Saturday, April 06, 2024

Return to the Planet of the Apes: (1975) "River of Flames"

In “River of Flames,” Jeff and Bill see a hologram of Judy, who asks them to meet with the Under Dweller leader, Krador.  

When they do so, Krador warns the humans that the “Below World” could be doomed because a nearby volcano is erupting and lava, if unchecked, will bury their reactor room.

Meanwhile in Ape City, Dr. Zaius and the Ape Senate must make a crucial budget decision.  Should they devote new funding to scientific research, or to weapons?  

Urko makes the case for weapons, while Zira and Cornelius do the same for scientific research.  Zaius decides that if Urko can capture Blue Eyes (Bill), the army will have its funding.

With their laser drill in hand, Bill and Jeff attempt to save the Below World of the Under Dwellers. 

When they fail, however, they get an unlikely assist from Urko!

There are some amusing touches in “River of Flames,” the seventh episode of Return to the Planet of the Apes (1975).  

In one scene, two apes discuss a new movie that they heard was good…The Apefather, and in another Urko blunders into saving the Under Dwellers.  He shells a mountain in an attempt to kill Bill and Jeff, but instead creates a “vent” for the lava, and saves the Below World.

The episode also marks a turning point for Krador, leader of the Under Dwellers, and the humanoids.  Bill and Jeff agree to help the leader only if they get to take Judy (or Oosa) in return.  Krador agrees, and at episode’s end, acts as a friend to the humans.  Thus, the Under Dwellers are no longer quite the threat to the astronauts that they had been, previously.  Judy, however, promises to return to Krador when the time is right, when the "prophecy" (that she will lead them...) must come true.

Otherwise “River of Flames” is pretty predictable stuff, and a bit of a “runaround" episode.  

The astronauts lose their laser drill, and then recover it.  They tangle with Urko again, and once more get the better of him.  

Then, finally, Urko gets his hat handed to him by Dr. Zaius in the Senate Council.  At this point, in fact, Urko is in danger of becoming a buffoon more than a credible threat. The series was meant for young eyes, on Saturday mornings, and that fact is made clear from the fact that there is no real menace here, other than the volcano.

Thursday, April 04, 2024

The Subway Game Prologue Now Playing! (Kindle Vella)

My new novel with Alicia Martin, the paranormal thriller/mystery called The Subway Game begins serialization on Kindle Vella TODAY!  

This is the first in a series of books about a psychologist, Eloise Webb, grappling with supernatural and paranormal mysteries.

A new chapter of The Subway Game drops every day (and the first three are free!), so I hope you will give it a read and let me know what you think.

Wednesday, April 03, 2024

Guest Post: Lisa Frankenstein (2024)


Lisa Frankenstein Is Made Of More Stale Parts Than Its Creature

By Jonas Schwartz-Owen


The trailer for the new horror comedy Lisa Frankenstein presents a satirical, goofy horror film that melds ’80s fashions and sensibilities with modern meta styles. But the actual film delivers a mirthless slog that offers no new twists, no funny lines, and no tension -- the movie is a major disappointment. Only a sly, unhinged performance by Kathryn Newton is worth recommending.


In the late 1980s, tragic Lisa (Newton, Blockers) must move in with her cold father, hostile stepmother (Carla Gugino, The Haunting of Hill House) and popular, mean-girl stepsister (Liza Soberano) after her mother has been brutally murdered. Practically invisible at her high school, she spends her time at the local cemetery mooning over a grave of an 19th-century boy (Cole Sprouse,Riverdale). When a lightning storm brings him to life, Lisa comforts him and teaches him the modern world. After he starts a killing spree, she sews body parts of his victims to make him a “real boy.”

Written by Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno, as well as the cult horror/comedy Jennifer’s Body), Lisa Frankenstein has elements that could make for broad parody, but the script does a lazy job, following the predictable path without rewarding the audience with anything surprising. We’ve seen so many fish-out-of-water movies, as well as ugly-duckling-turns-into-a-psychopathic-swan movies, that this film really needs to raise the bar, but the bar remains firmly planted at ground level. 


This is the feature directorial debut of Zelda Williams (the late, great Robin’s daughter), and her pacing and stylizations could have used some of the zaniness that made her father a genius. She does film one black & white fantasy sequence early in the movie that evokes the music videos of ’80s New Wave artists Siouxsie And The Banshees, but for the most part, this film could have been shot for television. 


Newton, who was delightfully insane as both a wallflower high school student and a gleeful serial killer in the imaginative horror/comedy Freakyonce again shines, especially when her character embraces a goth look and blasé attitude. Her silent stares at other characters lift the character from the flatness of the page. Sprouse appears to have studied hard to perfect the walk (or rather, the stiff drag) of a dead creature, but he’s not really given much character. Gugino, who stole the Netflix series Fall of the House of Usher from all her talented co-stars, could have had fun with her evil stepmom role, but the performance also felt rote and perfunctory. 


Lisa Frankenstein feels forced the entire time, like a monster trying to fit into the modern world. I don’t expect even angry villagers to care enough to chase this monster down.  For a better spoof of the ’80s and horror, catch Totally Killer on Amazon starring Kiernan Shipka (Chilling Adventures of Sabrina) as a time-traveler tracking down her mother’s murderer. Everything missing here in Lisa Frankenstein – thrills, laughs, surprises – are given out freely in Totally Killer like Halloween candy at the cool neighbor’s house. 

Monday, April 01, 2024

Guest Post: This Has All Happened Before...(The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy, Part V)

This Has All Happened Before, And It Will All Happen Again: The Star Wars Sequel Trilogy


by Michael Giammarino


5. The Force Awakens, Chiastic Structure, and George's Greatest ExperimentThe Star Wars Rosetta Stone, Part 2


The first spoken words in The Force Awakens belong to Lor San Tekka: “This will begin to make things right.”


In 2015, these words were taken to heart by prequel detractors everywhere. They took this as a spiteful jab J.J. Abrams was making against the prequels. (Four years later, J.J. will be accused of doing the same thing against Rian Johnson's The Last Jedi.) I assume prequel haters must have felt this was a meta promise the movie was making, that their vocal desperation over the prequels, amplified by the documentary The People Vs George Lucas, had been heard, and these new films were going to harken back to the spirit of the original trilogy. Only two short years after this, backlash would shift from the prequels onto the sequels, and the prequels would begin to be reappraised. Considering how the sequel trilogy has split the fan base, this line of dialogue will always sound ironic now in retrospect. We read into that opening line and suspect it's a backhanded remark, when in actuality, this has nothing to do with the fandom, and everything to do with bringing Luke back into the fold and bringing Ben Solo back to the light. 


