Monday, July 4, 2016

Mike Reviews the Latest Star Wars Movie

Let’s be honest. As a Star Wars fan, I’ve been hurt before. When the Prequels first appeared, I was as happy as everyone else, and I clung to the fantasy that those movies were good perhaps a little longer than other people. Soon, however, reality snuck up, and with Episode 3, I had to admit that Lucas had, in fact, let us down.

And so, I rejoiced when George finally decided to hand over the rights. Finally! We had a chance at redemption! The inclusion of JJ Abrams was also a positive. I’ve been an on and off fan of his as well. If JJ could rein in some of his tendencies, then we might just have a chance. (For the unaware, JJ Abrams loves mysteries . . . but he doesn’t like solving them or explaining them; as a result, many of his revelations are either absent or disappointing).

But then word started to leak. Sure, the old cast would be back, but so would the Empire. And the Rebellion. And, oh yeah, peace hasn’t come to the galaxy. This worried me, because more than anything else in the original series, the thing I loved the most was the happy ending. The bad guys were beaten, the heroes had found love or closure, and some characters even found redemption. It was perfect (well, perfect enough).

The Star Wars kid in all of us.
With this stark news, I couldn’t get excited. I refused. I was a tense, angry, frustrated fan that was still going to see it opening day . . . but there was no way I would be fooled again. I drew a line in the sand and swore that if the new movie crossed it, I would reject it and storm out of the theater. Some friends pointed out that I might be going about things the wrong way. And they were probably right.

Regardless, opening day I was there with my son. The opening scroll started, and I was a kid again, against my will. And to my surprise, I found myself happily laughing, clapping, and even cheering along with the film. As the film wound towards the final scenes, I found myself loving it dearly. But then . . . something happened.

It’s been months, so chances are you already know what happened. But just in case, SPOILERS lie ahead, young Padawan.


One of Star Wars' many Prerequisite Bottomless Pits
Throughout the film we discover that the new villain, a whiny emo clone of Darth Vader (who is oddly fun to watch), is actually the son of heroes Han and Leia. As the heroes rush towards the final battle, Han decides to try and save his son with an ill-advised heart to heart on a narrow bridge over the prerequisite bottomless pit. Things don’t go as planned, however, and the almost touching moment ends with Han being stabbed through the heart with a light-saber and then dropping into the conveniently located pit below.

I was mortified. This film, which had so skillfully coaxed out the young and exuberant Star Wars fan inside this man, suddenly, ruthlessly and traumatically murdered his childhood hero before his eyes. It’s like getting a beautifully wrapped present on your birthday just to find a decapitated head inside. My son was equally horrified. I was numb throughout the rest of the movie. Sure, there were some cool moments; I vaguely remember a light-saber fight, a big celebratory ending, and even some swelling music at some point. But my mind kept going back to that one horrifying moment, as Han tried to connect with his son, just to get a badly designed light-saber in the chest for his trouble.

The rest of the movie was a dull, emotionless blur for me. I was devastated, horrified, and angry. This wasn’t how Han decided to go out. He was a hero, dammit! He had earned a happy ending! At very least, as a rogue, hero, and true friend, he deserved to go out in a blaze of glory defending his friends: a kamikaze run for the ages. Instead we get a badly lit lifetime moment followed by millions of Star Wars fans crying out.

It’s hard to get past this moment. I’ve seen the film 3 times now, and all in all, I think my feelings for it lean positive. I like the new characters, though their pasts are all shrouded in Abrams' usual fog of mystery. The existence, motivations, and even structure of the villain is shady and unclear as is the need for the new rebellion. I’m confused why the galaxy would need a non-government run “Resistance” to fight what appears to be a rogue terrorist group. Rey, the new main character, is strong and compelling though it’s hard to imagine that the answers to her past will be as interesting as the mystery itself.

