The video below comes from Underhill Bonsai's Third Thursday program and covers every aspect of collecting deciduous trees in the wild. We begin with the basics including necessary tools and ethical collection practices. Then we go through how to lift the tree and transport it home. Finally we processed three trees, removing them from the field soil, pruning the roots, chopping the trunk and putting them into bonsai soil. If you are interested in yamadori collection, this is the best 2 hours you can spend in preparation!
Tuesday, December 29, 2020
Tuesday, December 22, 2020
The French, Spanish, German, Haitian, West African, Caribbean, Vietnamese, and other ethnic groups that have settled Louisiana in the past three hundred plus years have fused together to create a culture unique to Louisiana. In honor of the Christmas season, let's talk about a COVID-safe Louisiana tradition: Christmas Eve bonfires.
Tuesday, December 15, 2020
New Orleans jazz and music scene is world famous. And for good reason, it's amazing, influential, and a million other things. But when you think of New Orleans music, you don't really think of Christmas.
But if you dig deep enough into the catalogue of NOLA legend Louis Armstrong, you'll find a New Orleans-centric song called, Christmas in New Orleans. The lyrics, listed below, speak to the fusion of city and holiday, putting a local spin on a national celebration. New Orleans is unique and that character shines through year round, not just during Mardi Gras.
Christmas in New Orleans lyrics:
Magnolia trees at night
Fields of cotton look wintery white
When it's Christmas time
In New Orleans
A barefoot choir in prayer
Fills the air
Are gathering there
When it's Christmas time
In New Orleans
You'll see a dixieland Santa Claus
Leading the band
To a good old Creole beat
And golly what a spirit
You can only hear it
Down on Basin Street
Your cares will disappear
When you hear
Hallelujah St. Nicholas is here
When it's Christmas time
In New Orleans
A dixieland Santa Claus
Leading the band
To a good old Creole beat
And golly what a spirit
You can only hear it
Down on Basin Street
Your cares will disappear
When you hear
Hallelujah old St. Nicholas is here
When it's Christmas time
In New Orleans
Tuesday, December 8, 2020
The Roosevelt Hotel in New Orleans is known for many things--the famous Sazerac Bar, Domenica, the hotel's pizza and Italian restaurant, among others.
At Christmas time, the Roosevelt becomes a winter wonderland in the heart of New Orleans. Take a look at the video below to see the hotel transform itself.
Tuesday, December 1, 2020
New Orleans City Park is known for its collection of live oak trees, Botanical Garden, and the New Orleans Museum of Art. The live oaks are perhaps the most famous part of the park. Some are over six hundred years old and predate the European settlement of Louisiana. The park grounds themselves have a rich and diverse history. The area started out as a dueling ground where male residents of New Orleans could settle their disputes outside of the watchful eyes of city authorities. In the 1850s, a district court created the park out of land left to the city by a deceased plantation owner. By the end of the 19thcentury, the City Park Improvement Association was founded to begin transforming the land into the park that we know today. It was not until the 1980s, however, that one of the park’s most popular and beloved traditions came into existence: Celebration in the Oaks.
Tuesday, November 24, 2020
Tuesday, November 17, 2020
Tuesday, November 10, 2020
Now that fall is firmly here and we're all going to spending more time inside--in Louisiana it's the perfect time to go outside--it's time for a couple of book recommendations.
The First Family: Terror, Extortion, Revenge, Murder and the Birth of the American Mafia by Mike Dash
Dash's book tells the story of Guiseppe "the Clutch Hand" Morello, a Sicilian immigrant who became the first "boss of bosses" in the United States. With a novelist's flair for description and rising tension, Dash entertainingly shares the story of Morello's arrival in the United States and subsequent rise in the criminal underworld before founding the first Mafia family in the US. Dash traces the unglorious rise of organized crime in the United States as newly arrived Italian immigrants blackmailed, bombed, and bludgeoned one another in the pettiest of criminal enterprises. Morello, who organized counterfeiting schemes and largely had others commit crimes under his orders, managed to avoid prosecution for years until the Secret Service set up an extensive sting operation and sent him to jail for 10 years. When Morello was finally released from prison, he became an advisor to his successor, but the world had changed around him and he died as so many of his compatriots did--at the hands of an assassin.