After this misperceived metatext, comes intertext: Lor San Tekka, portrayed by Swedish actor Max von Sydow, has played Ming the Merciless in Mike Hodges' Flash Gordon in 1980, and Liet-Kynes in David Lynch's Dune in 1984. Any Star Wars fan worth their salt – or water, for the Dune fans – knows what massive debt Star Wars owes to the 1930s Flash Gordon serial and Frank Herbert's Dune books. Lucas even contemplated making a film version of Flash Gordon, and when he couldn't get the rights, moved on, and made Star Wars instead. Incidentally, before choosing to work on Dune (1984), David Lynch was offered Return of the Jedi to direct. 


The intertextual links don't stop there. 


Brian Blessed, who also starred in Mike Hodges' 1980 Flash Gordon with von Sydow, played Boss Nass in The Phantom Menace. If we get another Star Wars trilogy someday, and the first film in that trilogy doesn't give a cameo to Sam Jones, Melody Anderson, or Timothy Dalton, I'll take it as a gross oversight.


Whether intentional or pure happenstance, von Sydow's casting creates an intertextual thread between the prequel trilogy and sequel trilogy and reminds us of the referential and influential connection Star Wars has with Dune and Flash Gordon

San Tekka continues: "I've traveled too far and seen too much to ignore the despair in the galaxy. Without the Jedi, there can be no balance in the Force." This sets up how important San Tekka and the Resistance (i.e., Leia) believe the Jedi are, and how important it is for Luke to return. (Or, if not Luke, new Jedi to fight in his stead.) We'll find out later how dire San Tekka's statement truly is. Luke has become so disillusioned by the Jedi's function within the grand scheme of things, he has decided the galaxy is better served by taking the Jedi off the game board. 


Let's get ancillary for a minute, it won't take long: Lor San Tekka belongs to the Church of the Force, a religious group who deify the Jedi. (The  Church of the Force was something George Lucas conceived for an unproduced tv series called Star Wars: Underworld. Several of the fifty some-odd episodes written for the show and, as of this writing, abandoned, were written by Battlestar Galacticarevival showrunner Ronald D. Moore. We'll be talking about Battlestar Galactica again, eventually.) Although these devotees have no connection to the Force, they believe in and follow Jedi ideals, live to preserve the Order's historical record, and look forward to the eventual re-emergence of the Order and return of Luke Skywalker. The Sith Eternal are their polar opposite, cultists lacking Force sensitivity who worship the dark side and strive for the re-emergence of the Sith and reincarnation of Emperor Palpatine. In a sense – the ancillary sense – it bookends The Force Awakens with The Rise of SkywalkerThe Force Awakens begins with a Jedi devotee's good intentions to bring back Luke. In The Rise of Skywalker, Sith worshippers’ evil pursuits resurrect their dark lord. Essentially, we have two sets of hardcore diehard fans, working very hard to get their favorite band back together. Which is exactly what the sequel trilogy is about, inside, and out; narratively – textually – and behind the scenes: groups of fans getting their favorite band back together. You don't get more meta than that. I mean, you can read more into it than that, but that takes you into dark side caves and drums up toxicity it's best to avoid. 


While it is already assumed that Luke has taken his exile to the first Jedi temple, the Resistance sought out San Tekka, who has information as to where that might be. Well… a piece, anyway.


San Tekka passes a portion of a navigational chart to the site of the first Jedi temple, where everyone seems to believe Luke is hiding out, on to Poe. 


Of course, the First Order has gotten wind of this hand-off, and a contingent of stormtroopers has already arrived in drop ships by the time Poe accepts this piece of the map. BB-8 rushes inside to warn Poe they're here. 


Poe's X-wing is disabled by stormtrooper blaster fire, so he's forced to hand the map piece to BB-8 for safekeeping. The two separate, and Poe draws stormtrooper fire so BB-8 can escape.


It's not a secret that this moment repeats the moment Princess Leia gives Artoo the Death Star plans to deliver to the Rebellion in A New Hope. Here, it's BB-8's task to deliver this map piece to the Resistance. 


There's been a lot of criticism about how The Force Awakens takes many of its cues from A New Hope. Some people chalk it up to derivative, lazy storytelling, while what I believe is going on is way more specific and deliberate. 


A movie's introductory moments teach us how to watch it. Not all movies are meant to be watched, “read,” received or understood the same way. 


Cinema speaks to us in at least five different languages simultaneously. These five language forms, when joined together, create cinema: literary language, visual language, structural language, referential language, and music. 


A film's literary language is the spoken word, whether the characters are speaking, or a narrator is speaking, in order to tell the story and develop character. It's an element borne out of the theater. It's stagecraft. 


George Lucas has maintained over the years that the dialogue in Star Wars is, in essence, merely a means of progressing the plot from A to B. As he told The Guardian in 2002: 


"I've always been a follower of silent movies. I see film as a visual medium with a musical accompaniment, and dialogue is a raft that goes on with it. I create films that way - very visually - and the dialogue's not what's important. I'm one of those people who says, yes, cinema died when they invented sound. The talking-head era of movies is interesting and good, but I'd just like to go to the purer form. The problem is, the theatre aspect of it has sort of taken over, and the institutions that comment on film are very literary. They aren't cinematic; you don't have a lot of cinematic people talking about cinema, because visual people don't use words, they use pictures."


While he was making Revenge of the Sith, Lucas commented: 


"I'm a strong believer of cinema as cinema--not as a literary medium and not as a musical medium and not as a theatrical medium--but cinema as the moving my films, the dialogue is not where the movie is. My films are basically in the graphics. The emotional impact from the music and from juxtaposing one image with the next.” 


Visual language, the language of the camera, is the way the camera moves that tells the story and develops character, what the camera sees (and how it sees it) that tells the story and develops character, the way the shots and scenes are lit and how color is used in any given shot or scene, that tells the story and develops character, and mise en scene: the arrangement of people, scenery, and props in the frame, that adds to the story and develops character. 