Abrams and THE star of Star Wars
The return of practical effects was welcome, and the return of old characters was wonderful. The film, on the whole, is a love letter to the old films. It’s when Abrams tries to move the Star Wars universe toward his vision that the movie struggles; not so much that his vision betrays the old films, but in that this new direction lacks the logic, reasoning, and emotion that served as foundation of the original trilogy.

In the end, it’s the death of Han and the method in which the film chose to do it that feels the most out of place. While I feel I understand the choices and what function the event serves in the story, the method in which it was carried out felt excessive and cruel. The film was looking for a shocking moment to sell it, and it found one; unfortunately, it may have lost some of the more sensitive fans along the way.

So, if you’re looking for a fun romp in the Star Wars universe, the new film may just be for you. But if the happy ending of Jedi means anything to you, you might want to stop there.

You can read more reviews by Mike (and about Star Wars) here

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Star Wars as Cultural Phenomenon: Scrubs and Phineas and Ferb

Scrubs is one of those shows that I rarely watch on purpose but always enjoy when I run across it by accident.

"My Two Dads" pits Dr. Dorian's two mentors against each other. Dr. Cox, naturally, is Ben Kenobi (all in white). Dr. Kelso is Darth Vader, all in black!

Scrubs is a natural recipient of Star Wars iconography. The essence of the show is Zach Dorian's imaginative responses to everyday life, an imagination that is heavily informed by popular culture. He demonstrates a true mix of high, low, urban, and everything else culture, distilled into one mindset.

The comparison of Dr. Cox to Kenobi and Dr. Kelso to Vader is doubly interesting because it remains flexible. Just as Vader proves ambiguous in later movies, Dr. Kelso proves to have multiple sides. His bottom-line ideology is based on reality: treating patients costs. Dr. Cox, although the more likable . . . ah . . . appealing man, is too adamant, too much a zealot. While adopting Dr. Cox's patient-oriented philosophy, Zach eventually becomes more well-rounded than his chosen mentor; his compassion will eventually enfold even Dr. Kelso.

The imagery is great! As Zach says, "It's an old story." And I love Dr. Cox's beard!!

I had never seen Phineas and Ferb. Ah, the life of a person without cable. 

My favorite part of "The Chronicles of Meap" is when the evil (random) carpet guy keeps saying, "But that's another back-story. Well, that's another back-story." It reminds me of superheroes--you want to "get" this character? Here's a billion back-stories!

I also like Ferb's British accent: "Well, it occurs to me that perhaps not all of the modifications I made are technically street legal." And I love Phineas's nonchalant attitude towards being threatened: "Hi!" 

There's multiple sci-fi references: Back to the Future, Star Wars (of course), and Star Trek (slingshot around the sun, universal translator) plus ET. Regarding Star Wars, there is the non-round space station, "I am NOT your father," not to mention the Yoda-like fighting of Meap!

Like any good cultural phenomenon, Star Wars has seeped into our lives; although this list has addressed many deliberate uses of Star Wars, it ends with shows that take the movie's influence for granted. Doesn't everybody know what a light-saber is?

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Star Wars Visits X-Files

"Small Potatoes" and "Jose Chung's From Outer Space" are two of X-Files' funniest episodes.

Darin Morgan stars in "Small Potatoes" (written by Vince Gilligan) and wrote "Jose Chung's" (starring, well, everybody). Morgan's stories inject an everyman quality into X-Files, even into the edgy Mulder.

"Small Potatoes" begins with multiple Star Wars references (we even get to hear the theme: da dum dadada DA dum). After all, Eddie "wooed" his high school girlfriend by transforming into Luke Skywalker. However, in all honesty, Star Wars is only slightly referenced (directly; more on indirect references later). In fact, "Small Potatoes" is one of X-Files' human interest episodes; although the concept (a man can transform physically into others) is fanciful, the explanation/pay-off is not rooted in either futuristic science or government conspiracies.

Joseph Campbell's Monomyth
It is rooted, rather, in the human dream of transcendence.

