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    The Imagineering Story

    Finally had a chance to watch The Imagineering Story documentary series on Disney+. Directed by Leslie Iwerks, the six-part series covers the history of Walt Disney Imagineering and the Disney parks from the earliest days of Disneyland in the 1950s through the opening of Galaxy’s Edge this past year. I have always been a fan of the Disney parks, but as the years have gone on I’ve become increasingly obsessed with them. I’ve done a lot of reading about how the various rides and attractions were developed, and hunted down interviews with the Imagineers responsible for my favorites. So I went into The Imagineering Story with high hopes, because it seemed to be extremely relevant to my interests.

    I’m happy to report that it did not disappoint. If anything it was even better than I was expecting, and was surprisingly emotionally affecting at times. I’m taking my kid to Disneyland next month for their sixteen birthday, and watching The Imagineering Story has left us both even more excited about the trip than we already were. Even if you don’t have plans to visit a Disney park anytime soon, I highly recommend checking out the series.

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    I Love Star Wars

    I love Star Wars. All of it.

    I have tried and failed to sum up my thoughts about the series as a whole this morning, in advance of seeing The Rise of Skywalker tomorrow. I have seen every Star Wars movie in the theater since 1977, when I saw A New Hope shortly before my seventh birthday. Like Cassian Andor, “I have been in this fight since I was six years old.” And I have loved them all. Even the ones that I didn’t always like so much, I found something in them to love.

    I’ve stayed off social media this week, to avoid spoilers for the new movie. I’m even trying to avoid seeing headlines for the reviews that I will not be reading until after I see the movie. But honestly, I don’t care what a single other person has to say about it. And the experience of recent years has shown that when it comes to Star Wars movies our individual responses can be wildly subjective. There are people who hate my favorite Star Wars movie with a white hot passion, while I love it unreservedly and refuse to recognize that it has any possible flaws. There are other people who will passionately defend as the best in the series a movie that I enjoy to a point but think has marked flaws. And I think that is perfectly okay.

    The point is that for many of us Star Wars has become far more than just a series of films. Through the books, and comics, and role playing games, and video games, and TV spinoffs, and theme park rides, and on and on, and on… It’s become an outsized part of our lives. Sure, it’s a fantasy about space wizards with laser swords that is intended for children, but Star Wars is still real and it matters in profound ways.

    There has always been talk about Star Wars being a “modern mythology,” and I think that is true. It’s the closest thing to a religion for many of us (and the often rancorous disagreements between fans do resemble doctrinal disputes in a lot of ways). The moral lessons that Star Wars teaches still resonate today, and the new movies continue to provide lessons that we very much need.

    I’ll be seeing The Rise of Skywalker tomorrow morning on my own, and then again on Saturday with the family, and by then I’ll probably have gotten back onto social media, and taken a look at a few reviews. But in many ways I feel like the only opinion that will matter to me is that of the six year old me that lives in my head and has been waiting for this movie for more than 42 years, and I strongly suspect that he’s going to like the movie just fine…

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    Star Wars: Resistance Reborn

    I have been on a serious Star Wars kick the last few weeks. I’ve been absolutely loving The Mandalorian on Disney+, and Jedi: Fallen Order is one of my favorite video games in years, and probably the best Star Wars game I’ve ever played. I’ve been rewatching all of the films (in in-universe chronological order) in advance of the end of the Skywalker saga, as well as starting rewatches of both Clone Wars and Rebels (along with teaching myself to read Aurebesh, which is something I’ve been meaning to do for ages). And I’ve been inspired to go back and revisit stuff that I might have overlooked. For example, after learning that the Fallen Order video game had a lot of connections to the second volume of Marvel’s Darth Vader comic from 2017, I realized that the series had gone on for more issues than I realized and I hadn’t finished reading the whole thing the first time around. With scripts by Charles Soule and art by Giuseppe Camuncoli, the 25-issue long run ended up being one of my favorite Star Wars stories of recent memory, with the final issue being absolutely staggeringly good. (And now I’m rereading the first volume by Kieron Gillen and Salvador Larroca, which is every bit as good as I remembered.)