Editing language is how a movie's images are arranged and sequenced, whether linear or nonlinear, in order to tell the story and develop character. 


Referential language is the use of references from other works, whether it's related to the same intellectual property or something else, applied to a movie to create parallels that will help tell the story and develop character. 


Music, either diegetic (any sound that exists within the world of the movie, like needle drops, dialogue, characters singing or screaming or laughing, traffic, sirens, chattering, whispers, or sound effects, like the pew pew pew of blaster fire, or the sizzling of ignited lightsabers) or non-diegetic (defined as any type of sound that does not specifically exist within the world of the film itself, like the score, narration, or sound design), guides the emotional journey of the story. 


George Lucas sees Star Wars as a marriage between sound and image. 


Lucas told Star Wars Insider in 1999:  


"The thing I did with 'Star Wars,' which is something I don't think a lot of people understand, is that 'Star Wars' is basically a silent movie. It's designed as a silent movie. It's sort of an Eisensteinian film. It runs completely silent with the music score. The dialogue and effects are put there for partly musical effect. It moves along on a visual platform, rather than along a literary one." 


He also told Empire magazine in 1999:


"I started out in pure film which is really a kinetic experience. So that's where my focus is. That's why I intend more of a kinship with silent films than more modern film. I like the old cinema. My films are more of a hybrid - a different style of filmmaking to what I call talking head movies. Some people don't get it. Especially the more academic types. They're used to a particular kind of movie and if you bring them something else, they don't understand it.” 


Structural language is how the movie's story is structured. There are many structural forms, spanning many cultures. 


The most common structural technique is the three-act structure, ascribed to Aristotle's Poetics, dictating that a story be made up of three parts: exposition (or setup), conflict, and resolution. 


So much of Star Wars is influenced by the past. Past events, classic cinema, timeless concepts. The relationship between Star Wars and story structure is no different. 


The structural language of Star Wars follows a chiastic pattern. Chiastic structure is a traditional storytelling form dating as far back as our oldest myths and legends, like Beowulf, like The Epic of Gilgamesh, like Homer's The Odyssey.


There's an oft-repeated quote from George in  behind-the-scenes video on Episode I that has since become meme-famous: "It's like poetry, it rhymes." He was talking about this chiastic pattern. 


Mike Klimo's essential essay, "RING THEORY: The Hidden Artistry of the Star Wars Prequels," focuses on the chiastic structure of the prequels. 


"It starts," Klimo says, "with a little-known ancient literary form that scholars have identified as 'ring composition.'" 


Klimo continues:


From millennia-old Chinese writings to the epic poetry of Homer to the Bible, ring composition is a structure commonly found in ancient texts all over the globe—transcending time, culture, and geography. Social anthropologist Mary Douglas explains the technique in her book Thinking in Circles: An Essay on Ring Composition. And for starters, she writes that the form “comes in many sizes, from a few lines to a whole book.”


In its simplest and most popular form, it is known as “chiasmus”—a figure of speech in which key words or phrases are repeated in two successive clauses or sentences, but in reverse order. For example, John F. Kennedy’s famous line, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country.” The second clause is a reversal of the first. So, the words are arranged in an AB B’A’ fashion: country(A) you(B) you(B’) country(A’).


A ring composition, according to Douglas, is essentially a “large-scale, blown-up version of the same structure.”  (It’s also commonly referred to as “chiastic structure” or “inverted parallelism.”)


Here’s how it works:


The story is organized into a sequence of elements that progress from a beginning to a well-marked midpoint. Then, the ring turns, and the first sequence of elements is repeated in reverse order until the story returns to the starting point.


That means the first and last elements correspond to each other, the second and second-to-last elements correspond to each other, the third and third-to-last elements correspond to each other, and so on, creating a sort of circle or mirror image. If we assign letters to each element, the pattern is ABC CBA (similar to the JFK example above).


The correspondences between matching elements (or sections) are usually signaled by clusters of key words that appear in both items of a pair. 


… It’s similar to the way the rhyme scheme of a poem works, but instead of rhyming sounds, the author parallels, and contrasts ideas.


So, by now you’re probably wondering what any of this has to do with Star Wars?


Well… the six Star Wars films together form a highly structured ring composition. The scheme is so carefully worked out by Lucas, so intricately organized, that it unifies the films with a common universal structure (or what film scholar David Bordwell might call a “new formal strategy”), creating a sense of overall balance and symmetry.


At the same time, Lucas’s use of this ancient form revises our readings of the films and the saga as a whole and opens up new ways of thinking about Star Wars. It also allows us to gain a much greater understanding and appreciation for the films and gives us a deeper sense of the magnitude of Lucas’s accomplishment.


Because contrary to [Red Letter Media's Mike Stoklasa’s] claims that the prequels show a “lack of vision or originality” on the part of Lucas, the ring composition reveals quite the opposite. Lucas’s vision is almost startlingly ambitious and, to my knowledge, unlike anything that’s ever been attempted before in the history of cinema (proving once again that the six Star Wars films deserve far more serious critical attention than they’ve received). The word “brilliant” is often overused when discussing movies, but this is one occasion when it’s truly warranted.


[Mary] Douglas provides seven rules for identifying ring compositions. She’s quick to point out, however, “they are not rules in the sense of there being something hard and fast about them. Breach carries no penalties, but insofar as they are commonly observed they are like rules. They are responses to the technical problems of coming back gracefully to the start.”  The rules are as follows:


1. Exposition or Prologue: “There is generally an introductory section that states the theme and introduces the main characters,” explains Douglas. “You can call it a prologue. It sets the stage, sometimes the time and the place. Usually its tone is bland and somewhat enigmatic. It tells of a dilemma that has to be faced, a command to be obeyed, or a doubt to be allayed. Above all, it is laid out so as to anticipate the mid-turn and the ending that will eventually respond to it.”


2. Split into two halves: The ring composition must split into two halves at the midpoint. Says Douglas: “If the end is going to join the beginning the composition will at some point need to make a turn towards the start. The convention draws an imaginary line between the middle and the beginning, which divides the work into two halves, the first, outgoing, the second, returning.” 


3. Parallel sections: The two halves of the ring must be arranged in parallel. According to Douglas, this is done by making separate sections that are placed opposite each other across the central dividing line (one on each side of the ring). “Each section on one side has to be matched by its corresponding pair on the other side.” 