Eddie IS Luke Skywalker, albeit an unsuccessful one who never gets off Tatooine. He wants to be called to greatness/adventure, only it doesn't seem to ever quite happen. The twist: when he does cross the threshold (becomes Mulder), he discovers that Mulder has disappeared into Tatooine's basement.

Applying Joseph Campbell's monomyth here is apropos. Star Wars IV's success can be traced to its homage to Campbell, specifically Campbell's interpretation of the ancient hero's classic journey. Humans love the hero's arc and tell it over and over again, much as Eddie (and his high school girlfriend) went to see Star Wars over and over again.

At the end of "Small Potatoes," Eddie advises Mulder to "live alittle." After all, Eddie made more progress with Scully, simply by talking to her, than Mulder had in four years. Even Mulder confesses, "I'm no Eddie Van Blundht" (the "h" is silent).

The episode truly is more about the emotional aspects of the hero's journey than that same journey's fantastical accompaniments.

In comparison, "Jose Chung's" is chuck-full of sci-fi references, starting with Star Wars, specifically the opening shot of the Star Destroyer! Another ship, the Millennium Falcon, appears in Blaine's bedroom. In keeping with the Star Wars references, this episode focuses on the fantasy or space opera side of sci-fi rather than the hardcore side of sci-fi.  

X-Files, surprisingly enough, usually relies on the hardcore side. In this case, the fantasy side shows through. Roky is obsessed with the mystical side of his imagined aliens, who speak using "thees" and "thous." Lieutenant Shaefer creates a Close Encounters of the Third Kind mountain out of his mash potatoes (and there's a film completely rooted in  non-reality). And Jose Chung ends by contemplating why we humans love to look to the skies: What hopes and dreams do we hope to satisfy? We may love sci-fi for its fast travel and medical advances, but what's the other, deeper, reason?

In many ways, both episodes tackle the same questions raised in Fanboys, although from a very different angle.

And, of course, both are just gosh darn funny. From "Jose Chung's":

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Star Wars in Disney--Well, Pixar: Toy Story 2

MIKE SAYS Toy Story 2 is, on its own, a great film.  An extraordinary film, actually, especially for a children's movie.  Add it together with the other movies in the series and you get one of the most well-rounded, tightly woven and best-written trilogies ever made.

While -he film is by and large its own, self-contained and original story, the chance to play with Star Wars references, especially with the robotic Zurg, was just too good to pass up. Perhaps the coolest thing about this reference was its rarity.  At the time, pop culture references were fairly new, especially a direct shout out.  Disney and Pixar certainly led the charge on this, with Aladdin, Lion King, and others.

Since then, pop culture references have become rather commonplace, almost expected, and they have lost  a lot of their former luster.  While the references were fun surprises, it's important to note just what these references communicated:  the people who made this movie are products of the same culture as the audience themselves;  this is a film made by and for film junkies.  Which just makes it feel all that more personal.

Writing this review from the perspective of Fatherhood is difficult;  I love the film, and I would list it among the best children's movies of all time.  At the same time, I could probably go another ten years without the need to watch it.  This is probably due to my children watching it repeatedly.

But I still identify with the film:  The idea of nostalgic value being more important than monetary value, and the idea of preserving important aspects of our childhood.  For me, Star Wars will always be one of those childhood memories that will always have a special place in my heart.  Which may be why the Toy Story movies resonate so well:  they tap into those memories that most powerfully take us back to childhood.  

KATE SAYS this film is brilliant. It is one of those movies that has everything: a strong story with an actual ethical dilemma; clever dialog; engaging characters; and lots of spot-on cultural allusions that nevertheless don't overwhelm the story.

One of those great Pixar moments that make you cheer while
breaking your heart.
Before I get to the allusions, I must make a few shout-outs.

