Friday, December 30, 2016

Favorite TV Shows of 2016

The year 2016 saw the end of my favorite TV show for the past seven years, the renewal of my now current favorite TV show, the discovery of two shows nowhere near my radar but loved them, and a television event for the ages.


For eight seasons, this show ruled Monday nights at 9pm. Yeah, I’m still an appointment television viewer. From the initial trailer for the show, Castle had me. The show was right up my alley. Geeky writer solving crimes with beautiful woman detective and her squad. That they successfully kept the Will They/Won’t They chemistry going for four seasons, then successfully together for the next three. Yes, there was an eighth season, and I’m mostly glad for it, but the writer messed with the chemistry and the show wasn’t the same after that. There’s a part of me that still latches on to the finale of Season Seven as the true series finale. Be that as it may, Castle was cancelled and that was that. Still one of my favorite all-time TV shows.


This is the show that replaced Castle as my favorite. Its second season coincided with Castle’s eighth and I realized I often smiled more, laughed more, and cried more watching The Flash than any other show. Greg Berlanti, the creator and executive producer, grew up immersed in DC Comics lore and it plays out remarkably well in The Flash. He has a saying on set that each episode needs Heart, Humor, and Spectacle. This show has it in spades. When you have a villain like King Shark—humanoid with a shark’s head—on network television, something is going great. And Flash’s guest appearance on “Supergirl” this past spring (back when Supergirl was on CBS) was probably the most charming thing on TV all year. Absolutely love this show.


Yes, the fourth “season” of Sherlock is about to air Sunday night, but I’ve already got over 100 episodes and into the fifth season of what many consider the other Sherlock Holmes TV show. What makes this show shine is the chemistry between Sherlock’s Johnny Lee Miller and Watson’s Lucy Liu. Because they have had over five years together on screen, the subtlety and nuances of their performances have evolved into a deep and rich relationship that is based on friendship, respect, and agape love, but not romantic. (Well, I’m a few episodes behind since the show kept getting pushed later into the nights because of football, but I don’t think the writers changed anything.) Miller’s version of Sherlock is brilliant, modern, flawed, but capable of change. He still has one of my all-time favorite Sherlock Holmes scenes from any medium. It’s from 2015 and an old flame has asked Sherlock to be the father to her child. For the entire episode, he contemplates her request. Finally, he gives her his answer. That part starts at the 28:33 mark of this video.


Sometimes, the images you see in a trailer, the sounds, too, latch onto you in such a way that you are compelled to watch. That’s what the trailer to summer’s biggest TV hit did. Like the DC Comics, Marvel movies, and the newest Star Wars films, the folks behind Stranger Things have grown up and turned around and made a TV in which everything they loved as kids now shows up in their work. Stranger Things pays homage to Spielberg films, John Carpenter scores, and the rest of the early 80s in such a way that it’s a love letter to childhood without being hampered by nostalgia. The story, the writing, made sure of that, and I eagerly await the next season. Here's what I wrote back in the summer.


The out-of-left-field show that completely blew me away this past week. I even named it the most compelling thing I watched on TV in 2016. Read my complete review here.


Again, I watched this on Netflix so I consumed seasons 1 and 2 in short order. The story of six people who awake from stasis on a spaceship with no memory of how they got there or who they are. They assume names based on the order in which they awoke, thus One, Two, etc. The gradual peeling away of the mysteries surrounding their predicament easily propels the show forward—each character gets an episode or two to focus on their past like any good ensemble show does—but it is the seventh individual on the ship that is my favorite. It’s an android, named Android, and she’s female. Frankly, I’m not aware of another example of an android, played by an actress, in the mold of Star Trek’s Data, that is, an artificial life form who longs to be more human. Zoie Palmer plays Android (far right in the image) with so many nuances that I started to zero in on her scenes most of all. One of the great things she does is with her eyes as Android processes information or executes orders from the crew. Her voice is like that of a questioning child, trying to learn about human behavior and all of its inconsistencies. Her facial expressions show the conflicting of emotions even though, in reality, the Android is only processing information. Android may not be the lead in this show, but she is my favorite. Oh, and when she has to fight, she kicks serious ass without so much as batting an eyelash. Of the humans, Three is tops for me (second from the left in the image). His story arc is fantastic, especially considering his character type. Heck, they're all great characters, and I'm eagerly awaiting season three...which I'll be watching in real time!