4. Indicators to mark individual sections: The individual sections of the ring composition must be clearly marked so the reader knows where each section starts and stops. 


5. Central loading: Whereas modern stories are usually presented in a clear, linear fashion with the climax occurring near the end, ring compositions tend to place the climax or central crisis of the narrative in the middle (with the parts proceeding the middle moving towards it, and the parts following the middle moving away from it). “One clue that the middle has been reached,” says Douglas, “is that it uses some of the same key word clusters that were found in the exposition. As the ending also accords with the exposition, the mid-turn tends to be in concordance with them both. Then the whole piece is densely interconnected.”  In addition, the most important message of the work tends to be delivered at the turn or the center of the ring.


6. Rings within rings: A large ring composition may, in fact, include smaller rings. “Some rings emphasize the division into two halves by making each half a ring,” says Douglas. “A large book often contains many small rings. They may come from different sources, times, and authors. One large ring can be composed entirely from minor rings strung together in groups. This practice makes the ring form ideal for incorporating old materials, as in the Bible.” 


7. Closure at two levels. Finally, the ending of a ring composition must join up with the beginning and make a clear closure on both a structural and thematic level. “The exposition will have been designed to correspond to the ending. When it comes the reader can recognize it as the ending that was anticipated in the exposition.” 


Douglas contends that to read a ring composition like a conventional narrative is to misinterpret it. Instead, they are carefully designed to be read in a circular, rather than linear, fashion. And the full meaning of the text only becomes clear when the reader grasps the interplay between corresponding elements. “Writings that used to baffle and dismay unprepared readers,” she says, “when read correctly, turn out to be marvelously controlled and complex compositions.”


Before we plunge into the details of the Star Wars ring composition, though, it’s a good idea to see a high-level overview of how it works. So, here is the overall pattern or rhyme scheme of the Star Wars ring:


The pattern is ABC CBA. Therefore, The Phantom Menace (A) corresponds to Return of the Jedi (A’); Attack of the Clones (B) corresponds to The Empire Strikes Back (B’); and Revenge of the Sith (C) corresponds to A New Hope (C’).


What this means is that the sequence of elements (or episodes) starts with The Phantom Menace and progresses to Revenge of the Sith, where events come to a crucial midpoint. Then, the ring turns, and the first sequence (ABC) is repeated in reverse order (C’B’A’), bringing the story full circle back to the beginning.


And whereas corresponding sections in a ring composition are traditionally marked using clusters of key words, each pair of corresponding films in the Star Wars ring is meticulously matched using different aspects of cinema—including narrative structure, plot points, visuals, dialogue, themes, and music.


Along with his individual overviews on how each prequel corresponds to its template in the chiastic model, Klimo also breaks down the individual plots of each prequel side to side with the film it echoes.


Here is a three-act plot breakdown Klimo gives us of The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi:


The Phantom Menace Act I 

Two Jedi embark on a mission to rescue Queen Amidala from Theed Palace.


Return of the Jedi Act I

Two droids embark on a mission to rescue Han Solo from Jabba the Hutt's Palace.


The Phantom Menace Act II

On the planet Tatooine a native named Anakin Skywalker befriends the Jedi and helps them fix their ship. 


There is a great race involving podracers.


Anakin leaves his mother to face the Jedi Council and become a Jedi. 


Amidala falls into Palpatine's trap and calls for a "vote of no confidence.”


Return of the Jedi Act II

On the planet Endor, the native Ewoks befriend the Rebels and help take them to the shield



There is a great chase involving speeder bikes.


Luke leaves his friends to face Darth Vader and become a Jedi.


The Rebels fall into Palpatine's trap and attack the Death Star.


The Phantom Menace Act III

The primitive Gungans join forces with the Naboo to defeat the evil Trade Federation in a

multi-strand battle.


Return of the Jedi Act III

The primitive Ewoks join the Rebels to defeat the evil Galactic Empire in a multi-strand battle. 


Here is a three-act plot breakdown of Attack of the Clones and The Empire Strikes Back. You will notice that Attack of the Clones inverts the plot structure of The Empire Strikes Back, so the plot of Attack of the Clones is structured similarly to The Empire Strikes Back, only backwards:


Attack of the Clones Act I

On Coruscant, Anakin lures a mysterious attacker to him by using Padme as bait.


A bounty hunter escapes.


The Empire Strikes Back Act I

The Empire discovers the location of the hidden Rebel base on Hoth and launches a major ground offensive.


The Rebels evacuate.


Attack of the Clones Act II

Anakin escorts Padme to safety, off planet-where they fall in love.


Meanwhile, Obi-Wan travels to the faraway planet of Kamino in search of a mysterious bounty hunter named Jango Fett.


Later, Anakin and Padme rush off to rescue Obi- Wan, who has been captured on Geonosis.


The Empire Strikes Back Act II

Han escorts Leia to safety off planet-where they fall in love.


Meanwhile, Luke travels to the faraway planet of Dagobah in search of a mysterious Jedi Master named Yoda.


Later, Luke rushes off to rescue Han and Leia, who have been captured on Cloud City.


Attack of the Clones Act III

The Republic discovers the location of the hidden Separatist base on Geonosis and launches a major ground offensive. 


The Separatists evacuate.


The Empire Strikes Back Act III

 On Cloud City, Darth Vader lures Luke Skywalker to him by using Han, Leia, and Chewbacca as bait.


A bounty hunter escapes.


Here is a three-act plot breakdown of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. You will notice that Revenge of the Sith inverts the plot structure of A New Hope, so the plot of Revenge of the Sith is structured similarly to A New Hope, only backwards:


Revenge of the Sith Act I

A space battle between Republic and Separatist forces rages over Coruscant.


Anakin and Obi-Wan enter General Grevious's ship and rescue the captive Chancellor Palpatine.


Grevious escapes to the hidden Separatist base.


A New Hope Act I 

A fateful encounter takes place between Obi-Wan and a Skywalker. 


Obi-Wan and Luke come across slaughtered Jawas, which leads to a terrible discovery.


Obi-Wan and Luke leave Tatooine.


Revenge of the Sith Act II

There is a great disturbance in the Force when Anakin turns to the dark side and Palpatine

executes Order 66.


Obi-Wan and Yoda come across slaughtered younglings, which leads to a terrible discovery.


A New Hope Act Il

There is a great disturbance in the Force when the Death Star destroys Alderaan. 