First, the story. The strength of Toy Story 2 is that Woody's dilemma is a real one. The "bad" side is not immediately obvious. The pros for going to the museum, lasting forever, giving generations of children (in the broad sense) something to look at and delight in combine to form a powerful argument. Woody has to fall back not on some easy answer but on his own sense of ethics. He also has to think outside the "box" (ha ha; sorry, more on this later) to deal with Jessie and Bullseye. Considering that this is a child's film, the philosophical debates at work are quite impressive.

Second, the dialog. It's hilarious and full of puns. At one point, Woody cries, "Stinky Pete, you're out of your box!" a great riff on "You're out of your mind." Also, like the first movie, Toy Story 2 contains neat little jokes that may go over a kid's head but make an adult yelp with laughter: my favorite from Toy Story is Rex's explanation of his origins:
REX: And I'm from Mattel. Well, I'm not really from Mattel, I'm actually from a smaller company that was purchased by Mattel in a leveraged buyout.
The excellently cast Wayne Knight.
The characters are just as strong as in the first movie. I love the "cameo" of the "Cleaner" (he's the guy from the Pixar short who plays chess against himself). Naturally, Tom Hanks and Tim Allen are excellent as well as lovable John Ratzenberger, but I have to give huge shout-outs to newcomers Kesley Grammer and Wayne Knight. Wayne Knight is so perfectly drawn and voiced, I feel like I'm watching, well, that guy from Jurassic Park.

Speaking of Jurassic Park . . . but no, I'll let you find that awesome movie allusion yourself.

There are, of course, a number of great Star Wars references. The opening sequence is more generic sci-fi than Star Wars-specific. However, there are a few very Star Wars-y moments and sounds. And it is just about the longest set-up for a truly great pay-off I've ever seen in a movie. The pay-off doesn't come until almost the very end with the release of Evil Emperor Zurg (played by James Earl Jones' sound-alike, Andrew Stanton). It is totally worth it!

This kind of thing--constant allusions to outside media and current events--has become de rigeur in movie and television scripts in the last few years. Such allusions run the risk of eclipsing the story, but Toy Story 2 combines its allusions so effortlessly with plot, characters, and gentle spirit, nothing is lost.

And what a great way to put one's Star Wars knowledge to use! I've always said it's worthwhile knowing one's popular culture!!

Monday, November 18, 2013

Star Wars as Comedy: That 70's Show & Friends

KATE SAYS everybody does the scrolled words!

That 70's Show is one of those shows that I enjoy but don't watch that often. However, I happen to adore Kurtwood Smith and consider Debra Jo Rupp one of the funniest comediennes on television. Interestingly enough, she shows up in our other sitcom as Phoebe's sister-in-law.

Subsequently, my favorite episodes from That 70's Show highlight the dad and mom characters. And Smith makes an awesome Obi Wan Kenobi. In general, I think the "adults" on the show far funnier than the "kids" though Topher Grace does make a good, believable Luke.

Regarding Friends . . . well, Mike will have to speak to the Princess Leia fantasy. In general, I like Friends' episodes that highlight Monica and Chandler far more than I like episodes that highlight Rachel and Ross. This episode happens to fall in the season where Ross and Rachel eventually break up (for the first time) because of their ridiculous, infantile personalities. So it's kind of hard to watch.

Which doesn't mean I didn't enjoy it; Friends is so well-written, it is hard not to enjoy. And the episode did send me back to Return of the Jedi for possibly the first time in about 20 years.

And . . . I decided that although Return of the Jedi is better by far than Lucas's prequels (the story is at least a narrative about individuals rather than a badly-written "political" drama), I still hate the Ewoks. Even as a teen, I found the idea of winning a war with teddy bears absolutely ridiculous. As an adult, let me tell you, wooden spears and Tarzan ropes will NOT win against armor and freaking big guns. It just don't happen.

Outside their relationship to Star Wars, however, both sitcoms hit a nerve/raise an issue with me: the idea that sci-fi is ONLY the province of geeky males. I suppose this is true enough to make it sitcom fodder (even on Big Bang Theory, for shame). But since I'm a fan of such writers as Connie Willis, C.J. Cherryh, and Diana Wynne Jones, I get tired of the assumption that women are NEVER interested in sci-fi.

