Are You Ready For Some Star Wars: The Last Jedi!?

Now it’s a bit weird, the continued relationship between Star Wars and the NFL.  It certainly makes some sense, with both ESPN and the Star Wars franchise under the Disney umbrella, however the two worlds, at least in my mind, remain about as far apart as they can get.  What do Star Wars and football have in common, other than common corporate ownership?  Some demographic overlap?  Mainstream appeal?  Guys in helmets?  Well, now Disney has gone ahead and established a tradition: during a Monday Night Football presentation some two months before release, a new full-length trailer for the upcoming Star Wars saga film will debut during halftime.

Unlike as had been done for The Force Awakens in 2014 and 2015, this is only the second trailer for The Last Jedi to be released.  The teaser, released in April about two years to the day after The Force Awakens’ first full-length trailer, is the only thing we’ve seen concerning the eighth film in the franchise and it left us with many, many questions.  So, without any further hesitation, let’s see what they’ve given us to snack on this time:

A classic Star Wars harp glissando brings us right in.  Someone (it’s Kylo Ren) is standing in an Imperial First Order hangar looking over siege equipment.

“When I found you…”

That’s definitely Snoke speaking, in the unmistakable growl of Andy Serkis.

“…I saw raw,…”

An intimidating group of AT-AT-like walkers.  That shuttlecraft looks familiar.

“…untamed, power…”

Kylo Ren (I think) leads Storm Troopers through a roughly, black and red, backlit passageway.  The overhead perspective is intriguing.  In the background, sparse piano notes play under high squealing strings.

“…and beyond that…”

RED.

“…something truly special.”

We cut to black.

Rey ignites her Luke’s lightsaber and stares at it for a beat.  Lucasfilm titles.

A drone shot of the island, again.

“Something…”

Cool hand, Luke!  Rey gives him the lightsaber.  This seems to be a different occasion than the stare-down at the conclusion of The Force Awakens.

“…inside me has always been there,…”  Rey whispers.

I have a feeling look is going to be making a lot of puzzled / confused / intrigued faces in this film.  He’s the Yoda to Rey, yet I think Rey is far more powerful in comparison to Luke than Luke was to Yoda.

Rey ascends foggy cliffs toward jagged rocks.  I wasn’t aware she was on her way through the Emyn Muil.  Lots of Lord of the Rings-like imagery going on here.

“…but now it’s awake…”

Roll credits!  Er, that was the last film, wasn’t it.

Rey happens upon the tree-root bookshelf from the teaser, looking curiously at it from the books’ POV.

“…and I need help.”

Various shots of Rey swinging the lightsaber around conclude with this one:

Where she expertly controls the blade into a firm position just inches from the rock.  Damn, girl.

The ground fissures and Luke looks on… like this:

That seems… not great?  For the light side, I mean.  It could be awesome for the movie!

Again we see the slow-motion narrow depth of field shot of levitating stones.

Rey is focused. Seems her training is coming along pretty quickly, eh?

“I’ve seen this raw strength only once before…”

When was that?  Ren slaughtering the Jedi students?  Darth Vader?  The Emperor?  When?

A robotic hand bursts through collapsed wooden debris as fires burn in the background.  Likely the scene of the flashbacks, and perhaps Luke’s hand.  So he’s strongly implying that Kylo Ren is the raw strength, also echoing Snoke.  And, he’s inferring Rey is stronger than that.  Makes a lot of sense, given the events of the first film.

“…it didn’t scare me enough then.”

“It does now.”

Luke looks pants-shittingly terrified.  He’s shaking.  Rey looks on sadly, though I’m not sure these two scenes actually go together.

Bam, Kylo Ren’s theme blasts.  The man himself emerges from a lift.

He grabs his mask, takes a long look, then we cut to a closeup…

Nice scar, Kylo!  Is that a tattoo or a fancy bandage?  He smashes the mask against the wall.

“Let the past die.”