Luke, Han, and Obi-Wan enter the Death Star and rescue the captive Princess Leia.


They escape to the hidden Rebel base.


Revenge of the Sith Act III

A fateful encounter takes place between Obi-Wan and a Skywalker. 


Obi-Wan and Luke travel to Tatooine. 


A New Hope Act III

A space battle between Rebellion and Imperial forces rages over the Death Star. 


Klimo sorts the ABC-CBA pattern of the first six films in chronological order. This way, The Phantom Menace echoes the structure of Return of the JediAttack of the Clones echoes the structure of The Empire Strikes Back, and Revenge of the Sith echoes A New Hope.


Therefore, the pattern looks like this:









With the release of the sequel trilogy, however, things change. If the sequels are going to be of a piece with the rest of the saga films, then it has to follow this chiastic pattern as well. We know The Force Awakens follows A New Hope's structure. But if we sort the nine titles in chronological order, like this:












… it violates the pattern illustrated in Klimo's thesis.


Because while The Last Jedi correctly corresponds to the pattern above, the other two sequels do not. 


For The Force Awakens to correspond to the pattern above, it would mean the film echoes the structures of The Phantom Menace and Return of the Jedi. And we know it doesn't. 


For The Rise of Skywalker to correspond to the pattern above, it would mean the film echoes the structures of Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. And we know it doesn't. 


But there is a solution, and the solution is simple. It all comes down to placement.


If you place the titles in release order and not chronological order, with the original trilogy setting the template for the chiastic pattern, as I believe it's meant to, every sequel properly echoes the correct films in the chiastic pattern.


The pattern would therefore look like this:












Even with the two trilogies shuffled around, Klimo's thesis, and George's intentions, are still intact.


The Phantom Menace still rhymes with Return of the Jedi, Attack of the Clones still rhymes with The Empire Strikes Back, andRevenge of the Sith still rhymes with A New Hope, but now the pattern has been extendedwith The Force Awakens and Revenge of the Sith rhyming with A New Hope, The Last Jedi and Attack of the Clones rhyming with The Empire Strikes Back, and The Rise of Skywalker and The Phantom Menace rhyming with Return of the Jedi, with each separate trilogy also, simultaneously, rhyming with set pieces and plot points within their own three film arcs.


If The Force Awakens really is A New Hope 2.0, Klimo's essay certainly makes a concise argument as to why. But The Force Awakens isn't A New Hope 2.0. It's more than that, as YouTuber EC Henry points out in his video, aptly named, "The Force Awakensis NOT a Remake of A New Hope":


The Force Awakens is NOT a remake of A New Hope




But there's a droid on the run from evil bad guys that gets coincidentally picked up by a desert dweller who is aided by Han Solo to deliver the droid safely to the good guys!  AND there's another big planet-destroying super death sphere! It's clearly A New Hope


And I still say no. 


It's a remake of all three original films. 


See, the ways in which The Force Awakens is similar to A New Hope are primarily found in the first act of the film. Most notably, up to where the heroes escape in Han's freighter. At this moment in the story, where I consider Act II to begin, nearly all the similarities to A New Hope drop off, and we suddenly have Han recommending they seek the help of an old friend. 


Sound familiar, right? 


The second act of The Force Awakens is actually now similar to the second HALF of The Empire Strikes Back. The castle is Cloud City, and Maz is Lando. 


But hey, this is interesting. 


The Luke analog of this story is here too. That's because Takodana is also, thematically speaking, Dagobah. And Maz is, thematically, also Yoda. The film has just blended the two separate story threads of Empire Strikes Back into one. And to end out Act II, we have an action sequence where a major character is snatched away by the bad guys. Now we head off to the good guys base to figure out  what we're going to do next. Here, Act III begins. 


And while many consider the attack on Starkiller Base to be a parallel to the space battle in A New Hope, it's actually much more like the attack on the Death Star in Return of the Jedi


And why do I say that? 


Because it involves a ground team knocking out the shields coupled with a simultaneous starfighter attack. Not to mention in both Return of the Jedi and The Force Awakens, the space battle is merely a background for the real story that is happening on the respective spherical space stations. 


Now, there still are a few exceptions, but for the most part, it looks like the writers took the first act of A New Hope, the second half of The Empire Strikes Back and the third act of Return of the Jedi, and assembled The Force Awakens from these parts. The entire original trilogy was essentially told in one film. 


Now does that make it better, or does that make it worse? I don't know, but it does make The Force Awakens less of a remake and more of a creative remix that takes elements from all of classic Star Wars and rearranges them into a new experience. 


It seems to me like the intent of The Force Awakens was to play on all the nostalgia by giving us familiar beats from the entire original trilogy, but also getting it all out of the way so VIII can fully explore new territory, unencumbered by any expectations.


EC Henry's thesis, whether EC was aware or not, alludes to what Mike Klimo was saying when he quotes Mary Douglas about "rings within rings," in the sense that you can make connections from other parts of the overall mosaic while the overall structure is strictly adhering to its specifically assigned template. This is what allows The Force Awakens (and The Last Jedi, and The Rise of Skywalker) to include elements from other sources within the saga while observing the structural beats of its corresponding title in the chiastic pattern (in this case, A New Hope), and why, at times, we'll even find The Last Jedi mirroring moments in The Force Awakens, and The Rise of Skywalker reflecting and repeating beats in The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi.


EC Henry also posits the intent of The Force Awakens is “to play on our nostalgia by giving us familiar beats from the entire original trilogy, and it's getting it all out of the way so VIII can fully explore new territory, unencumbered by any expectations.” Of course, The Last Jedi and The Rise of Skywalker would likewise play on our nostalgia, but it's all a part of the Star Wars formula. This reliance – some would say overreliance – on nostalgia has become a long running criticism by many critics and viewers of the entire sequel trilogy. What I find goes unnoticed by all these critics is how George has always played with nostalgia, not only with Star Wars, but American Graffiti and THX 1138 as well. THX 1138 opens with footage from Buster Crabbe's Buck Rogers. American Graffiti is all about “Where were you in ‘62?” In every Star Wars film,  A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away… is pure fairy tale stuff, and all the opening crawls use a style common to the 1930s, seen in the opening chapter crawls that begin Flash Gordon and Buck Rogers serials, the opening titles of Cecil B. DeMille's 1939 film Union Pacific, even the title cards in the trailer for 1956's Forbidden Planet. So you see, Star Wars has always played with our nostalgia – by utilizing referential language – and starts doing it immediately, in the first ninety seconds of every film. Nostalgia is baked into the very fabric of Star WarsStar Wars is nostalgia. If the sequels didn't focus on the nostalgic aspect, they'd be doing something wrong. 