And yet . . . having written the above, I have to admit, I prefer my sci-fi people-oriented to machine-oriented (although I still consider Iron Man one of the best of the Marvel movies). And I completely support the idea that woman/male interests are not merely due to social conditioning; brain-wiring, hormones/physical development are also factors.

On the other other hand, rather than argue that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, I agree with those who contend that men are from North Dakota and women are from South Dakota. Or, at least, North Vulcan and South Vulcan.

MIKE SAYS this post is so late, I probably shouldn't comment on it. I could go on explaining a whole lot of stuff, or, I could apologize, so, I'm sorry!

The Friends episode took me back;  the Ross/Rachel relationship was the talk of the hallways in school, and the whole will they/won't they thing was the stuff of legend. After watching the episode, I'm not sure what surprised me more: how much I remembered of what was going on, or just how much they crammed into one episode!  Each character, with the exception of Phoebe, had their own little arc, though the Leia fantasy was little more than a running gag.  Star Wars in general wasn't really mentioned.

 As far as the Princess Leia fantasy goes, well, to be honest, my first viewing of this episode back in the 90's may have been the first time it ever occurred to me to think of Leia or the golden bikini in that way.  And in the years since, well, Carrie Fisher isn't really my type.  As such, I can't really speak to the whole gold bikini fantasy other than this:  For most guys my age, Leia was the first character we saw in such a state of undress, and well, she kicked some serious butt in the meantime. So it's easy to see how that might be the first real fantasy of a lot of guys... though I think it'd take a pretty adventurous and non-judgmental woman to fulfill that for them.

That 70's Show has become a favorite in my house in the last few months.  Not only is it witty, fun, and nostalgic, but it's great to see how some ideas, worries, and dumb decisions really are timeless.  The episode about Star Wars strikes me on numerous levels.... like the shoe string budget of the dream sequence.  The cool thing is that I actually owned the remote control light saber that Eric uses in the sequence (which was a model of The Return of the Jedi saber).

Between the two episodes, Star Wars fuels fantasies that affect how we see the world, which is really what fiction and film is all about.  The whole point is that we might be able to see our lives in more exciting way, and see news ways of facing our fears.  Star Wars is one of the best ways to do this, especially for those whose lives aren't nearly as... fulfilling.

The best advice that I gleaned from these episodes may be this:  If you ever fantasize about being a character in Star Wars, it may be better for everyone if you keep it to yourself.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Star Wars as Pop Sci-Fi and Space Opera: The Fifth Element

MIKE SAYS The Fifth Element is possibly one of the weirdest film we've ever reviewed.  A product of the late 90's, the film instantly confused most of the people who saw it, became a moderate financial success, and then went on to become a cult favorite.  If anything, the film is a great example of the Pop Sci-Fi trend of the time, in which filmmakers were struggling to find a way to make sci-fi new and exciting again, which was achieved by finding foreign directors, which definitely put a fresh spin on things... at least for Americans.

Everything about The Fifth Element starts falling into context when it's viewed as a foreign film, particularly as a French film.  The color pallet, the mix of comedy and action, and the completely incomprehensible plot all scream European sci-fi.  In fact, introduce a slightly muted color pallet, and I've just described an episode of Doctor Who.

The muddled plot of the film still haunts me to this day....between the weird talking comet threatening to destroy the planet, an alien weapon whose purpose and function are never truly explained, and the very fuzzy origins of Leelo (who may or may not have been the alien driving the spaceship instead of the stone slab), dwelling on the plot of The Fifth Element is an excellent way to get a headache.

Despite this, the film oozes fun, using humor, often in extreme ways, and action to deliver a film that while confusing, certainly entertains.