Batavia's Graveyard: The True Story of the Mad Heretic Who Led History's Bloodiest Mutiny by Mike Dash
Instead of the Mafia, Dash focuses on the story of a Dutch East India Company merchant vessel and the rebellion plotted by the ship's captain and one of the company's merchants. The merchant was a radical religious heretic who joined the Company to save himself from debt. The captain merely hated the expedition's leader and wanted to sleep with one of the passengers. In the midst of a profitable spice trading voyage, the two men plotted to kill most of the crew and passengers, steal the ship's store of gold and silver and live the rest of their lives outside the law. Everything was going to plan until the captain accidentally crashed the ship into shoals off the coast of Australia, stranding the crew and passengers hundreds of miles from help and food. The rest of the story just reminds you how often history is more crazy than fiction ever could be.
Tuesday, November 3, 2020
Tuesday, October 27, 2020
Traveling to New Orleans is difficult right now. The city has lots to offer visitors besides the French Quarter and Bourbon Street. We've outlined the history of City Park in the past, but since you likely won't be visiting City Park anytime soon, how about a video tour instead?
Tuesday, October 20, 2020
For years, Doug has maintained an extensive bonsai collection. In the past few years, he has taken that passion for bonsai and opened a bonsai nursery, selling trees and sharing his expertise with the general public.
Underhill Bonsai engages in educational programs on the third Thursday of every month for the public, that in light of the pandemic, have moved completely online. For those new to the world of bonsai, we have one of those videos for you all to enjoy.
Tuesday, October 13, 2020
A few weeks ago, we offered some pandemic TV recommendations--well the pandemic is still raging and we still have plenty of time to watch TV, so here are a few more TV shows that could be worth your time.
The Great (Hulu): Elle Fanning plays Catherine the Great, Russia's longest ruling in monarch, in this TV series that is very loosely based on Catherine's real life. In the show, a naive Catherine arrives in Russia full of inspiration and a desire to transform her new homeland into a progressive European power. Instead she meets her boorish fiancé, Peter (Nicholas Hoult) who is as stupid as he is cruel. What follows is a dark comedy of remarkable depth and pathos. Catherine struggles with coming to terms with her new life of courtly intrigue and the capriciousness of her odious husband. Hoult revels in Peter's harebrained scheming and portrays Peter as both a monster and a pathetic man-boy seeking his dead mother's approval. (He keeps her in a glass case in the hallway just so he can talk to her.) Surrounding Catherine are a sassy servant, a secretly idealistic courtier, a beaten-down general, and an aristocratic couple trying to keep their marriage intact as Peter carries on an affair with the wife.
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock): Ronald Moore's reimagining of the campy 1970s Star Wars-knockoff premiered in 2003 as America was in the midst of navigating our post 9-11 world. The series, set after near destruction of humanity, followed a small band of survivors on the edge of the galaxy trying to avoid death from their enemies and to rebuild humanity. With towering performances from Edward James Olmos and Mary McDonnell, BSG tackled the issues at the core of humanity's never-ending search for purpose. Episodes dealt with the morality of suicide-bombing, abortion, justice, forgiveness, the emptiness of revenge, and dealing with trauma. In four seasons, BSG pushed the boundaries of science fiction to fascinating and morally ambiguous ends, but never lost of sight of the humanity of its characters.
The Good Place (Netflix): This show, from Michael Schur (co-creator of Parks and Recreation), takes a rather high concept premise and runs with it. Kristin Bell plays a woman who is accidently sent to the “Good Place” after she dies. Only she’s not supposed to be there. Ted Danson, as a mid-level afterlife manager, reminds us why he might be the best sitcom actor ever. Over the course of its four season, the show dealt with ethical questions about humans and what we owe one another. It also presented a murders-row of characters from "Arizona dirtbag" Eleanor to Chidi, the indecisive philosopher to Tahani, the people-pleasing, name dropping socialite, and wanna-be Jacksonville DJ Jason. The Good Place will make you laugh and cry in equal measure.
Tuesday, October 6, 2020
Tuesday, September 29, 2020
Back in May, we shared some dog videos from UK announcer Andrew Cotter. Marshaling all of his announcing prowess to the task of gently mocking his dogs, Cotter has developed a loyal following, gotten a book deal, and reminded us all just how much we love our dogs--no matter how much grass they eat.