If this is the way the movies are meant to be, then The Force Awakens mimicking A New Hope (and The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi) isn't derivative storytelling, it isn't lazy writing, and it isn't a brazen retread. 


This isn't a bug, folks. It's a feature


It's following a pattern set up by the films that preceded it; a pattern set up by George. 


As you can see, the sequels still follow George's rules, even in George's absence. 


But don't take my word for it. Or Mike Klimo's. Or EC Henry's. Here's what George told Paul Duncan when Duncan broached the topic during his interview with George on pages 561-562 of Star Wars Archives 1999-2005:


Paul Duncan: You talked before about circles within circles and a bigger structure. The films often have mirrored events, so Episode Iis like Episode VI, Episode II is like Episode V, and Episode III is like Episode IV. For example, the Gungans fighting the droids is like the Ewoks fighting the stormtroopers, only the Ewoks win; Obi-Wan holding Qui-Gon as he dies echoes Luke holding Darth Vader; the love story of Anakin and Padme mirrors Leia and Han; the Clone War on Geonosis is like the Battle of Hoth; and the rescue of Palpatine in III is like the rescue of Leia in IV. 


There are also recurring events: Dooku cuts off Anakin's hand, and then Anakin cuts off Luke's hand; the transferal of one father figure to another – Anakin from Obi-Wan to Palpatine in Episode III, and Luke from Lars to Obi-Wan in IV. I could go on. There's a long list.


George Lucas: You're right. It's like a mandala. As you write, you're doodling, but there are certain themes that keep repeating themselves in different forms. When I did the first film, I planned to do three, so there were pieces in there that I expected to pay off later. That's why I put back the Jabba the Hutt scene in A New Hope Special Edition because he was the bad guy for VI.


Paul Duncan: Were you conscious of those specifics as you were writing it, or was it an intuitive process?


George Lucas: Some of it is intuitive. But after IV I intentionally thought, "Okay, we're showing you an idea, but now I'm going to turn it inside out and show it to you again. Then I'm going to show it to you again in a different way."


And then with the prequels, it became about comparing this is what Anakin did, and this is what Luke did. Playing those ideas back and forth was fascinating to me because I was able to intertwine their actions. We have the scene where Anakin decides to save Palpatine and join him, so they could learn how to save Padme. The equivalent scene in VI is where the Emperor's trying to get Luke to kill his dad so he can save his sister. 


George also explained his motives to Bill Moyers in a PBS special, The Mythology of ‘Star Wars’ with George Lucas shortly afterThe Phantom Menace was released:


GEORGE LUCAS: But, you know, the — the issues of friendship and loyalty are — are very, very important to the way we live our lives. But it’s not common knowledge among young people. You know, they’re still learning. They’re still picking up ideas. They’re still using these ideas to shape the way they’re gonna conduct their life. And you need to tell the same story over and over again every generation so that generation gets it. And I think we’ve gone for a few generations where a lot of the sort of more basic stories have fallen by the wayside.


BILL MOYERS: And what do stories do for us in that sense? What do myths …


GEORGE LUCAS: They try to show us our place. Myths help you to have your own hero’s journey, find your individuality, find your place in the world, but hopefully remind you that you’re part of a whole, and that you must also be part of the community, and — and think of the welfare of the community above the welfare of yourself.


That's what I find so fascinating about the sequel trilogy. Contrary to all the articles and the online criticism damning it for somehow going against the rules George set down, I see so much of George in these sequels.


Which makes me wonder why no one on the Lucasfilm side has come out publicly to point out any of these connections. Knowing George's philosophies were still being honored and respected would have alleviated so much Disney and Kathy Kennedy bashing.


J.J. Abrams had frequent opportunities to point out the sequels' chiastic formula was following the same pattern George instituted and designed, and he never did. Instead, this is what he told IGN in 2016:


[The Force Awakens] was a bridge and a kind of reminder; the audience needed to be reminded what Star Wars is, but it needed to be established with something familiar, with a sense of where we are going to new lands, which is very much what 8 and 9 do. The weird thing about that movie is that it had been so long since the last one. Obviously the prequels had existed in between, and we wanted to, sort of, reclaim the story. So we very consciously — and I know it is derided for this — we very consciously tried to borrow familiar beats so the rest of the movie could hang on something that we knew was Star Wars


All the characters – the Stormtrooper who turns, Finn played by John Boyega, and Rey, the character that Daisy plays, the Scavenger, Kylo Ren, the son of Han and Leia, and Poe the pilot – all these were characters and sort of their roles in the story needed to exist in something that predates them.


And this is what he told Peter Travers on Popcorn With Peter Travers in 2019:


There are a number of things that we obviously intentionally did in a kind of ‘history repeats itself’ mold, to say we are introducing this brand-new cast of characters. This Stormtrooper who runs from the First Order. This scavenger who is living, literally, in the wreckage of the history of the movies that we know. And this hotshot pilot, we don’t know his history, but he’s joined the Resistance to find Leia, years later, sort of unable to give up the fight because she can smell smoke from miles away. Where’s Han at this point, what is he up to? Which is to say, it’s not just about going to new lands and meeting new characters, it’s about embracing what’s come before so that the characters that you meet in Episode VII — imagine chapter seven of a book. It’s not about having entirely brand new, rebooted [characters], it’s a continuation of the one story.


The history-repeating-itself position is a good start. Another way would be to illustrate how our new characters might be following similar paths to our legacy characters. Poe repeating Leia's previous actions -- like giving BB-8 a piece of the map to Ahch-To the way Leia gave Artoo the Death Star plans – demonstrates how Poe is following Leia's path; following in her footsteps, as it were. A path that will lead him to take up Leia's leadership role later in the trilogy. BB-8 also becomes, in a sense, a spiritual cousin to Artoo Detoo, in task as well as in conception. BB-8 is following Artoo-Detoo's path, just as Poe is following Leia's. 


But J.J. didn't say that. He could have. But he didn't. 