As far as any similarities to Star Wars, the only connection I can see is that both fall into the category of Pop Sci-fi, a genre which Star Wars practically gave birth to. While Star Wars is often debated as a deep and meaningful exploration of mythology and archetypes, in the end what made it popular was its generous use of special effects, its universal appeal and accessibility, and its focus on action instead of plot (much of which I still credit the editor for, rather than Lucas).

To say The Fifth Element was hoping to be the next Star Wars may not be entirely accurate, but it may not be far off either.  With mystical origins, a large universe to explore, a literal Death Star, and an empowered hero, the film does have a lot of the same great elements of Star Wars, though to think these were entirely on purpose is probably a stretch..

While this movie has missed the boat on being the next great hero of Pop Sci-Fi (largely due, I think, to the nonsensical plot),  it still remains a very entertaining, though very odd, example of the sub-genre.

KATE SAYS the best way to describe The Fifth Element is lush--which (perhaps unfairly) pushes it towards the fantasy rather than sci-fi genre.

Opera IN Space
Not that sci-fi can't be lush. The Fifth Element is visually similar to Blade Runner meets Doctor Who (with a Stargate opening), all three of which are technically sci-fi. Yet the lack of technobabble and core of mysticism place it closer to the fantasy line.

Since space is involved, Space Opera is the useful term here.

"Space Opera" is possibly the only resemblance The Fifth Element bears to Star Wars. However, I think the resemblance is an important one. Sci-fi, almost from its beginnings, fell into both fantasy/adventure (Edgar Rice Burroughs) and technology revolution (Asimov) genres. Star Wars melded the two with fantasy/adventure taking precedence. Through Joseph Campbell's analysis, this approach to sci-fi (big spaceships plus priests) was legitimatized and well-crystallized for later use.

Other than the Jedi-like (and adorable) priests (aah, Ian Holm!), the other resemblance to Star Wars seems to be the intense use of British extras. I mean--okay, there's Gary Oldman again doing his Gary Oldman thing. I've mentioned Ian Holm. John Neville makes a sneaky appearance, looking rather unlike himself. And then the non-English Luke Perry just drops in.

All this off-the-cuff WAIT! WHO WAS THAT? makes for an utterly fun and amusing film. It's a little longer than it needs to be, but it almost doesn't matter. Watching The Fifth Element is rather like watching Moulin Rouge. You look up and hey, they're doing another number! (Actually, parts of it are a LOT like Moulin Rouge. It did not surprise me to learn that Les Besson, a French director, has made several music videos.)

And of course, Bruce Willis is excellent as always--he's more the character from RED than from Die Hard.  Hero-smhero: the guy can do sci-fi action in his sleep.

Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Star Wars Copied? Battlestar Galatica (1978)

KATE SAYS this television movie was far, far, far less hooky than I'd anticipated. In many ways, it reminded me more of Forbidden Planet's story and look than either Star Trek or Star Wars, especially the pristine special effects (more on both Star Trek and Star Wars later).

Mostly, I was impressed by how much 2003 Battlestar Galatica relied on the original to create its remake. There's the ship's design; the carrier-landing approach to incoming spacecraft; the complex political situation; the mix of sci-fi and mysticism. Characters even use made-up swear words (Starbucks says, "Frack!" once).

I have to give kudos to Battlestar Galatica's 2003 producers for truly respecting the original (at least in the first season, which is all I've seen; the show got too soap-opery for me in the following seasons; however, I plan to give the original series a try!).

Two major differences between 2003 and 1978: human Cylons in 2003, which I greatly prefer. Give me elegant androids any day over clunky robots. 

And a male Starbuck in 1978 (though the female and male Starbucks have similar personalities). The switch in gender says something about changing times; on the other hand, women are impressively omnipresent on the 1978 battleship as are blacks: it isn't just a white male person's future.

And what a cast! Wilfrid Hyde-White shows up. Wilfrid Hyde-White is one of my favorite British actors of the mid-twentieth century. I know him best from Columbo and Agatha Christie's Ten Little Indians. His voice is instantly recognizable.