    I’ve also been working my way through the various prose tie-in novels in the “Journey to Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker” line in the run-up to the new flick, and last night finished reading Rebecca Roanhorse’s Resistance Reborn. The novel picks up shortly after the events of The Last Jedi, with the few surviving members of the Resistance fleeing from the First Order onboard the Millennium Falcon in a desperate search for new allies and safe harbor. The story is very well constructed, and I feel like Roanhorse does a spectacular job of capturing the voices and personalities of the various characters. And one of the things I enjoyed most about reading it was seeing characters that I had first encountered in video games (Battlefront II, to be precise), comics (primarily Poe Dameron, again by Charles Soule), and even other novels (Chuck Wendig’s Aftermath trilogy and Claudia Grey’s Bloodline, in particular) interacting with characters from the films. It made that world seem even more like a cohesive whole, and I was left feeling like any one of these characters could appear in The Rise of Skywalker and fit in perfectly with the live action cast.

    If you’ve ever enjoyed a Star Wars prose novel, I strongly recommend checking out Resistance Reborn. It’s an extremely enjoyable read, and left me even more excited to see The Rise of Skywalker in a few weeks than I was already.

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    The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec

    I don’t know why it took me nine years to watch Luc Besson’s The Extraordinary Adventures of Adèle Blanc-Sec, but I’m glad that I finally did. In my defense I hadn’t read the comic series by Jacques Tardi until a couple of years ago, by which time I’d already had the movie in my iTunes library for AGES.

    In the event that you haven’t come across this 2010 French-language adventure film yet, I highly recommend it. Set in 1911 Paris, the plot is largely adapted from two different Tardi stories featuring the titular heroine Adèle Blanc-Sec (her surname means “dry white,” as in wine), with little nods and winks to other Tardi stories along the way. The film is live-action with some nicely-done CGI effects, with many of the actors wearing makeup and prosthetics that make them look like Tardi drawings. There are clever action set-pieces and some nice running gags, plot twists that I did not see coming, and a stellar cast, lead by phenomenal performance by Louise Bourgoin as Mlle Blanc-Sec. To say too much about the plot would spoil the fun, but it’s a period piece adventure/mystery with a healthy dose of science fiction and fantasy, and it is well worth 105 minutes of your life.

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    Never-Ending Man: Hayao Miyazaki

    After the superb 2013 documentary about Hayao Miyazaki and Studio Ghibli, Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, I wasn’t sure that there was much left explore on the topic. And when I recently learned that GKIDS had released another documentary about Miyazaki last year, Never-Ending Man, the trailers and clips that I watched gave me the impression that it would largely be a meditation on mortality and the inevitable entropy of diminishing physical and mental capacities that come with aging. And it is. But it is also so, so much more.

    The documentary opens with the press conference in 2013 when Miyazaki announced his retirement. Again. But this time, he assured us, he meant it. It then jumps ahead a couple of years, and we find Miyazaki puttering around his personal studio every day, still somehow managing to find art projects to occupy his time and attention, all day, every day. There are some melancholy shots of the Studio Ghibli building, now shuttered and empty. The documentarian following him around with a camera is literally in the room when Miyazaki gets the phone call that a former employee of Ghibli has just passed away, on two separate occasions. Miyazaki seems worn out and drawn, talking a lot about mortality and how his time has passed.

    After a chance encounter with a group of young CGI animators leads him to reopen Studio Ghibli and begin work on a new short film, we see Miyazaki gradually become re-energized. The process is not without its pitfalls, but the act of starting a new project and seeing it to completion seems to reignite something in him, and by the end of the documentary his outlook appears to have completely changed. I don’t want to go into too much detail for fear of spoiling how it all unfolds, but there is a moment at the end where Miyazaki has made the decision to keep working until he dies. It would be better, he says, than simply stopping and then wait around for death to claim him. Better, he says, to die with something to live for.