Instead, he told Indiewire:


The idea was to continue the story and to begin with this young woman who felt like Luke Skywalker was a myth. And to tell a story that was not just history repeating itself, but a story that embraced the movies that we know as the actual history of this galaxy. So that they are still living in a place where there is good versus evil, they’re still living in the shadow of what has come before, still grappling with the sins of the father and the people who have preceded them. This was not about a nostalgia play. It felt, to me, like a way of saying, "Let's go back to a Star Wars that we know, so we can tell another story.”


How much simpler it could have been if J.J. had only pointed out the story structure George instituted with the original trilogy and the prequels needed to remain consistent with the sequels in order for them to be of a piece. 


So when it was publicized that George was disappointed in The Force Awakens because, as he put it, "There's nothing new," it was assumed he meant the film lacked originality. It doesn't seem like that's what he meant at all. If this chiastic structure was his design for the saga, and we know it is, there's no reason why he'd criticize its use in the sequels. No, what he meant, and as Bob Iger pointed out to CNet, was this:


In each of the films in the original trilogy, it was important to [Lucas] to present new worlds, new stories, new characters, and new technologies. In this one, he said, "There weren't enough visual or technical leaps forward."


George's disappointment wasn't in a lack of originality, it was in the studio's reluctance to push the envelope technologically, which is what Star Wars was always the platform for before this, with the efforts of Industrial Light & Magic during the making of the original trilogy, and the application of computer-generated imagery and advent of digital cinematography on the prequels. 


Iger continued:


He wasn't wrong, but he also wasn't appreciating the pressure we were under to give ardent fans a film that felt quintessentially Star Wars…We'd intentionally created a world that was visually and tonally connected to the earlier films, to not stray too far from what people loved and expected, and George was criticizing us for the very thing we were trying to do.


And let's clarify, by earlier films, he means the original trilogy, which was shot on film. George, being the strong advocate for digital filmmaking that he is, would have seen this as a step backward. Yes, there's nothing "new" here, nothing new in a technological regard, but this was a time when the prequels had been heavily criticized for their perceived overreliance on green screen and digital effects, so Disney thought going back to original trilogy basics as much as possible, at least in the way the sequels were shot, was for the best. And George didn't agree, which I find totally understandable. 


What I don't see George balking at is the subtext. The assault on Tuanul Village encompasses much of the political commentary George had already established.


The troops advance on the village with flamethrowers, setting tents and huts ablaze. This may as well be U.S. Marines in Saipan, or U.S. forces in Cam Ne. It all goes back to George, with his parallels to WWII and, in this case, the Vietnam War, as in Return of the Jedi.  


And it's here where a Stormtrooper – designation FN-2187– has an awakening, a crisis of conscience. 


If that number, 2187, sounds familiar, it should. I'll let Forrest Wickman, in his Slate article, "The Subtle Reference in The Force Awakens to the Art Film That Inspired Star Wars," explain:


I could write 4,500 words on the significance of those four numbers to George Lucas and the creation of Star Wars, but here’s the Sparknotes version. Back when Lucas was an arthouse-loving padawan, he had his mind blown by Arthur Lipsett’s 21-87. A meditation on man and technology cut together from out-of-context news clips and repurposed snippets of dialogue, it turned Lucas into what he called “an editing freak.” “When George saw 21-87, a lightbulb went off,” classmate and longtime Lucas collaborator Walter Murch later recalled. The movie showed Lucas that you could cut together old movies to make something fresh—just as he later did with Star Wars.


21-87 also helped spark another idea for Star Wars: In one of those out-of-context conversations, a man argues that, behind everything, there is a God-like, hidden “force.”


The movie had such a profound influence on Lucas that he began to include its title in everything he did. His first major short, THX 1138 4EB, takes place in the year 2187, and the feature version of THX 1138 centers around the futuristic date “21/87.” In the original Star Wars, Leia is held in Cell 2187. The Force Awakens might borrow more from other Star Wars movies than from the variety of Westerns, samurai movies, Flash Gordon serials, and dogfighting thrillers that Lucas borrowed from, but it still pays due respect to the short that arguably started it all.


The one sentence in the article which sticks out to me most about 21-87, aside from the one about the guy who argues that, behind everything, there's a God-like, hidden force, is this one: “The movie showed Lucas that you could cut together old movies to make something fresh—just as he later did with Star Wars.”


Essentially, this idea of "cutting together old movies to make something fresh," describes Star Wars to a T. Nosferatu (1922), Girl Shy (1924), The Navigator (1924), Battleship Potemkin (1925), The Phantom Empire (1925), Metropolis (1927), Man With a Movie Camera (1929), Frankenstein (1931), Tarzan the Ape Man (1932), What - No Beer? (1933), The Bride of Frankenstein (1935), The Triumph of the Will (1935), Modern Times (1936), Lost Horizon (1937), The Adventures of Robin Hood (1938), Alexander Nevsky (1938), The Fighting Devil Dogs (1938), Buck Rogers (1939), Gone With the Wind (1939), Union Pacific (1939), The Wizard of Oz (1939), Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940), His Girl Friday (1940), Citizen Kane (1941), Casablanca (1942), Arsenic and Old Lace (1944), Hamlet (1948), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Radar Men from the Moon (1952), The War of the Worlds (1953), The Bridges at Toko-Ri (1954), Seven Samurai (1954), The Dam Busters (1955), Forbidden Planet (1956), The Searchers (1956), Throne of Blood (1957), The 7th Voyage of Sinbad (1958), Ben-Hur (1959), Psycho (1960), Mysterious Island (1961), Yojimbo (1961), Dr No (1962), The Fall of the Roman Empire (1962), Lawrence of Arabia (1962), Sanjuro (1962), Jason and the Argonauts (1963), The Raven (1963), 633 Squadron (1964), Alphaville (1965), Doctor Zhivago (1965), The Sound of Music (1965), Thunderball (1965), 1:42.08 (1966), Django (1966), The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (1966), Grand Prix (1966), 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), Once Upon a Time in the West (1968), The Battle of Britain (1969), Tora! Tora! Tora! (1970), THX 1138 (1971), The Godfather (1972), American Graffiti (1973), The Exorcist (1973), Dersu Uzala (1975), The Outlaw Josey Wales (1976), Taxi Driver(1976), Blade Runner (1982), Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind (1984), Tucker: The Man and His Dream (1988), The Little Rascals (1994) – all stitched together into the crazy quilt that is George Lucas’s Star Wars. And that's not even all of them! And let's not leave out the literary works George pulled from – like Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings, E.E. “Doc” Smith's Lensman series, James Gurney’s Dinotopia series, the aforementioned Dune books, Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Barsoom series (featuring John Carter of Mars), Arthurian literature, and comics like Valerian and Laureline, and Jack Kirby's Fourth World (and, certainly, Doctor Doom); and not to be left out, shifting gears, there's Wagner's Ring Cycle. George’s knack for pastiche seems to have come from watching 21-87 at USC. This principle runs through all of the Star Wars films George made, and the tradition continues to this day. Finn's Stormtrooper designation not only represents where it all came from, it's also referential in its own right. 