Here's a few more of his videos that have come out in the ensuing weeks. Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 22, 2020
We love Star Trek around here. Kirk, Spock, Picard, Riker, Data, Sisko, Dax, Worf. We love them all. Over the years, Star Trek has come to rely on a steady stable of tropes--the Holodeck goes crazy, Data takes over the Enterprise, Worf can't open doors, and the list goes on and on.
The intrepid YouTuber Ryan's Edits, who splices bloopers into real Star Trek scenes, has created a video detailing the biggest Star Trek trope of all--describing something as "some kind of." Enjoy!
Tuesday, September 15, 2020
The restaurant industry is at the heart of New Orleans and Louisiana. The old joke about New Orleans was that it had a thousand restaurants and only one menu--so devoted were locals and local chefs to the same creole and cajun staples that are nearly cliches--red beans and rice, jambalaya, gumbo, and shrimp étouffée.
In recent years, the New Orleans restaurant industry has seen a steady diversification of its restaurants. Alon Shaya at Shaya and then Saba offers some of the best Israeli food in the country. Nina Compton's Compere Lapin is true New Orleans fusion cooking, mixing the flavors of the Caribbean with old New Orleans favorites. Vietnamese cuisine has long been a prominent feature of the New Orleans culinary landscape. A banh mi is just a stone's throw away from a po'boy.
Since the pandemic, however, the New Orleans restaurant industry is struggling to survive. We thought we'd highlight some recent articles about the goings on in the NOLA restaurant industry.
The New Yorker had a recent piece about Compere Lapin's Nina Compton and her efforts to reopen amidst the pandemic. The article also explores Compton's rise in the context of the growing emphasis on BIPOC-owned restaurants and restauranteurs.
Ian McNulty at the Advocate wrote an obituary for chef Leon West. West, a longtime staple of the New Orleans food scene, never had a restaurant of his own, but was tremendously influential amongst the BIPOC food community in the Crescent City.
Tuesday, September 8, 2020
Tuesday, September 1, 2020
We all need things to watch and now there are a myriad of streaming services to cater to our every entertainment need. Come on in Netflix! You, Hulu, and Amazon Prime are old friends, so let's welcome some new guys to the group. HBO Max! Disney+! Whatever Quibi is ???? With all that in mind, let's go through some recommendations to keep you sane in this increasingly crazy world.
What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu): Based on the 2014 mockumentary of the same name, What We Do in the Shadows follows the story of three vampires: Nandor the Relentless, a former Ottoman soldier and married vampires Laszlo and Nadja through their mundane existence in Staten Island. Originally sent to the New World to enslave humanity, the three vampires just can't be bothered. The brilliance of this FX show is that it undermines vampire tropes at every turn. Laszlo, Nadja, and Nandor are petty and stupid with petty and stupid grudges to match. Laszlo refuses to give up a hat that is clearly cursed. Their roommate and reluctant vampire friend Craig Robinson is an energy vampire, draining the energy out of humans by being boring or frustrating, perfectly suited for corporate America. Despite the length of their stay in America, Laszlo, Nadja, and Nandor remain utterly unable to interact with humans or understand how to enslave humanity. Mostly they just want to drink blood and turn themselves into bats.
Lovecraft Country (HBO Max): This imaginative take on the writings of noted sci-fi/horror writer H.P. Lovecraft is engrossing fan fiction (in the best possible way). With an impeccable cast and production values, showrunner Misha Green has spun Lovecraft's blatant bigotry and racism into a story of black America in the 1950s where the monsters are supernatural and all too real--vigilante posses of white men, racist sheriffs, and the general awfulness of racist whites. Throw in some Lovecraftian monsters, family drama, and a mysterious silver Bentley that seems impervious to the laws of physics and you've got an intriguing and enthralling show.
Schitt's Creek (Netflix): Created by comedy legend Eugene Levy (every Christopher Guest mockumentary) and his son Daniel, the show follows the fabulously wealthy Rose family after their falling victim to a Bernie Madoff-type fraudster. Forced to live in the town of Schitt's Creek, which family patriarch Johnny had purchased as a gag years before, the family shares two rooms in a rundown motel. Along the way, they deal with wife Moira's inability to adjust to small town life, son David's neuroses and inability to give up control over anything, and daughter Alexis's hilariously fraught past running from warlords and gambling for her friends' lives. Schitt's Creek thrives on the interaction between the family and their loving, if demented dynamic. Fellow mockumentary regular Catharine O'Hara shines as Moira and Annie Murphy is wonderfully chipper as the aspiring Alexis.
