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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: Star Wars and Mojave

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 Facebook and Twitter with your friends.

“Star Wars: The Force Awakens”

WHAT: Three strangers from different backgrounds – orphaned scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley), conflicted Stormtrooper Finn (John Boyega) and Resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) – join forces to stop the evil Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and the First Order, which has risen from the ashes of the Galactic Empire.

WHY: “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” is an exciting return to form for the franchise that recaptures the childlike sensation of watching the original trilogy for the first time. It’s thrilling, funny and surprisingly emotional. While the inclusion of familiar faces like Han Solo, Chewbacca and Leia is great fan service that also functions as a passing of the torch to the new characters, director J.J. Abrams never lets you forget that this is their movie. Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac and Adam Driver all shine in their respective roles, although it’s playful droid BB-8 who ultimately steals the show. If there’s one complaint, it’s that Abrams packs too many characters into the story, resulting in several unanswered questions that are dangled in front of the audience like a carrot on a stick. But those kinds of mysteries have always been a part of the “Star Wars” ethos, and “The Force Awakens” is “Star Wars” to the core, blending the old with the new to produce an excellent continuation of the saga that leaves you wanting more.

EXTRAS: In addition to a feature-length documentary on the making of the movie, there’s a behind-the-scenes look at the cast table read, featurettes on creature design, visual effects and shooting the climactic lightsaber battle, as well as some deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: BUY

“Mojave”

WHAT: After melancholy filmmaker Tom (Garrett Hedlund) has a dangerous encounter with a homicidal drifter (Oscar Isaac) in the desert, he’s pulled into a deadly game of cat-and-mouse when the stranger follows him back to Los Angeles and continues to stalk him.

WHY: William Monahan may have an Oscar for writing “The Departed,” but you wouldn’t know it based on this pseudo-intellectual thriller, which is both a giant waste of time and talent. Though Oscar Isaac keeps things mildly interesting with a performance that’s so over the top it feels like he’s in a completely different movie, the rest of the cast looks absolutely bored out of their minds. Mark Wahlberg must have owed Monahan a favor; Walton Goggins has maybe five lines of dialogue; and Garrett Hedlund proves yet again why he’s one of the most overrated actors of his generation. The real faults, however, lie in Monahan’s aimless script and some poor pacing. It’s not that the film’s philosophical ideas are lost on me, either – “Mojave” just doesn’t do a very good job of presenting them in an engaging or coherent manner. Perhaps something got lost in translation along the way, but as writer and director, the only person Monahan has to blame is himself.

EXTRAS: There’s a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

FINAL VERDICT: SKIP

  

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