Rarely watching this show when on the air, but I have been watching the various seasons on DVD. I always liked the occasional daydreams of lead character, Zach Braff’s JD, especially considering it was farcical and what he was really thinking. Even when the show was airing, I knew about that. But long-term viewing of this show revealed it to be not only a laugh-out-loud show, but one that could turn on a dime and sting your eyes with tears. The family typically watched the show during dinner, and there were a few times when my wife and I would be wiping away tears with the napkins we had just used to wipe our mouths. Two runs stand out. One is with Brendon Frasier and series regular—and funniest guy on the show?—John C. McGinley. Another is with JD and Kathryn Joosten (Mrs. Landingham from “The West Wing”) when she chooses death over dialysis. That this episode was the fourth of season 1 and that the producers played Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah” over the final scenes ripped my heart out and prepared me for…well, anything from this wonderful show.


Few shows consistently put a big goofy grin on my face quite like Supergirl. Taking the Super-family mythos and bringing it to network television is a feat in and of itself, but that they do it with such a charming actress like Melissa Benoist makes it all the better. She’s got just the right amount of learning about the world through the eyes of her alter ego, Kara Danvers, as well the fierce determination it takes to kick the butts of the bad guys. That John Jones, the Martian Manhunter, is a character is such a great thing and draws deep from the well. But the coup de grace has got to be the second season’s premiere where we get to see the Berlanti-verse’s version of Superman. Gone is the grimdark visage from the modern DC movies. Here, we get Superman, frankly, like he’s supposed to be: charming, happy, but still strong enough to defeat the enemy or help land a damaged plane. This episode is my happiest hour hour of superhero television in 2016.

TELEVISION EVENT: The DC Comics TV Crossover

Like what I wrote about The Flash, Greg Berlanti and crew now have four TV shows, 7pm CST, Monday through Thursday. I don’t watch Arrow on Wednesday, but I watch Supergirl on Mondays and Legends of Tomorrow on Thursdays along with The Flash on Tuesdays. As soon as Supergirl landed on The CW, everyone was wondering if all four shows would crossover. They did. And it was so good. Heck, the Arrow episode might have been the best, and the Flash episode really brought home the damage Barry Allen’s choices made on other people. The Legends hour, however, had the burden of finishing up the story, but it also had the images of all those heroes fighting aliens. That Berlanti was confident enough to have the heroes’s training facility resemble the Hall of Justice from the old “Super Friends” TV show will give you a taste of how he and his team are honoring the legacy of DC Comics. I'm just so happy we live in an age where this kind of thing is a reality on television.

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Favorite Songs of 2016


The year 2016 produced some fantastic albums and songs. Here are my Top 10 favorite songs of the year, presented in random order…except the first one. That is my favorite song of 2016.

“Put Your Money On Me” by The Struts


The Struts put out my favorite album of 2016. They are my favorite new discovery of the year. I listened to this album far and away more than any other album released this year. I first discovered the band via an article in Rolling Stone. The article name dropped “glam rock” and that’s pretty much all I need. I then went to Spotify to give the record a virtual spin. The first three cuts (can’t remember them because I have the free version of Spotify and it shuffled the songs) were great, but “Put Your Money on Me” sold me this album with the first chord. Not kidding. It is the sound of summer, a Mountain Dew commercial, unabashedly fun music, with an infectious chorus. The words, as sung by Freddie Mercury’s musical descendant, Luke Spiller, is all about winning over his girl. That this song includes brass is icing on the cake. The MVP of this song—other than the person playing the tambourine—is guitarist Adam Slack. His ferocious solo grounds this song in the rock world so it’s not always just a shiny pop song. And the song ends with a final chord, not a fadeout. By far my favorite song of 2016. “Uptown Funk” was already my favorite song of the decade. We now have another contender. Video.