Space battle!  TIE Fighters shoot at Resistance ships.  Leia’s on one of them.  The sounds here are perfect, as the TIEs overwhelm the auditory scape.  It sure seems like darkness has the upper-hand so far.

“Kill it.”

Kylo Ren’s TIE Fighter looks sinister.  Like an old Interceptor, but with red (red, again!) cockpit glass and a horizontally stretched fuselage.

“…If you have to.”

A shot tracking the TIE from behind as it flies into a Resistance ship.  Whoa, this is something new.

“That’s the only way to become what you were meant to be.”

Man, if these means killing both of your parents… Yikes.

And this trailer does everything to suggest that it does.  Wow.

…or does it?  The sounds go silent except for a single alarm beeping.  I can see the conflict in his face.  Is Leia using the force on young Ben Solo?  Probably!

THIS CHRISTMAS

The Millennium Falcon flies, pursued by TIE Fighters into a cave tunnel full of sparkling red crystals.  So much red in this film’s imagery.  I imagine this to be the red soil planet.  The Falcon does its trademark twist as it navigates the through.

Chewie looks upset!  What could possibly provoke this kind of reaction from the Wookiee?

This little guy lets out a scream too.  What are these things called again?  Porgs, right?  I really hope they’re integrated well.  I don’t want my gloomy Star Wars film derailed by too much cuteness!

A Resistance ship takes a hard green bolt and explodes with force.  Damn.

Poe seems taken aback by what just happened.  I wonder what kind of ship he’s on where there’s just… windows.  I don’t think we’ve really seen that before, outside of a bridge, you know?

“We are the spark…”

Interesting how the X-Wing has a fifth engine in the center.  What’s that for, afterburner?  It leaves behind a shimmering trail.

“…that’ll light the fire…”

Sick close up.  I love me some locked-in Poe Dameron.  Go kick some ass, buddy.

Much appreciated.

“…it’ll burn the First Order down.”

I can’t quite hear what he’s saying but I think that’s close.

Holy Phasma.  And she’s got a sword of some kind?  Sparks go flying as she brings it into position.

Finn!  I can’t believe it took this long to get him into the trailer.  He’s angry, and he’s got an electric stun baton.

It looks like we’re getting another non-lightsaber duel, this time between Finn and Phasma.  Where the heck is this happening?  Everything is on fire and/or exploding.

Sick.  I wonder if only one of them makes it out of there alive…  Do I bet on the rehabilitated Finn, or Brienne of Tarth?

Resistance ships explode and BB-8 gets zapped.  We’re getting pretty bleak here.

“This is not going to go…”

Angry Luke, in black, in darkness, in rain, laying down, possibly in defeat.

Crystal fox!  Neat!  Awesome attention to detail on the hexagonal salt formations.

Hooded figure stands at the edge of a vast desert (the one with the red soil beneath).  A Resistance base about to be assaulted by AT-ATs?  That seems an awful lot like Hoth…

“…the way you think.”

Luke finishes his thought, and here I’m thinking, are they blatantly foreshadowing some kind of twist?  I don’t know how this is going to go, but if I’m reading too much into the parallels with Empire, then perhaps I should take another path?  Am I reading too much into this?

That’s a great shot of Leia, by the way.

Rey plunges into a pool, to emerge into the dark, rainy scene with black-clad Luke.   I bet this is her “failure at the cave” moment.

“Fulfill…”

Snoke narrates as the First Order finishes their domination of the trailer.  First, Finn is captured.

Then their forces are ready for an onslaught.  The deep hangar looks almost like a matte painting.

“…your…”

The strike begins.  Red dirt erupts from beneath the desert.  If it’s to be a Hoth parallel, at least the aesthetic is somewhat different.  The red really pops here.

Exploding TIEs crash as skiffs bounce away.   And by skiffs I mean HOLY SHIT THOSE ARE B-WINGS. YESSSSSSSSSS!  In the teaser post I took them for something new, but from this angle it’s for certain.  I guess it’s possible to deploy only one wing into attack position?

“…destiny!”