George noted in interviews amid his departure at Lucasfilm and retirement, of his need to return to experimental filmmaking. In a Vanity Fair interview in 2015, he said, “You go to make a movie and all you do is get criticized, and people try to make decisions about what you’re going to do before you do it. You know, it’s not much fun. And you can’t experiment, you can’t do anything. You ‘have’ to do everything a certain way. I don’t like that, I never have — I started out in experimental films, and I want to go back to experimental films, but of course, nobody wants to see experimental films.” 


If I'm being honest, I don't know what George is talking about. “Go back to experimental films”? By my estimation, George never stopped experimenting. George is an experimental filmmaker at heart. George made several short films at USC, experimenting with sound and picture, inspired by the likes of Arthur Lipsett, Sergei Eisenstein, even French New Wave (Nouvelle Vague) maverick Jean-Luc Godard. 


The Soviet filmmaker, writer, editor, and film theorist Sergei Eisenstein (1898-1948), director of such influential works as Battleship Potemkin, Alexander Nevsky, Ivan the Terrible, and Strike, was also an innovator in cinema montage.

According to Dale Pollock's Skywalking: The Life And Films Of George Lucas, Lucas wrote his first draft of Star Wars under an oversized photo of Eisenstein. The avant garde editing style of Lucas's early short films certainly imply a debt to the Russian film pioneer. 


Set to Black Orpheus soundtrack snippetshis first short film, Look at Life (1965), is a sixty second collage of black and white images: among them, photographs of Martin Luther King, Jr., American Civil Rights riots and protests, dead soldiers in Vietnam, Buddhist monks, and Nikita Khrushchev. A narrator quotes Proverbs 10:12: "Hate stirreth up strife, while love covereth all sins,” and the film ends with a title card that says: ANYONE FOR SURVIVAL. In 1966, a three-minute short black and white film, “Freiheit,” depicts a student – Lucas's classmate Randal Kleiser, who would go on to direct Grease, The Blue LagoonFlight of the NavigatorBig Top Pee Wee and Honey, I Blew Up the Kid – escaping across the Berlin border, fatally shot before he can make it to East Germany and freedom. 1:42.08, an eight-minute short shot in color, also made in 1966, focuses on a Lotus 23 race car making its run around the Willow Springs Raceway track. A visual tone poem, the only sound in the film is the Lotus 23 engine revving. Lucas credited Jean-Claude Labrecque's 1965 short documentary 60 Cycles, for inspiring 1:42.08. In another black and white 1966 visual tone poem, the black and white, three-minute short Herbie, we follow a car taking a drive around a cityscape, set to a Herbie Hancock jazz tune (the short's namesake). Close ups on the doors reflect the lights of the city, and we flash cut several times to extreme close ups on traffic lights, cut to long shots on other cars driving around, cut to close ups on parked cars on the street, and cut to various shots inside and out of the car we're following. All the while, the camera focuses mostly on reflections from the city lights at night bouncing off the cars. The short ends with a title card that reads: This moment of reflection has been brought to you by Paul Golding and George Lucas. In his six-minute 1967 short, anyone lived in a pretty [how] town, named after an e.e. cummings poem, a couple share a picnic in the grass, playing like a precursor to Anakin and Padmé's picnic in Attack of the Clones. Following suit, his 24-minute documentary short, The Emperor, fits as a precursor to the Wolfman Jack scene, and Wolfman Jack's character, in American Graffiti, chronicling a day-in-the-life of radio disc jockey Bob Hudson, known by his nom de guerre, “The Emperor.” (Paul Golding, a classmate of Lucas who collaborated with him on The Emperor and Herbie, wrote and directed the 1988 film Pulse, and was an editorial consultant on Haskell Wexler's Medium Cool.6–18–67 is a five-minute visual tone poem behind the scenes of J. Lee Thompson's Mackenna's Gold. And in 1968's Filmmaker,  Lucas chronicles the making of Francis Ford Coppola's The Rain People, combining his poetic visual style with a documentary style he was already beginning to toy with on The Emperor. Coppola would take young Lucas under his wing, inspiring him so greatly with his American Zoetrope movement, that George would form Lucasfilm following very similar principles. When he moved on to theatrical narrative features, George continued his experimental streak with sound design and pure cinema techniques on THX 1138. George and co-editor Walter Murch would continue experimenting with sound design on American Graffiti. United Artists, who passed on the film before Universal took it on, called American Graffiti musical montage with no characters.” 


Lucas's experimentation with picture and sound progressed into his work on Star Wars, leading to the founding and formation of Industrial Light & Magic. And with Star Wars, he changed the way movies were made, not once, but twice


So when George says he'd like to go “back” to experimental filmmaking, I don't know what the hell he's talking about. He's always been experimenting. He never quit. And Star Wars is his greatest experimental achievement. The culmination of his entire life's work.


And while working on Star Wars, with his artistic dependence on nostalgia and pastiche, insistence on pushing the cinematic envelope and adherence to chiastic story structure, this could very well be George Lucas at his most experimental. What might look like extraordinary pop entertainment – a series of big budget B movies – on the outside, is really George Lucas’s greatest experimental film project, under the hood. And while it's Lucas's opinion that “nobody wants to see experimental films,” everybody turns up – in droves – to see Star Wars. 


And contrary to popular opinions, Lucasfilm is still perpetuating that great experiment today.

Return to the Planet of the Apes: (1975) "River of Flames"

In “River of Flames,” Jeff and Bill see a hologram of Judy, who asks them to meet with the Under Dweller leader, Krador.   When they do so, ...