“Going All the Way is Just the Start (A song in 6 movements)” by Meat Loaf


This song comes from Meat Loaf’s new album, Braver Than We Are, a collection of songs all written by Jim Steinman, the man behind the songs from Meat Loaf’s Bat Out of Hell. To be perfectly honest, this album is a mishmash of styles and influences. Meat’s singing voice is all but shot, but there’s still an earnestness behind it. Much like other long-time singers, Meat singing less powerfully than he used to gives the songs here a unique quality. This song is special as it features both female co-singers from his Bat Out of Hell Days, Ellen Foley and Karla DeVito (vocalists from the studio and live versions "Paradise by the Dashboard Light", respectively). I’m a sucker for Broadway-like rock songs and Meat Loaf is perhaps the best example. This song clocks in at nearly eleven minutes, and it is excellent. The two ladies certainly carry the song, but when they both sing together, it’s magic. To give you an idea of the type of song this is, were this song part of a Broadway play, it closes the show. It builds and builds to a magnificent ending, especially when the counter melody kicks. When I first listened to this album at work, this song captivated me. It made me want to hurry up and finish the record so I could come back to this song. Video.

“Still That Boy From Texas” by Reagan Browne


The discovery of this album, Rhapsodic Roar, is proof that words can still sell albums. I was sitting at a convention in Austin, Texas, and I read a Waterloo Records ad that mentioned Browne’s new album was a great example of melodic rock. I got to the store and listened to a few cuts…and bought the album. He’s new to me, but this is his fourth album. The songs range in heaviness from the opener, “Accelerate to the Straightaways,” to terrific cuts like “The Universe Gives Me What I Want” (my other favorite song) and “Gypsy Woman’s Got the Groove,” featuring Texas guitar wizard, Eric Johnson. “Still That Boy From Texas” is the song I kept returning to. Browne’s powerful, deep baritone voice soars over this song about a guy who longs to be back in Texas even though he’s plying his trade in California. Browne was born and raised in the Texas Hill Country so the song comes from the heart. It’s evident on the song. Here’s a link to his website’s video page where you can listen to the song and hear some other cuts.

“Victorious” by Wolfmother


Sometimes, albums can be sold merely by the cover. Wolfmother’s new album, Victorious, got my attention with a cover that evoked those great painted rock covers from the 1970s. Heck, all their covers have that in common. Well, that’s not all that the band, formed in Australia in 2000, draws from. This entire record is chock full of influences from 70s rock, prog rock, and even metal. It’s a fun listen, especially when  you try and guess the song Wolfmother was listening to when they wrote their songs. When I got/persuaded/trapped her in a car and played the record, she said it was good, but that she liked it better the first time. No matter. The entire record is good, but “Victorious” is my favorite cut. A fast, adrenaline-fueled driving rocker that is best listened to when driving, windows down, and singing along at the top of your lungs. Here is the tripp video.

“Can’t Stop the Feeling” by Justin Timberlake


I can’t say exactly how/when I first heard this delightful pop song, but my son—who discovered music this year—had it on his iPod. He played it more than once and I latched onto it. I don’t have any of Timberlake’s albums, but then again, everything I heard from him I like. He’s immensely talented, and this song is an effervescent slice of pop goodness. The bass line during the break is funky and dirty. This is the aural equivalent of a smile on a summer’s day. And the video is charming as just about anything I saw this year. Video

“Go Big or Go Home” by American Authors


Speaking of my son finding music I like, this is another one. This band takes a slice out of the Mumford and Sons jangling pseudo folk playbook with mandolins spicing up this song. Its all-ensemble sung verses lead into a fist-pumping-in-the-air chorus. This song played a lot in the car in our various commutes so much that I started really to like it. Video

“You Bring the Summer” by The Monkees


Imagine a radar, the old-school kind with the rotating green line that would blip whenever something was within range. Got that? Well, The Monkees was beyond my radar. Frankly, I basically knew who they were…and that was it. Then their new LP, Good Times, dropped this year and this song was the lead single. Talk about starting off the summer of 2016 with a slice of pop goodness. I ended up buying this album and loving it. This cut wraps up what I know of the Monkees and produces a song that at once could have been a hit in 1967 but sounds fresh and modern. The video is out-of-this-world great, made to look like an animated segment from their TV show. I was ThisClose to picking “Me and Magdalena” (an achingly beautiful song) as my favorite song from this album, but “You Bring the Summer” was the tune I listened to most. Video

“Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow” by Michael Buble


Michael Buble is a modern anachronism. He’s got a voice that could have been heard in the 1940s or 1950s but he can write wonderful modern pop songs. Buble’s song “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” is one of my favorite songs of this decade. He can write a pop song that earworms itself into your brain that you’ll be humming it all day long. To be honest, some of the cuts off this new album, Nobody But Me, tries to replicate the vibe of that song. The title track is the obvious contender. He gives you two versions, one with a rap interlude (yeah, it really works) and the other with a trumpet solo in the same spot. “Someday” is a beautifully infectious duet with Meghan Trainor that is reminiscent of  “Lucky” by Jason Mraz and Colbie Caillat as mixed by Train. Their harmonies on the chorus nearly got in this list. But it is “Today is Yesterday’s Tomorrow” gets the nod. It is the most obvious kin to “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” in musicality and style. The verbal wordplay, with its rapidly spoken verses, are rap-like, but still musical. The chorus is another aural smile (see a theme of these songs?) that’ll make you tap  your foot, even if you’re at your desk. Video

“I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” by Sting


Sting is back with a rock record! That was the headline this year. Yeah, kinda. Sting is a pop star who dabbles in rock (and just about everything else). But this is his first album of new pop/rock music since 2003’s Sacred Love. If there is a theme of this list, it’s that light, poppy music seems to be where my head was this year. By that standard, “One Fine Day” off this new LP would fit on this list. It is right in that poppy groove. Heck, Michael Buble could cover it and you’d never know Sting wrote it. But the lead single, “I Can’t Stop Thinking About You” gets the nod. This is Sting at his pop/rock best. A tight band, a song that will get your head nodding up and down, and Sting singing about the often melancholy aspects of love. Is he the best one ever for that aspect of love? Video

“I Can’t Give Everything Away” by David Bowie


The elephant in this year’s list is David Bowie. He was one of my four pillars of rock for me. Here is my essay from January about his death. But we’re here to talk about my favorite Bowie song from Backstar, his last album. In the days leading up to the release on 8 January (his birthday), I was so excited. Bowie had recruited saxophonist Danny McCaslin’s jazz ensemble. He was going to make a jazz record! And it is so good. Repeated listenings reveal added layers of emotion and musicality. And then Bowie died two days after the record was released, and Backstair took on a different shade. To be honest, after a certain point, I stopped listening to the album. The emotions were too great. Heck, I even bought the Lazarus soundtrack, with three new Bowie songs, but I haven’t listened to them yet. I’m waiting for 8 January 2017, his 70th birthday, to play them.

Any of the songs from the record could be on this list, but I’m going with the last song. I wrote a review of Blackstar back in March, so I’ll just quote the paragraph about this song. “‘I Can’t Give Everything Away’ starts before “Dollar Days” is even over. Bowie’s voice is very “close” in the mix, especially in headphones. It gives the listener the distinct impression that he’s singing directly to each one of us. Which, of course, he is. The harmonica flourishes harken back to 1987’s “Never Let Me Down” while McCaslin’s sax does its own thing, almost as if the song belongs to it and Bowie is merely the guest singer. Death lances through the last words Bowie sang. They sting, but there’s joyous defiance in his voice and delivery. Yes, death will take me, Bowie seems to say, but I still possess the gifts God gave me and I’m going out on the top of my game. Fittingly, “I Can’t Give Everything Away” ends with a guitar flourish that at once would gracefully end a concert but also directly echo the guitar work on “Look Back in Anger” and “Heroes.” Guitar and strings and drums end triumphantly what is effectively David Bowie’s last will and testament.” Video

Honorable Mentions

“Since You Been Gone” by The Heavy. Dirty rock, soulful singing, and in-your-face brass. Right up my alley. Video

“Parasite” by Ace Frehley. The original writer of this KISS classic put his own, modern spin on this song. Heavier than the original and still pile-driving into your head. The solo is a clinic of Ace-isms. Video

“Love Makes the World Go Round” by Santana, featuring Ronald Isley. Santana has always had that great latin/rock vibe. It’s the aural equivalent of smoking a joint, especially in the song “Fillmore East.” This new record reunited the original band, and Ronald Isley sings on a couple of tunes. Having his soulful voice mixed with Santana’s vibe is eclectic, but ultimately rewarding. Video