SNOKE.  My goodness CGI has come a long way.  The animation is still a slight bit off, but the still image is crisp.  He’s not quite as Gollum-like as he appeared in the hologram from The Force Awakens, instead appearing more like a old, slightly deformed human.  I still think he’s like three feet tall.  An evil Yoda, if you will.

Rey is tortured, yet again.  She’s stuck awkwardly leaning backward as she twitches and wind blows.  I think that’s Snoke in the background, but I cannot be sure.  The red of the surroundings suggest the same room as Kylo Ren was in during his introduction above.


Cut to black.  The music vanishes, except for, again, sparse piano.

“I need someone…”

“…to show me my place in all this.”

The Force Theme starts to play here, but it’s cut off.

Wait for it…

!!!

Oh my gods.  I don’t know how they keep topping themselves.  This cannot continue forever, can it?  What to expect from a potential Rey / Kylo Ren alliance?  Where do they even go from here?  Does Kylo continue to be pulled toward the light?  Does Rey succumb to her darkest instincts?  I DON’T KNOW!

But I do know that I am excited for this film!

For The Force Awakens, I stopped watching and talking about new trailers after the Monday Night Football one dropped, and you know what?  That really worked for me.  I’ve been keeping a blind eye toward the happenings surrounding The Last Jedi since even before the teaser debuted, and with ignorance comes surprise, tempered expectations, and hopefully a whole lot more enjoyment of the final product.  So, from here until whenever I get around to seeing the next film (opening weekend, Sunday matineé, naturally), I will say no more about it.

Two months isn’t a long time.  It wasn’t last go-around, and it certainly won’t be again.

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Dawn of Another New NHL Season

It’s finally fall once again.  The sun is out in the city and elsewhere, the air has a notably crisper feeling.  It’s my favorite season for a reason, and a big non-weather-related part of it is the return of hockey after a long, dreadfully boring and foggy summer.  As the now thirty-one teams of the NHL take the ice for the few remaining games of the preseason, I feel like some regular order has been restored in the universe.  Beyond all of the wild speculation of July and the barren news-less wastes of August, we’ve actually got something to talk about now.  That said, I feel like throwing a few final darts in the dark.  Here’s my own stab at wild speculation — the final standings for the 2017-18 NHL season.  It’s been awhile since I did this, mostly because of how pointless it is.  And sure, the season is still over a week away, but it’s not like this prediction is going to be any more-or-less accurate based on what unfolds over that time, right?

Basically what I did was throw every team into a spreadsheet with last year’s point totals, and gave them multiplier coefficients based on a number of observations, such as:

  • PDO reversion: basically inverting last season’s number so each team starts at 100%.
  • Injuries: an estimate based on man-games lost and a reversion to the mean, using a multiplying factor based on the standard deviation.  Obviously, this cannot account for which teams get rocked by injuries this year.
  • The offseason: a guess based on whether they addressed obvious weaknesses, lost key players, changed staff, and/or other general wtf-ness (looking at you, Florida).  Big name prospects and rookies go here.  Potential breakout performances are entirely unaccounted for.
  • Gut feelings and other generally uninformed nonsense: does the number look like it makes sense?  If no, adjust it.  This was used more to diversify the results and make them fit a more typical point spread and postseason cutoff than to invalidate the above factors.

Very scientific I know.  Following that strict and infallible methodology, I’ve compiled the above results.  I think some explanations might be needed here:

The Lightning were murdered by injuries last year.  With a healthy roster, growth from the kids, and continued defensive strength, they’ll handily win the East, and in my scenario, the Presidents’ Trophy.  Washington takes a step back, but even losing 16 points in the standings is enough to overtake a significantly weakened Pittsburgh team.  Toronto takes another step forward, but their exceptional injury luck last year should catch up with them a bit.  Carolina’s got the right stuff (read: fancy stats) and made improvements, so they make enough of a leap to pass three teams in the division, with the Flyers right behind them in pursuit.  CBJ comes back to earth, and both New York teams regress.  Buffalo takes a giant step forward, but it’s not enough to make the cut.  The Senators move back a smidge, and Boston drops like a rock.  The Devils do somewhat better, while the Red Wings and Panthers fall further into the basement.

