams write study guides for his films, although they’d probably sell if they did.

[Undoubtedly they’d sell. Note to self: pitch study guide idea to Kevin Feige and J.J. Abrams]

But resources can also mean many other things, from church campaign kits, books inspired by the film, and original soundtracks featuring favorite CCM artists.

And then there’s the typical kitsch and tchochkes – baseball hats, coffee mugs, t-shirts, notepads, plush dolls, little wooden crosses, and the like. I would imagine secular companies have to be impressed by how effective the Christian Corporate Machine has become at taking films from idea to screen to marketplace.

For example, long before it ever bows onscreen, a film like War Room has been so incredibly well-strategized, planned, marketed, and produced, that I’m surprised the ever-popular Chick-fil-A wasn’t signed on for some product placement.

I can see it now… Ms. Clara goes into her War Room to pray, but when she’s sure nobody’s looking, she pulls out a bag of waffle fries and a white styrofoam cup of sweet iced tea emblazoned with that curly red chicken head…

Yeah, maybe that wouldn’t have worked.

Regardless of how they do what they do, it’s interesting to see how Christian filmmakers have joined their secular counterparts in mastering the business of movie marketing cross promotion and tie-ins.

And do you know who we have to thank for the overabundance of “resources” being produced for Christian-made films?

George Lucas.

star-wars-george-lucas-alec-guiness

Episode 2:  The Merch Strikes Back

It is a dark time for movie merchandizing…

Yep, George Lucas.

That George Lucas.

You read it right, dear reader. I’m making the claim that George Lucas is the reason that every time a new faith-based film opens, the Christian bookstores and websites fill up with all sorts of movie-themed “resources” that help bring in more buckets of money for Christian retailers, publishers, filmmakers, producers, marketers, and everyone else involved in making and promoting Christian-made movies.

Most people under the age of 30 probably don’t realize that prior to Star Wars, movie marketing cross promotion was pretty insignificant. Yes, you had the occasional attempt to take advantage of the buzz created by a movie by making a strange toy version, like the odd “for ages 6 and up” shark game made by Ideal Toys when Screen Shot 2015-09-01 at 6.48.53 PMJaws became such a monster hit. Certainly, toys and merchandise and even Christian-produced resources had been made based on movies and television programs, but usually with fairly limited success.

And then, when George Lucas took us to that galaxy far, far away, things changed.

The key is found in one of the biggest blunders in movie studio history. Because Star Wars was seen as such a risk, Lucas made a deal with Twentieth Century Fox that he would take a cut in directing fees in return for having all the rights to licensing and merchandising, and then he sold the toy rights to Kenner for a flat fee of $100,000 per year.

Kenner was so unprepared for the popularity of Star Wars that they didn’t make near enough toys for the demand. If parents wanted to buy their child a new Star Wars toy for Christmas in 1977, they were forced to give the child a voucher for Star Wars toys that would not be manufactured and released for months, and Kenner went on to sell a staggering $100,000,000 worth of Star Wars toys during the first year alone.

That’s one hundred million dollars.

Worth of little plastic action figures and such.

For a movie that nobody had wanted to make.

In one year.

Since that time, the franchise has gone on to make well over 27 billion dollars, with only about 4.3 billion coming from the movies. That means around 23 billion dollars of revenue has come from merchandizing alone.

And with Lucas’s innocuous little space opera, not only was a merchandizing juggernaut born, but a new way of making movies as well. Suddenly, films started being greenlit based on how much peripheral material could be marketed alongside it, as well as potential box office.

trekblog1

The Star Trek Happy Meal.

It’s hard to imagine, but there was actually a time when McDonalds and other fast food places didn’t sell Happy Meals connected to movies. In fact, McDonald’s first Happy Meal was an attempt to cash in on the space craze created by Star Wars, and it was based on 1979’s Star Trek: The Motion Picture.

Read this article for more information on the way the Star Wars marketing phenomenon evolved over time, impacting the majority of movies being produced, both then and now, both secular and Christian.

Episode 3: The Return of the Faith-Based Filmmakers

The Kendrick Brothers have returned to their home in Albany, Georgia…

And so now we live in a time where it is standard operating procedure for potential merchandizing to play a heavy role in the making of movies. And while Christians may not yet be at the place of the summer blockbuster, where merchandizing often seems to lead the film, we are definitely at the place where merchandizing is being utilized to bring even more profit to those who made the faith-based film.

And profit is important, even in the Christian film industry.

But I want to end this blog post with a pretty radical suggestion.

If we must have a Christian film industry, what if that industry did things differently? What if the movers and shakers made the decision to not be swept away by dreams of big box office and profit, like all the other film industries are, and like many of the other Christian media industries seem to be? What could be done, if we determined that we were going to be a counter-industry industry?

What if our Christian film industry – as a whole – pulled a Keith Green?

keith-green1Keith Green was a very popular but quite radical Christian singer in the 70’s and early 80’s, who famously (or infamously) gave away his records, telling people to pay what they were able, and he required Christian retailers to give away a copy of his cassettes for free with each one they sold, all to help spread the Gospel. Green’s giveaways reportedly sent shockwaves through the Christian music and retail industries at the time, but Green was known to be an uncompromising person when it came to his convictions.

And if today’s successful filmmakers of faith started insisting on doing something similar, imagine the modern day shockwaves!

What if many of those resources developed for movies made on a shoestring budget, but movies that turn out to be popular enough to go on to rake in ten or twenty or even forty-five times that in box office, were just… given away?

The study guides, the bible studies, the church campaign kits, the prayer journals, the baseball hats, and the little wooden crosses all available for whatever potential customers could afford to pay, even if it is nothing at all.

All to help spread the Gospel.

I know, I know… it’s a crazy idea.

I know Christian producers have to pay salaries, and I’m not suggesting they don’t. I know that Christian filmmakers want to be able to afford to plan out their next projects, and they should certainly do what it takes to do that. I know that some – like the Kendrick brothers – pour much of their film profits back into their home churches, and they should obviously continue to do that as they feel led.

And I know that they all need to put bread on their own tables, and provide for their families, and they certainly shouldn’t be muzzled while they are treading out the grain.

But I’m so frustrated that too many of the other Christian industries appear to be too much industry and not enough Christian. And since the film industry is the youngest of them all, and it’s the industry closest to my heart, why can’t it be the one to change course and do something different, and radical, and refreshing – even if it seems crazy, and unindustrial, and unprofitable?

After all, they thought Luke Skywalker was crazy for switching off his targeting computer when he was making that infamous trench run.

And Luke wound up saving the rebellion.

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God bless, and may the force be with you…

Always.

Update 1:  I just found out that the producers of the upcoming movie, Captive, are giving away a ton of resources on their website.  All the sorts of materials that are being sold on the War Room website are free for the Captive folks. I was already looking forward to seeing Captive, and now it’s even moreso!  Good job, Captive!

Update 2: I’ve heard some encouraging news.  Apparently, Giving Films – the production company behind the upcoming film, 90 Minutes in Heaven, have committed to giving all the profit they make from the film to charity.

That’s what I’m talking about.  Way to go, Giving Films!