Tuesday, August 25, 2020
Tuesday, August 18, 2020
As we head into the final stretch of the summer, there’s still plenty of time to read a good book or two. So here’s some recommendations for you all to enjoy.
Stealing Home by Eric Nusbaum
A former sports editor at Vice and a resident of Los Angeles, Nusbaum details the dislocation of native communities and political machinations that led to the construction of Dodger Stadium in Chavez Ravine. Nusbaum keeps his focus on the activists who fought the stadium’s construction and the Mexican families who were displayed in order to provide a new home for the recently relocated Dodgers. He begins the book with disparate narratives that weave together in a story of the triumph of business and political machines over the people who made Los Angeles their home.
Operation Mincemeat by Ben Macintyre
Ben Macintyre has carved out a career of retelling barely believable historical events with the skill of a thriller novelist. Mincemeat just might be the best of his books, telling the story of a daring operation undertaken by British intelligence during World War 2 to divert German attention away from the impending invasion of Sicily. The plan, cooked up by a small band of British officers, involved packing a dead body with intelligence documents and dropping it off the coast of Spain. There were numerous issues along the way—finding a body, producing documents to place on it, depositing it (via submarine) on the coast, and then making sure the documents made their way to the Germans. The daring plan helped change the course of World War 2.
Agent Running in the Field by John Le Carré
While Macintyre may be the master of true-life spy stories, Le Carré remains the master of fictional spies. In his latest novel, the 88 year old author spins another eminently readable and engrossing story about a disillusioned spy, his badminton partner, and a double-agent. The story is Le Carré at his most polemical—turning his literary skill full bore against the villains of the modern era—money grubbing oligarchs, their enablers in government, and the amoral post-Cold War West. While Agent Running in the Field is no Spy who Came in from the Cold or Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy le Carré remains an essential voice for sanity in an insane world.
Rebel Cinderella by Adam Hochschild
Hochschild, a founder of Mother Jones magazine, has spent the second half of his career telling the stories of political and social activists who stood against injustice. Along the way, Hochschild has examined the Belgian Congo, the birth of radical abolitionism, the anti-war movement during World War 1, and Americans who fought for the Spanish republic in the Spanish-American War. Now, Hochschild has crafted a delightful biography of Rose Pastor Stokes, an immigrant cigar roller who married into one of the wealthiest families in America. Her rise was a literal Cinderella story, but Pastor Stokes remained unrepentant socialist and embarrassed her husband’s family with her activism. Hers was a remarkable life devoted to aiding the working class and reforming American society, regardless of the personal cost.
Tuesday, August 11, 2020
Tuesday, August 4, 2020
John Kennedy Toole’s A Confederacy of Dunces is one of the great books of the modern Southern literature. Toole, died at his own hand in 1969, but thanks to the work of Walker Percy and Toole’s mother, Thelma, the book was published in 1980. Toole posthumously received the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1981. Since then the book has become one of the most widely read fiction books about New Orleans and the South.
Set in the early 1960s in New Orleans, the novel’s main character is Ignatius J. Reilly, a slovenly 30 year old man, living with his mother, who is convinced the world is arrayed against him. Well-read but utterly delusional, Reilly wages a solitary crusade against modernity. He decries the perversity of modern movies all the while spending most of his time parked in a theater seat. He sees himself as a modern day Boethius—a martyred philosopher of the Medieval period—railing against injustice. Reilly’s pyloric valve is a modern day Cassandra, warning him of upcoming dangers in his life.
Reilly does not work or drive, instead relying on his mother for support. She indulges him on account of the death of his father 21 years in the past and because of Ignatius’s intelligence. Over the course of the novel, however, Mrs. Reilly falls in love and with the support of a new best friend conspires to have Ignatius committed to a mental institution.
According to literary critics, especially those of New Orleans, Confederacy of Dunces contains the richest depictions of the city and its dialects found in modern literature. Currently, there is a bronze statue of Reilly under the clock at the 800 block of Canal Street (the site of the Hyatt French Quarter hotel). The location was the former home of the D.H. Holmes department store and the novel’s opening scene. The statue depicts Reilly, clad in his hunting cap, flannel shirt, and scarf, studying the crowd outside the store for “signs of bad taste” while waiting for his mother.