In the west, the Pacific shapes up very similarly to last year, with the Ducks and Oilers finishing neck and neck near 110 points.  Dallas comes back with a vengeance to win the Central and the Western Conference (and might just be my preseason Cup pick, were I to make one), while the Hawks and Wild regress somewhat; both still finish with 100 points.  Meanwhile, the Jets kids and goaltending should finally get it together enough to steal a wildcard spot from the Pacific.  The Sharks and Blues slip slightly but only the former can sneak into the playoffs thanks to the relative strength of their respective divisions.  The Flames improve, but can’t break past the Central wildcards.  Nashville maintains.  The Coyotes leap ahead, yet like Buffalo, it’s not quite enough to breach the post-season.  The Kings continue their slide backward, now with much worse possession numbers due to coaching turnover.  The Canucks do slightly better than last year thanks to the kids, as do the Avalanche, who gain over 20 points, but that shouldn’t be hard, right?  Vegas finishes last overall — it just feels right, especially with that roster.

Overall, the median point total increases slightly due to Vegas existing, while the deviation tightens up thanks to Colorado giving away points.  Half of the teams got better, while half got worse.  Playoff turnover sees five teams getting back in, and necessarily, five missing.

This is not particularly what I want as a fan of certain teams, so it must be at least a little bit accurate.  I’ll be sure to check back in on this when the playoffs begin!

But right now, it’s finally hockey season again.  (Almost.)

Aural Impressions: The National, Sleep Well Beast

At long last, the wait is over.  Ever since 2013, not long after the release of Trouble Will Find Me, I’ve been longing for a new album from The National.

Okay, that’s not quite true.  While, I didn’t really know about The National until 2012 (thank you, Game of Thrones!), I didn’t even listen to Trouble Will Find Me until my Cascadia adventure in 2013, and even then, I only listened to it once.  In retrospect, I don’t get it.  Today, The National is one of my absolute favorite bands, and they really really took their time weaving their way into my life.  It took me another four months after that to listen to Boxer, and still six more before I even sniffed their remaining albums.  Once they took root, though, they’ve held on tightly.  The National was my most listened to band of 2014.  They’ve slipped (pun not intended) a bit as time went on, though I did finally end up seeing the band live for the first time last year.  They were awesome — everything else around the concert sucked, but that’s neither here nor there.  They played six new songs, five of which are on the new release, Sleep Well Beast.  It would be yet another year and change before these songs finally came out of the studio, and I must say, Sleep Well Beast was worth the wait.  For a seventh studio album, it’s unbelievably good.  There are few bands who generate outstanding music so consistently and The National is up in rarefied air.  Without further ado, my impressions of this gorgeous new record:

  1. Nobody Else Will Be There:  A solemn opening track, this one sets the table for the album to come.  Already the sonic space is filled with new textures and shapes, electronic clicks and hums.  It’s suddenly broken by a heavy piano and the characteristic, heartfelt vocals of Matt Berninger.  Yep, it’s The National.  This song is reserved, melancholic, and slow — it reminds me of a winter night.  It takes major turns in the chorus and bridge, adding a bit of light to an otherwise grim, lonely sound.  If this is a sign of what’s to come, Sleep Well Beast is going to be an emotional ride.
  2. Day I Die:  Wham!  Quiet synth gives way to a raucous drum and twitchy, crashing guitar.  Here’s the explosive energy that occasionally dotted the band’s last few spectacular albums.  The instrumentation isn’t exceptionally complex, but the drumming is absurdly good.  It’s easily the lead sound of the song as well as its main driving force.  Oh hey, a reference to “Val Jester!”  Neat.  I’m also loving the use of piano throughout this album from what I’ve heard (singles & live tracks), which is always welcome.  As a whole, I think “Day I Die” is pretty good, if a bit repetitive.  I’m sure it will grow on me more.
  3. Walk It Back:  Of the new songs I’d heard live a year ago, this was the one that struck me the most immediately.  Lead by a choppy synth, piano chords, and a floaty guitar, I think it’s mainly the chord progression and lyrics that grabbed me.  Matt’s vocals are almost atonal in the beginning of the verses, staying in his trademark low baritone throughout.  It’s spacey and subdued, much like the opening track. “Walk It Back” doesn’t particularly build up very much, bringing in only slightly more intricate drums and guitar during the bridge.  There is a spoken monologue during this point, which is a curious choice; I’d almost rather listen to the backing instrumentation alone here, which is a low keyboard intertwined with guitar and steady bass.  The long outro feels almost like a new song, but it maintains the restraint of the first half.  It doesn’t sound like I remember, but that’s probably just my fault.  The National to me has always been about growing into their songs — why should this album be different?
  4. The System Only Dreams in Total Darkness:  The first single released to the world from Beast, “System” revealed a few new things about The National’s latest sound: the first thing we hear is a heavily processed set of female vocals, then another sharply crashing guitar, along with piano.  The bass is crispy.  Synths are ubiquitous.  It reminds me a little of EL VY for some reason.  When Matt’s vocals start to soar, the song really takes off in pursuit.  A crunchy guitar solo enters; a sound we hadn’t really heard before on National records, yet it doesn’t really seem out of place either.  So far the energy has been off and on for this record, and I have a feeling that’s going to continue.
  5. Born to Beg:  And we’re back to the downbeat, featuring another piano with blocky chords, soft vocals, and percussive bloops for structure.  The progression reminds me a little of “England,” while the vocal harmonies of the chorus add a broad, ethereal feel.  It’s kind of amazing how consistent this band is; this song, additional electronics aside, could fit at home on either High Violet or Trouble Will Find Me quite well.  It’s chill, and again somewhat mournful.  Not the most memorable song, but I like it.
  6. Turtleneck:  Immediately this song is a blast, with multi-layered guitars, upfront bass, and a chaotic drumbeat.  The low low vocals combined with machine-gun strumming are a treat.  There’s been an unleashing here; the guitars are out of control, the vocals are rough and agitated, and the production is unpolished, presumably intentionally.  It’s got a live feel, as well as a retro studio feel.   Another guitar solo comes in, this one reminiscent of psychedelic-era Beatles, and before you know it, it’s over.  I can’t tell if this song is amazing or completely out of place, or both.  It doesn’t match the aural aesthetic of the album at all; it’s almost like an angry sequel to “Mr. November” — from The National, it doesn’t get much heavier than this.
  7. Empire Line:  This was my least favorite song among those played at the concert last year.  I was wrong.  Very wrong.  Amidst deep echoing percussion arises a High Violet-sounding reverberating guitar.  A slow plodder, the vocals are the focal point here.  The chorus breaks the low-key noise of the verse with a distant piano. Live the piano is much more upfront and distracting; here it’s deployed much better.  Physical drums slowly grow to push the song ahead, while the sonic landscape widens with guitars, strings, and various effects.  Toward the end, it feels almost as if the instruments are being swallowed as deep bass growls, yet the vocals remain clear.  The production on this track is phenomenal.  It sounds great in the studio.
