What’s Space Opera, Doc? How “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” fits into the subgenre

Since people first looked up at the stars, they dreamed of traveling amongst them. Not knowing what they were or what it all meant, there was always a sense of longing to explore the glittering abyss of space. And as imaginations raced, they were quickened and informed by advances in science and an understanding of the world around us. Soon, science fiction was born, and within that a subcategory of these fanciful tales of epic battles and ships piloting the galaxy; it was called “space opera,” and it’s the basis for some of pop culture’s most sustaining works of the 20th century. “Star Trek,” “Star Wars,” Frank Herbert’s “Dune” series and Isaac Asimov’s “Foundation” works all explored different facets of the wonders held in the cosmos. As people prepare to re-enter the cosmic fray with the latest massive space opera, James Gunn’s “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2,” it seems a fitting time to look at what a space opera is and how a centuries-old subgenre is still captivating audiences’ imaginations.

For all of its pervasive appearances throughout the years, the definition of space opera is an oddly elusive one. It certainly is a subset of science fiction, taking place in a reality closely related to our own, albeit with interplanetary travel and usually alien species interacting in some ways. The term was first coined back in 1941, a play on the derisive parlance “horse opera” used for melodramatic westerns. However, space opera stories appeared as early as 1854, depicting people navigating strange new worlds with unheard of technology and encountering different life forms in an adventure with space travel as the backdrop.

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Cool tribute to Carrie Fisher

Here’s a great tribute to Carrie Fisher posted on the Star Wars YouTube channel. R.I.P.

  

Part Deux It Again: The 10 best Part Twos in cinema

Sequels are all the rage right now in Hollywood. Studios are constantly looking for properties to expand into franchises, and after securing a popular first entry, the next step is the shaky second part. This is the make or break moment for the franchise – a chance to correct any shortcomings in the first one and deliver more of what people loved, while still expanding the world enough to give them a feeling of something new.

John Wick: Chapter Two” is currently blasting through cineplexes with headshots and pencil deaths galore, proving that it’s still possible to make second entries that rival the first installment. And while there is certainly a slew of Part Twos in cinema history – some bad (“2 Fast 2 Furious,” “A Nightmare on Elm Street 2: Freddy’s Revenge”) and some passable (“Halloween II,” both versions) – the good ones also define themselves as being excellent movies in their own right that explore familiar characters in unexpected and novel ways.

Below are the 10 best second installments in cinema history. (And for those looking for the best threequels in cinema history, simply visit this entry as well).

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Movie Review: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”

Starring
Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Alan Tuydk, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelsen, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang
Director
Gareth Edwards

With “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story,” director Gareth Edwards has made an entertaining and intense, if mildly frustrating, war picture set in a galaxy far, far away. As a huge blockbuster, its tone, morally ambiguous characters and often bleak resolutions set it apart from standard studio fare. The first standalone Star Wars picture is sometimes as admirable as it is enjoyable, but it also has some glaring problems that are clearly holding the movie back from reaching its full potential. The good news is that it’s still a fine start to this new branch of standalone Star Wars stories.

The story opens with a young Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) seeing her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), being taken away by the Empire’s Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) in order to complete construction on a powerful space station called the Death Star. After her father is kidnapped, Jyn is raised by rebel-turned-extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a standout character who’s barely human. Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s script then cuts to an older, more dangerous Jyn in custody of the Empire. She’s been living much of her life under pseudonyms until she’s intercepted by Rebel forces and commanded to lead them to Saw Gerrera. Leading the mission are Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), who doesn’t trust Jyn, and a quippy, rewired Imperial droid named K2-SO (Alan Tudyk), who calculates that the odds she will betray them are strong. In the end, however, Jyn agrees to join the small band of rebels in an attempt to steal the plans for the Death Star.

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Blu Tuesday: Arrow, The Jungle Book and More

Every Tuesday, I review the newest Blu-ray releases and let you know whether they’re worth buying, renting or skipping, along with a breakdown of the included extras. If you see something you like, click on the cover art to purchase the Blu-ray from Amazon, and be sure to share each week’s column on social media with your friends.

“Arrow: The Complete Fourth Season”

WHAT: After defeating Ra’s al Ghul in battle, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) leaves behind his vigilante persona and moves to the suburbs with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) to live a normal life. But when Star City is threatened by a terrorist organization called H.I.V.E., Oliver returns as the newly dubbed Green Arrow to stop the group’s leader Damien Darhk (Neal McDonough) – a man with mysterious magical abilities – from destroying what he’s worked so hard to protect.

WHY: The fourth season of “Arrow” is a real low point in the show’s history; it’s as clunky and poorly conceived as Diggle’s awful new helmet. Though past seasons have certainly had their share of criticisms, it’s never been quite this bad. The flashbacks are more pointless than ever, persisting with a plot device that’s no longer necessary, while the Oliver/Felicity romance is horribly mishandled. Even Damien Darhk’s involvement doesn’t seem very well-thought-out. Not only is he too powerful for Oliver and his team, but he only appears when it’s convenient for the plot, going through the same motions over and over until his lame defeat in the finale. However, the biggest problem with “Arrow” (and to a lesser degree, “The Flash”) is that there isn’t enough story to warrant 23 hours of television, resulting in a lot of unnecessary filler. That’s never been more true than in Season Four, and with any luck, it’ll lead to the show receiving a much-needed reset, or at the very least, a return to its grittier, humbler roots.

EXTRAS: In addition to the 2015 Comic-Con panel, there’s a trio of profiles on Damien Darhk, Vandal Savage and Hawkman and Hawkgirl, deleted scenes and a gag reel.

FINAL VERDICT: RENT

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