Confederacy of Dunces is a modern classic and well-worth a read from anyone who will enjoy a good laugh at its central character.
Tuesday, July 28, 2020
Tuesday, July 21, 2020
Let's pick up where we left off last week, with the less successful Star Trek films.
Star Trek Into Darkness: The second of Abrahams’ Star Trek reboot is Star Trek Growing Pains. Kirk’s arrogance and innate belief in his own abilities and decisions finally come back to haunt him. He also learns that command means he must place the needs of others above his own. Spock’s growth as a character comes from his attempts to shield himself from pain, while recognizing that sometimes one person can and must take action regardless of the consequences. While Benedict Cumberbatch offers a fun play on Khan, the film suffers, as did Abrams' Rise of Skywalker, from being a slavish imitation of a much better film.
Tuesday, July 14, 2020
As we did a few weeks ago with the Star Wars movies, it's time to update our rankings of the Star Trek movie pantheon. Last time, we did rankings by Rotten Tomatoes score, but not this time. This is our personal rankings. Here we go from best to worst. Engage.
Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country: The final voyage of the Original Cast rebounded nicely from the debacle of the Final Frontier. The film, made at the end of the Cold War, pondered the cost of the overcoming the hatred and fear that defined the longstanding conflict between the Federation and the Klingons. With Spock instigating a reconciliation between the two sides, the film provides some nice character moments for Kirk as he must put aside his prejudices and accept Spock’s humane reaction to the Klingons’ plight. Indeed many of the humans in the film advocate letting the Klingons’ die, while logical and calculating characters like Spock propose a humanitarian approach. The film presages the work of Deep Space Nine by questioning the high morals that the Star Trek franchise had set to embody. Uglying up the reputation of Starfleet gave the franchise some much needed breathing room as its high minded moralism threatened to develop into merely lectures about contemporary soceity’s inability to overcome its own parochialism. Christopher Plummer delights as the Shakespeare quoting Klingon General Chang.
Star Trek III: The Search for Spock: The Search for Spock struggled to balance the devotion of Kirk and the rest of the crew to Spock and incorporate other elements to the plot. The film begins well with Kirk and crew orchestrating the theft of the Enterprise to go and retrieve Spock’s body from the Genesis planet and reunite it with his consciousness (fittingly left in the brain of Dr. McCoy). The film drags with Christopher Lloyd’s Klingon villain. He appears out of nowhere and decides to kill Kirk and steal the Genesis device. Why? It’s never really made clear other than that he’s an evil Klingon. Most of the time spent on the Genesis planet seems to drag down the plot of the film. Even after retrieving Spock’s body and killing the villain the crew must still restore his soul. The film features the destruction of the original Enterprise and the death of Kirk’s son David at the hands of the Klingons.
Tuesday, July 7, 2020
Hochschild's illumination of the American Right's Deep Story is a necessary first step in understanding and even attempting to bridge the political and social gap in the United States.
Tuesday, June 30, 2020
The original Independence Day was a smashing financial success in the summer of 1996. It starred Will Smith (at the height of his popularity) as a brash fighter pilot out to save the world. Bill Pullman played a beleaguered American president who spawned the film's iconic moment--a speech delivered to a rag-tag group of Americans before their final stand against the aliens. Then there was Jeff Goldblum as a satellite repair technician/genius inventor who using a MacBook uploaded a computer virus into the alien mothership ensuring humanity's survival. The movie is both silly and a ridiculous spectacle, as outlined in the Honest Trailer below.
Then there was the 2016 sequel, Independence Day Resurgence. We reviewed the movie here shortly after it came out and there's some of it that's worth revisiting.
Resurgence starts out promisingly enough. Twenty years later, there's moon bases, a scarred African warlord who led an insurgency against the remaining aliens on Earth. Bill Pullman is battling psychological demons. Jeff Goldblum is there doing Jeff Goldblum things. When the movie focuses on Earth and the aftermath of the alien invasion, it hums along nicely. When the aliens show up, it goes off the rails.
There's a surfeit of characters who have precious little to do. There's a predictable veneration of China to appeal to Chinese government censors. There's a bus full of children driving around the Bonneville Salt Flats. And by the end, there's a second alien species who arrive with super-amazing technology to ally with humanity and take the fight to the aliens across the Galaxy. The only winner here is Will Smith, who wins because he refused to be in the movie in the first place.