  8. I’ll Still Destroy You:  Sampled vocal synths and a lively set of clicks and hits kick us off here.  Hang on, we’ve got a marimba!  And an accordion-like pad.  Oh, I like the progression on this one.  The piano is in the background but adds a ton of momentum.  As the chorus hits, the instruments diversify to an amazing degree.  I’m not even sure what’s all here.  A mandolin?  The marimba returns.  The drums are tight and swift.  Suddenly, it’s wide open again, with only pads, subtle electronics, and whatever that mandolin-sounding instrument is, fluttering above.  The texture here is wonderful.  It almost feels like a closing track with its crescendo, brightness, and optimism.  Of course, the lyrics say otherwise, but this is The National, after all.  It closes with a maelstrom of swirling strings, insane drums, and uniform bass.  Wow.  Definitely a standout on an already solid album.
  9. Guilty Party:  Beginning with another assortment of electronic percussion and a glitchy effect track, this one quickly breaks into another mournful piano progression, one very similar to “Day I Die,” in fact.  There’s a soft, reverb-heavy vocal.  A guitar quietly wails in the background.  The bass rides high and clean.  Bryan comes in with a quick, stuttering acoustic, providing an energetic contrast to the slow, deliberate piano.  A couple of arpeggiating, poly-rhythmic guitars come in during the bridge, again very reminiscent of Radiohead amidst an otherwise very National-sounding scape.  The verse and chorus repeat several times, each subtly building upon the predecessors as they’re joined by various other instruments including a staccato brass, strings, and additional electronic effects.  It’s a long, repetitive song, yet somehow it doesn’t feel tiresome or boring.  In fact, it might just be my favorite off the album, but it’s among tough competition, especially the next track…
  10. Carin at the Liquor Store:  A slow, piano based track, filled with heavy, syncopated chords in a simple 3/4 rhythm, it’s somewhat reminiscent of “Pink Rabbits,” if optimistic.  Of the singles, this was the first one that grabbed me immediately, so much so that upon first listen I sat myself at the piano and learned it one chord at a time by ear.  The chorus adds some weighty bass and a simple, effective drum, while a distorted guitar fills up space during a brief, straightforward solo.  Like several others on the album, it’s slightly repetitive, however it ends way sooner than it feels like it should.  Beautifully simple, I adore this song and I want more of it.
  11. Dark Side of the Gym:  Driven by an electric piano and a 6/8 shuffling beat, this one has the unmistakable feel of a high-school slow dance from a time before I was born.  It’s also somewhat reminiscent of old-school National — I’m talking Sad Songs for Dirty Lovers style.  It’s upbeat with a tinge of sadness, a ton of warmth, and a rather fitting upward key change halfway through.  The chorus here uses a i-III-VII-IV chord progression, which, although common, is still one of my favorites.  Overall, this song isn’t my favorite, but there is definitely something magical about it.
  12. Sleep Well Beast:  Sped-up synths from “I’ll Still Destroy You” plus the electronic drums from “Guilty Party” kick us off on the closing track.  The piano staggers not unlike “Hard to Find,” the previous album’s closer. Atmospheric guitars screech quietly.  Matt mumbles, as if he just sang the whole album just now.  There are Reznor-like electronic flourishes and Radiohead-like heavy bloops.  Structure is somewhat lacking, made clearer only by Bryan’s tom-heavy percussion. It’s almost a noise-collage, with the vocals falling ever deeper into the background, making reference to previous songs as the music had already done.  Does that make this a concept album?  It’s a pretty bookend, making a neat thematic circle with “Nobody Else Will Be There.”  It’s so dense, though, I’m going to need to listen to this many many many more times in order to really get a feel for it.

And that’s kind of the story of the album.  Like every other release by The National, I listened to it once or twice, noted the standout songs, forgot the rest, and slept on it for too long (presumably).  Sleep Well Beast is absolutely beautiful, incredibly well produced, and moving.  It follows nicely in the footsteps of BoxerHigh Violet, and Trouble Will Find Me, finishing a remarkable decade of high quality music that makes its artistic departures slowly and deliberately.  Because of the aforementioned nature of The National, I don’t feel at all ready to rate this album among its predecessors; I like it better than High Violet at first listen, but that doesn’t mean much because High Violet is easily my least-listened to album among those three.  That one is still growing on me too.  Overall, the melancholic theme is consistent, the alternating between chill and energy is enough to keep attention, and the music, instrumentation, and melodies are gripping, though not immediately memorable.  That is to say, they’re in there, they just need to grow.  I’m sure they will; I’ll likely have this album on repeat for the rest of the year, especially in the winter.  Going to see The National again next month will certainly force me to take a few long listens of their music.  I can’t wait.