“Stranger Things” by S U R V I V E. Even though I came of age in the 80s, I don’t always revisit that time in my music, especially the very 80s synths. So imagine my surprise when the TV show “Stranger Things” tapped into that perfect vein of 80s nostalgia not only with the visuals and the story but with the John Carpenter-esque soundtrack. Survive is another new-to-me Texas band (ironically, they were in the same ad that featured Reagan Browne; Thanks Waterloo Music!) that makes synth soundscapes music using old technology. It really shows, and I’ve already bought the soundtrack and Survive’s new LP. Video

Rogue One soundtrack by Michael Giacchino. I’m still processing the new Rogue One soundtrack so I cannot give definitive song yet. Giacchino is an excellent composer, a true heir to John Williams. His music for TV’s Lost, a number of Pixar films, and the new Star Trek movies show his range and ability to create a soundtrack that can be heard on its own as well as in the movie. If the movie Rogue One contained a lot of visual Easter eggs, Giacchino’s score does the same for the music. He interweaves old Williams melodies and instrumentations that hearkens back to the other seven movies. For longtime listeners of the Star Wars soundtracks, Rogue One is great listening experience.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Bloodline: Season 1 - The Most Compelling TV Show of 2016?

By sheer coincidence I watched Rogue One and the first episode of Netflix’s “Bloodline” on the same day. After my wife and I had finished watching “Dark Matter” seasons 1 and 2—highly recommended, by the way—she scoured Netflix for a new show. She found Bloodline and started watching. Somewhere in the week leading up to the release of Rogue One, she commented that the bad guy in the Star Wars movie is in this TV show she was watching. I asked her which character and she said “Darth Vader?” My eyebrows raised, thinking “Wow, the guy in the suit must be good outside of the suit.” I must have said something to the fact, because in the next few moments, she pulled up a photograph of the actor in question. Ben Mendelsohn. Oh, he’s not Vader, he’s….well, I didn’t know the character’s name yet. I hadn’t seen the movie. Come to think of it, I didn’t know Mendelsohn either.

But holy cow do I now.

And not only because of Rogue One.

Bloodline is a mystery/drama series produced by Netflix. Two seasons have been produced, but we’ve only seen the first, having concluded just last night. On the day Rogue One was released, my wife attended the show with me. Later that night, having already consumed the entire first season herself, she asked me to watch the first episode. Just the first one, mind you, to see if I’d like it. Now, I was more than willing to go along. I was curious about Mendelsohn as he, unfortunately, didn’t get a lot of screen time in Rogue One. So we cued up the show.

And I was hooked.

Bloodline has a terrific tag line: “We’re not bad people…but we did a bad thing.” The tale involves a family who owns an inn in the Florida Keys. Sam Shepherd plays the father, Sissy Spacek the mother. Three of their adult children live in the area: John (played by Kyle Chandler) is a cop, Kevin (Norbert Leo Butz) is a blue-collar man who works on boats, and Meg (Linda Cardellini) is a lawyer. As the show opens, black sheep son Danny (Mendelsohn) is returning to the Keys. There was a bad event back in the day—not spoiling it here for the gradual revelation is part of this show’s wonderful pacing—and Danny went off on his own. But he wants to come back to the family. He’s even got the words he wants to say to his family written on folded yellow notebook paper.

As you might expect, not everyone is thrilled that Danny’s back. And it is in the interactions with the other cast members where Mendelsohn just shines. When he talks with his cop brother, Danny acts a certain way. If it’s with his sister, it’s another. The nuances in Mendelsohn’s performance and in the performances of the other actors that make this slow burn show so dang compelling to watch.

Typically while engrossed in a show, I don’t usually notice how the story is put together. Not so, here, but that’s a perfectly fine compliment. As a writer, I was amazed at how the show runners were able to craft such an elegantly sculpted piece of storytelling art. Throughout most episodes, you get flashbacks to the bad event in the past, but you also get glimpses of another event in the future. The openings of each episode have the policeman, John, doing a voiceover that so engrosses you in the show that it all but compels you to keep watching.