Tuesday, June 23, 2020
Last week we started our updated look at the Star Wars movies now that the sequel trilogy is complete.
Return of the Jedi: Jedi loses some points for the middle portion of the movie, which is slowly paced and spends way too much time on the Ewoks. The opening and closing acts (freeing Han from Jabba’s palace and the Battle of Endor), however, are quintessential Star Wars. At the beginning, we see Luke putting his Jedi skills into action. (The film also suffers from sexually objectifying Carrie Fisher in her slave outfit.) The end effectively balances the space battle above Endor, the fighting on the surface, and Luke’s confrontation with Vader and the emperor. It is a fitting emotional end to Luke’s journey and his father’s redemption.
Phantom Menace: This isn’t an argument that Phantom Menace is a good movie, just that it’s better than Attack of the Clones. Phantom Menace has a fun podracing scene—ripped off from Ben-Hur, but still fun. There’s also Liam Neeson doing his best with some truly clunky George Lucas dialogue (also another Lucas weakness). Yes, Jar-Jar Binks is terrible and a racist stereotype (one of several in the film). And if you watch the film in the Machete Order (4, 5, 2, 3, 6) you can skip Phantom Menace entirely and not miss a beat. The film’s climatic duel with Obi-Wan, Qui-Gon, and Darth Maul is far and above anything in Attack of the Clones.
Rise of Skywalker: Rise of Skywalker is bad. It's a jumbled mess of fan-service moments from a filmmaker disinterested in anything but reminding you of other better moments in other better films. It also goes out of its way to trash The Last Jedi. Rise of Skywalker packs so much fan-service into a nonsensical plot that it's downright insulting. Look a cell-block escape! Chewie gets a medal! The emperor is alive (?)! Luke lifts an X-wing out of the water! C-3PO and Chewie sort of die but not really! Let's give Poe a love interest and a super-duper extra evil villain armed with a fleet of planet destroying star destroyers!
Solo: A Star Wars Story: Like the far-superior Rogue One, Solo tries to answer questions about the original trilogy that didn't need answering. Who cares where Han Solo got his name? Or how he got the Millennium Falcon? And why did we need a movie to show us that everything awesome that happened in his life came on one action-packed weekend? By the time--chronologically speaking--we get to Han Solo in a New Hope, he's less a galactic rogue and more a guy desperately trying to recreate his high school glory days.
Tuesday, June 16, 2020
A few years ago, we offered a ranking of the best Star Wars movies. Now that the sequel trilogy is complete--along with two standalone movies. It's time to update those rankings. Here we go.
1. The Empire Strikes Back: Embracing a darker tone, Empire pushes deeper into the emotional core of its characters. There’s more Han-Leia banter as the two grow to realize that they can’t stand one another but also love each other. Luke starts training to be a Jedi and risks turning to the dark side to save his imperiled friends. Darth Vader is back and more determined than ever to crush the rebellion. The Battle of Hoth rivals the destruction of both Death Stars for its scale and staging. Then there’s the famous, “No, I am your father” scene. And Han’s “I know” response to Leia’s declaration of love as he’s about to be frozen in carbonite. Sci-fi doesn’t get much better than this.
2. The Last Jedi: Rian Johnson's revisionist take on the Star Wars universe dared viewers to leave the past behind and kill it if they had to. Toxic fanboy objections aside, Johnson created a visually daring film that is so stuffed with ideas that it is both too long and too short at the same time. The brave and foolhardy actions of reckless and selfish men find themselves under examination as a gallery's worth of prominent women show their male counterparts just what leadership really looks like. And it's not sulking in exile for 20 years or jumping in the seat of an X-Wing and getting half your fleet killed. It's a story of sacrifice and passing down hard-earned lessons to a new generation of heroes.
4. Rogue One: Director Gareth Edwards has an impressive grasp of scale. He frames a Star Destroyer in the foreground with the installation of the Death Star’s super-weapon in the background. Rebel fighters crash into the front of a Star Destroyer exiting hyperspace. The film’s climatic hour succeeds where Force Awakens failed, by creating clear stakes for each part of the battle to retrieve the Death Star plans. Unfortunately, the film’s first half suffers from underdeveloped characters and a grueling slog from anonymous planet to anonymous planet that reeks of reshoots and a desire to make a film where everyone dies at the end into a family friendly adventure.