The 1978 cast includes another Columbo graduate, Ray Milland (yes, okay, he is better known for Dial M for Murder). Milland was an expert at playing snarky characters who are more slimy than totally evil.

So I really enjoyed the movie.

As for the Star Wars copyright infringements, the only similarities I saw were visual as in the weapons and the ships. I suppose if I had designed stuff for Star Wars and it then showed up on Battlestar, I might get a little peeved (although the Battlestar folks argued that the Star Wars folks stole everything from them in the first place). But my personal reaction was that Battlestar Galatica was likely influenced as much by NASA and Star Trek as anything else (in fact, the movie kind of turns into a Star Trek episode at the mid-way point). And they all owe something to 1956 Forbidden Planet.

Did Lucas et al. really think they'd invented sci-fi?

Okay, bad question. Lucas might actually think that.

But I agree with the final ruling.

MIKE SAYS first off, I should apologize.  If any of you out there in Internet land are still reading, we've been on a month or more of Unannounced Hiatus, mostly due to my summer suddenly becoming AWESOME.  In the last few weeks, I've been camping twice, once at a water park; I've been to Maine and back (where I grabbed a quick lunch with Kate!), and just this last weekend, I went to the inaugural Salt Lake Comic-con where I got to meet Stan Lee.  School has also started, along with my annual Bump up to a 60 hours/week.  To say the last month has been busy would be, well, fairly accurate.

Fitting a viewing of the very long BattleStar pilot into these events, especially with 4 other people sharing my television, made it even harder.  What I discovered, to my delight, is that Battlestar was actually very well made and written.  And, as Kate mentions above, the extent to which the new series honors the original is truly astounding.

The pilot starts off fairly mellow, but events escalate quickly, and it's not long before Humanity is on the run from the Cylons. What I really enjoyed about the show is the grand sense of mythology behind the Battlestar world.  There's a complicated past that may or may not be connected to our own. The story plugs so many different little tastes of cultures and histories that it carries alot of depth.  With names taken from Greek mythology, Christianity, and even hints at African and Egyptian heritage (check out the fighter pilot helmets again to see what I mean!), the world of Galactica is certainly rich with potential.

The opening movie certainly does its best to tap into this potential, and it gets mixed results.  The story certainly has punch in certain moments; the fall of the colonies, and the death of Adama's family certainly help with this.  The action comes in fits and starts, but is mostly satisfying.  Perhaps the biggest detraction to the opening film is the pacing, which certainly plays more like several episodes instead of a movie proper.

The smaller arcs are a bit distracting, especially with the overarching linking story.  While the killer casino world makes for a great Trek episode, it felt awkward here, as if Battlestar was trying to establish itself as several different types of series in order to have options later.

In many ways, the modern show really is an improvement, as the plot is much tighter, the motivation of the enemies much clearer, and the plight of the humans is so much more believable.  Other modern non-Trek sci-fi shows, such as Babylon 5 and even Stargate Universe seem to take more pages from Battlestar than Trek, and do a better job capitalizing on the idea and themes.

As for the Star Wars connection, well aside from a couple aesthetic choices, I really don't see much of a connection.  While there are similarities, such as smaller fighter ships that break of the big ship, robotic helmets, and a human race of non-earth origins, this may be more due to the times than any creative theft.  Chariot of the Gods, Star Trek, A Space Odyssey, and many other landmark sci-fi franchises had all surfaced in the previous decade, and the country was still high off several Moon missions, and was preparing, very soon, to begin the Space Shuttle program.

This time period was rife with symbolic sci-fi, and the use of space to explain the purpose of life was more the norm than the exception.  If anything, I think the lawsuite was the product of financial greed and worry; the folks behind Star Wars were concerned about their bet paying off, and they were afraid audiences would get confused.  As even Asimov himself claimed that Battlestar was nothing but a blatant rip-off, it becomes easier to see their concern, as unwarranted as it was.