The twists and turns of the plot are enough to keep your attention engaged, and the payoffs surprising and satisfying, but the performances are what truly sell this show. Mendelsohn is the scene stealer. He's like Heath Ledger's Joker: whenever Mendelsohn's on screen, you are riveted. He transforms Danny throughout the course of the 13-episode first season via words, actions, and even body language. Kyle Chandler’s John plays the straight arrow cop like he was born to play it. (I never say Friday Night Lights so this was the first time I saw Chandler act.) Norbert Leo Butz, who I literally just discovered is a two-time Tony winner, plays Kevin as the down-and-out man who needs just one more break, not unlike Danny himself. When I saw Cardellini, I thought “Velma!” since she played that character in the live action Scooby Doo movies, but she plays Meg as a combination of small-town charm with a haunted darkness underneath her eyes. All the performances are fantastic.

And then I learned Mendelsohn won an Emmy for his role as Danny (I purposefully didn’t research too much into the show while watching it for fear of reading a spoiler). Well deserved.

For eight seasons, my favorite show on TV was “Castle.” Now it’s “The Flash.” That’ll give you a sample of where my interests typically lie. But I’m going to split hairs here. I’ll still contend that “The Flash” is my favorite show on network TV. But giving “Stranger Things” its props for what it did and how well it accomplished its goals, “Bloodline” season 1 might be the most compelling thing I’ve watched on TV in 2016.

Now, on to season 2!’

P.S., Having seen this first season with Mendelsohn as Danny, two things come to mind. One, there are certain actors that I enjoy so much, I’ll watch anything they’re in. Mendelsohn is now on that list. Heck, his mere inclusion in “The Dark Knight Rises” is now going to make me have to watch that movie again. (I haven’t since the day I walked out of the theater in 2012 despite it being a Batman movie.) Two, I know Rogue One was chock full of characters—and I immensely enjoyed seeing the movie a second time having watched half of Bloodline by that time—but boy would I have liked to have seen more of Mendelsohn’s Orson Krennic.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Thoughts on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I saw the movie today at 10am in a theater populated by about ten folks. The downside to that is that there wasn’t a rapid theater full of Star Wars geeks who cheered at every single Easter egg thrown in the mix. And let me tell you: the Easter eggs were numerous and fun. I’ll actually have to wait for someone to catalog them all to determine if I caught them all. I don’t think I did, but I caught most of’em.

One of the reasons I was looking forward to Rogue One was that it wasn’t a saga movie, i.e., one with a number. As great as the Star Wars movies have been up to now, basically, they’re all about the same family and their friends. Finally, we’d get a film that wasn’t about a Skywalker or a daddy issue. We went one for two there. It’s not about a Skywalker—although there is one in here; the one who dresses in black—but there is a daddy issue. As much as you might groan that this will be the 8th Star Wars film (i.e., all of them) to deal with familial issues, you also have to know that this is a pattern. Plus, it’s a Disney film, so there you go.

Felicity Jones plays Jyn Erso, a young woman whose dad, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is an Imperial engineer in charge of building the structure known as the Death Star. At the start of the film, a young Jyn sees her mom killed and her dad recaptured. She escapes, but, by the time Jones fills the character’s shoes, she’s a twentysomething in an Imperial prison camp.

And she’s rescued by the new group calling itself the Rebellion. There’s a character, played by Forest Whitiker, who is an estranged member of the Rebel Alliance but now needs to be joined if the Rebels are going to take on the Empire. Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera is a veteran of the Clone Wars, but he’s also the man who raised young Jyn after her parents were taken from her. To the Rebels, Jyn’s their key to get in the door with being killed. For Jyn, it’s a chance to not be in jail.

Naturally, plans go asunder. And a Star Wars movie unfolds.

There is lots to like about this film. I stayed away from all written content about this film and have only dipped a toe in it now, but the vibe you get from this film is gritty, street-level realism—or as real as a Star Wars film can get. In this movie, you see Stormtroopers who can shoot straight and they kill people. You have opponents of the Empire likewise shooting and killing. One way to look at this film is as one who has earned the word “Wars” in its title. In many respects, this is a World War II film masquerading in the Star Wars universe.

And that is not a bad thing. At all. I quite enjoyed it.

