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Friday, December 30, 2016

Saying Goodbye in 2016

Written by Jon Williams

It was a cruel and heartbreaking year in the entertainment industry, with the passing of so many larger-than-life figures, so many of them in unexpected fashion. And unfortunately, 2016 ended much the same way it began. Our first blog post of the year reflected on the passing of David Bowie, and it was followed up a week later with one memorializing Alan Rickman and Glenn Frey. It got no easier from there; some of the notable names we lost in 2016 include Abe Vigoda, Harper Lee, Garry Shandling, Patty Duke, Merle Haggard, Doris Roberts, Prince, Muhammad Ali, Anton Yelchin, Elie Wiesel, Garry Marshall, Juan Gabriel, Gene Wilder, Arnold Palmer, Leonard Cohen, Leon Russell, Florence Henderson, Alan Thicke, and Zsa Zsa Gabor.

Seeing those names all listed together, it’s a pretty stark list of so many talented people. And sadly, even the holiday season offered no respite. On December 24 we lost Richard Adams, author of the classic Watership Down (which George R.R. Martin called “one of the three great fantasy novels of the twentieth century”) as well as several other well-received novels. Then, the next day, came the passing of pop superstar George Michael, a groundbreaking figure in popular culture who won a Grammy Award for Album of the Year for his debut solo album, 1987’s Faith.

On Monday of this week, Carrie Fisher passed away. Fisher, of course, will forever be most associated with her role playing Princess Leia in Star Wars Episodes IV-VI, and then later in The Force Awakens, but there was much more to her than just that one role, iconic as it may be. In addition to her acting career, she was also an acclaimed writer, responsible for the semi-autobiographical novel Postcards from the Edge, as well as the screenplay for the film starring Meryl Streep and Shirley MacLaine. Her one-woman show Wishful Drinking was turned into a successful book, and her most recent memoir, The Princess Diarist, was released earlier this year. What many fans don’t know is that she put her writing talent to good use during her Hollywood career, serving as an uncredited “script doctor” to punch up dialogue for such films as the Star Wars prequels, Hook, Sister Act, Scream 3, and The Wedding Singer, among others.

What makes the story even sadder is that Fisher’s mother, Debbie Reynolds, passed away just one day later. An actress, singer, and dancer, Reynolds earned a Golden Globe nomination at the age of 18 for Most Promising Newcomer, and her breakout came when she starred opposite Gene Kelly in 1952’s Singin’ in the Rain. She followed that up with roles in films like The Affairs of Dobie Gillis, Bundle of Joy, and The Unsinkable Molly Brown. More recent performances included a recurring role on Will & Grace and as Liberace’s mother in Behind the Candelabra. She even did some voice acting, starting with Charlotte’s Web in 1973 and continuing through The Penguins of Madagascar. The relationship between Reynolds and Fisher is explored in the documentary Bright Lights, which will air on HBO next month.

As we get set to watch the ball drop on 2016 this weekend, we can only hope that the coming year will be a kinder one. In the meantime, libraries can help keep the memories of all these wonderful performers alive by sharing with patrons the incredible work they left behind.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

The Force Is Strong with Rogue One

Written by Jon Williams

Last week, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story rolled into theatres, thrilling fans eagerly anticipating the franchise’s first standalone movie. It has dominated the box office since then, earning more than $350 million worldwide with another big weekend coming up. While the movie won’t be available on DVD and Blu-ray for a while, fans can relive the excitement with the novelization (also available for younger listeners). With such popularity, patrons are sure to be interested in exploring not just the story surrounding the movie, but other movies from the new cast as well.

The first place to start is with James Luceno’s novel Catalyst, which ties directly into Rogue One. It tells the story of brilliant scientist Galen Erso and how he is pulled into the Death Star project by Director Orson Krennic. In 2014, Luceno also wrote the novel Tarkin, detailing the early career of another character who figures prominently in Rogue One, as well as the original Star Wars movie, 1977’s Episode IV: A New Hope.

One “new” character introduced in Rogue One is Saw Gerrera, the leader of a Rebel extremist group. “New” is in quotation marks, of course, because the character isn’t actually new at all. He first appeared four years ago in the fifth season of Star Wars: The Clone Wars, the animated series that bridged the gap between Episodes II and III, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. At that time, he was a young militant being trained by the likes of Anakin Skywalker; his older, more experienced self will soon be joining this season of Star Wars: Rebels, voiced by acclaimed actor Forest Whitaker, who portrays him in Rogue One.

Gerrera’s function in the movie is to bring together the band of rebels who will attempt to steal the Death Star plans. He can serve this function because he was once a mentor to young Jyn Erso, daughter of the aforementioned Galen Erso, who helped design the Death Star’s weapons system. Jyn is played by Felicity Jones, who won an Academy Award for her performance in 2014’s The Theory of Everything and has also appeared in such films as Inferno and The Amazing Spider-Man 2.

Bringing Jyn into the Rebellion and leading the mission to help her find her father is Captain Cassian Andor, played by Diego Luna. Acting from a young age, Luna is an acting staple to Mexican audiences. He was in the acclaimed film Y Tu Mama Tambien as well as the sci-fi film Elysium, among others. Andor in the film is accompanied by a droid sidekick, K-2SO, played in a motion-capture performance by Alan Tudyk. This was not his first robot portrayal, as he also played Sonny in I, Robot. A prolific comic actor, Tudyk starred as one of the title pair in Tucker and Dale vs. Evil, and also as Steve the Pirate in Dodgeball.

Throwing in on the mission as well are the one-two punch of Chirrut Îmwe and Baze Malbus. Îmwe is a blind devotee of the Force who nonetheless is a valuable fighter. He’s played by Donnie Yen, a martial arts master who has starred in such films as Hero and the Ip Man trilogy. Malbus is his gun-toting companion who serves as his protector on the rare occasions when he needs one. Jiang Wen is an acclaimed Chinese actor and filmmaker; Rogue One is his first film produced primarily for an English-speaking audience.

The last member of the team, getting them from place to place, is the defected Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed. Ahmed was seen most recently in the hit HBO series The Night Of, and he also starred opposite Jake Gyllenhaal in Nightcrawler. He also features as a rapper (under the name Riz MC) on the Hamilton Mixtape. Needless to say, the past couple of weeks have been phenomenal for his career.

Opposing the Rebels in their efforts is Imperial officer Orson Krennic, overseer of the Death Star construction project. He’s played by Ben Mendelsohn, an Australian actor who has won an Emmy Award for his performance in Netflix’s Bloodline. He also appeared in The Dark Knight Rises, and will star as the Sheriff of Nottingham in the upcoming Robin Hood. And of course, a Star Wars movie dealing with the Rebellion against the Empire will be haunted by the specter of Darth Vader. The Dark Lord of the Sith does appear briefly in Rogue One, with his familiar forbidding voice being provided once again by James Earl Jones.

Fans who loved Rogue One will have all this to explore, and there’s always plenty to enjoy from the ever-expanding galaxy far, far away. SmartBrowse Star Wars on our website to find all the movies and TV series, not to mention soundtracks and audiobooks. In addition, patrons can head over to hoopla digital for a collection of eBooks and comics that they can enjoy right away on their smartphones or tablets.