There is a gloominess to this film, much as there was with Episode III, the last of the prequel films that led into the original Star Wars film, but there had to be. The first film’s subsequent subtitle is “A New Hope,” but for there to be the need for a new hope, you have to get rid of the old hope. And you have to lead into the urgency that opens the original 1977 Star Wars film. The ending gives you that, but not before introducing you to new characters, new worlds, and new experiences.

There’s a certain action figure quality to this movie. Have we seen Star Wars on the beach? Nope. Then let’s do a beach set piece. Have we seen Star Wars in the rain? Nope. Then let’s do something there. Nothing wrong with that. Lucas did it in every movie he made, and I quite liked the beach battles. There’s also yet another desert planet in this movie, and the set piece here is a claustrophobic ambush/assault. It worked very well. Most of the ideas and concepts you may have seen before, but as seen through the Star Wars lens and in the Star Wars universe managed to make them fresh again.

I’m about to get into spoiler territory, but I wanted to leave this thought up here, so most readers can read it. I’m so glad that folks my age who saw the original Star Wars film in 1977 and became steeped in this universe have now become the filmmakers of today. They can now take their devotion and passion for this material and throw in the Easter eggs and winks and nods for the long-time fans. Ditto Marvel movies and DC TV shows. It’s a great time to have all of these wonderful movies made for us.

And, with that, I’ll go ahead and end the spoiler-free part of the review and say I enjoyed Rogue One quite a bit, actually felt the bite of tears in a couple of places (yeah, yeah, I know) and delighted in the Easter eggs. A worthy addition to the canon.

Now, on to the spoilers. Proceed at your own risk.

Still giving you a chance to turn away.

Jyn running into Walrus Man and the other guy who eventually accosts Luke. Love it!

Seeing more of the Yavin base. So, so good.

Seeing many of the male cast members having grown 1970s mustaches.

The namedropping of “Whills” in regards to what the blind mystic and his bodyguard are doing on the desert planet. The term Whills is from the opening quote from the original Star Wars novelization.

The Kaiburr crystal! Those were first seen in Alan Dean Foster’s Splinter of the Mind’s Eye novel that came out in 1978. Talk about taking something from out of the blue.

Oh, and blue milk.

Speaking of Splinter, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: as much as I’m loving all the films that have come since, arguably the best time ever to be a Star Wars fan was 1977-1980. The universe was vast, the mysteries were great, and Vader wasn’t Luke’s father.

Speaking of Vader, going in, I wanted one thing more than anything: I wanted him to be bad. Evil. The guy who chokes various Imperial officers if they get on his bad side. Evil Vader was here. In spades. And it was so, so good! Loved it. We got to see Prequel saber stuff in the older trilogy.

Threepio and Artoo. Wasn’t really expecting it, but it was nice.

Mon Motha in the Yavin base. Nicely done.

Tarkin. I had heard he was in the film, but I expected him not to be on screen. It was a little odd, I’ll admit, in the same way The Polar Express is odd, seeing the CGI version of Peter Cushing talking and interacting. It wasn’t quite all there, but I’m really glad they tried.

And I’m really glad they did it with Leia, too. Got goosebumps and happy tears. But hers was a little more odd than Tarkin’s.

Nice to see Jimmy Smits back.

Really loved K-2SO and Alan Tudyk’s performance. His jokes were great, but I actually groaned at the “I have a bad feeling about this” but, then again, it’s now a Star Wars tradition.

Really, really love the blind mystic Chirrut Îmwe. I loved that his was not a Jedi but could feel the Force. From a religious standpoint, not ashamed to say that when Chirrut Îmwe started chanting "I am with the Force and the Force is with me" and walked across the battlefield to turn on the master switch, I teared up. I loved his faith in the Force. And then his mercenary friend took up the mantle and chant. Very powerful stuff.

Jyn’s pendant. That was a Kaiburr crystal, right?

Oh, and the music. Enjoyed it. I like Michael Giacchino’s work on Star Trek and the Pixar films, but his music on Doctor Strange (save the end credits piece) sounded a bit like Star Trek to me. But I was very pleased with his work with John Williams’ themes. Giacchino’s delicate use of old themes to go along with new ones was well done.

I’ve probably forgotten a few, but those are the ones that stand out.

Y’all’s thoughts?