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Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker — Can J.J. Abrams stick the landing?

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Will the Dark Side of Star Wars fandom accept J.J. Abrams’ latest?


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This December, after a staggering 42 years, the Star Wars trilogy of trilogies comes to a close. With J.J. Abrams once again at the helm, the ironically titled Rise of Skywalker marks the end of the nine-movie Skywalker saga. 

Here’s the big question: Can Abrams stick the landing? After his generally well-received first Star Wars effort, The Force Awakens, and the decidedly controversial Rian Johnson follow-up, The Last Jedi, Abrams has the chance to send the trilogy — and the entire series — out on a high note. Maybe the highest note. 

No pressure. 

Can he do it? Will he tell a story that’s at once thrilling and satisfying? Give us answers to burning questions? Drop a few surprises along the way? 

Let’s discuss. Don’t worry, no spoilers. But to fully understand my predictions and perspective, you need to know me a little better. Here, then, is my Star Wars origin story. 

It’s 1977. I’m 9 years old and dragging behind my parents, who have told me nothing about the movie we’re about to see. Star … Wars? Sounds wholly uninteresting. Granted, movies hadn’t yet played a formative role in my life. I remember laughing at Gene Wilder and Richard Pryor in Silver Streak and Burt Reynolds in Smokey and the Bandit. In fact, the latter opened the same weekend as Star Wars, and I’m sure I saw it first. 

But on that fateful day, I’d experienced precious little science fiction, save perhaps for a few Star Trek reruns. I liked the spaceships, sure, but beyond that it held little appeal. Hence it was a very glum little Ricky who plopped down in his seat. No runaway trains? No Trans-Ams? No, thanks. 

I don’t remember how long it took for my brain to catch fire. Was it when the Laurel and Hardy robots strolled through a flurry of blaster fire, causing the theater to erupt with laughter? Or when the monstrous figure in a black cape hoisted a man by the neck, causing a collective gasp? My overall memories of that first viewing are a blur, but I know this for certain: Two hours later, I emerged transformed. Overnight my world became Star Wars and every ancillary aspect of it: computers, robots, technology, outer space, spaceships, movie tie-in books, magazines, action figures, soundtracks. 

I distinctly remember going batshit crazy when a TV commercial announced The Star Wars Holiday Special. (Little did I know what I was in for.) I distinctly remember arguing with friends who insisted the movie was fantasy, not science fiction. (Technically, they were right — because The Force — but they were also snobby dorks. When I think of sci-fi, I think of Star Wars.) 

Flash-forward to 1999. I’m 31 and, like everyone else on the planet, holding a ticket to see The Phantom Menace, the first of three Star Wars prequels. Three! If the original movies looked incredible with 70s and 80s technology, imagine how they’d look on the cusp of the 21st century. 

Two hours later, I emerged… well, like everyone else on the planet, confused and disappointed. What… the hell… was that? Trade disputes? Midichlorians? Jake Lloyd? 

Eh, OK, even George Lucas can whiff once in a while. He’ll pull it together for Attack of the Clones. And Revenge of the Sith.

Nope. And nope. I’m not saying the prequels are bad, just that I have no desire to watch them ever again. They’re dull and soulless and dumb and I hate them I hate them I hate them. 

Flash-forward to 2015. Star Wars continues! Blessedly, with George Lucas’ misguided pen nowhere in sight. Instead, The Force would reawaken under the careful eye of J.J. Abrams, the man behind Alias, Lost, an excellent Mission: Impossible outing and a damn fine Star Trek reboot. This is gonna be good. 

But it wasn’t good. Although The Force Awakens had more nuance in its pinky toe than all three prequels combined, it gave us flat characters and a nonsensical (to say nothing of rehashed) plot. It asked us to love Rey and Finn not because we felt for them or identified with them, but simply because they were the stars of a Star Wars movie. Nothing about the story felt organic; instead, we were force-fed (sorry) our heroes, villains and plot points. The Millennium Falcon is just sitting around with the keys in the ignition? Finn and Poe Dameron are BFFs after spending, what, five minutes together? And, come on, another Death Star? 


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I won’t say much about The Last Jedi, because that was a Rian Johnson joint and we’re here to talk about Abrams’ latest. I’ll give it praise for at least trying to mix up the formula, even if it failed miserably at times. Its worst offense: turning our innocent Tatooine farmboy-cum-Jedi, our beloved hero, into a dick. If you’re going to dig up Luke Skywalker, don’t make him grumpy and unlikable. And if you’re going to kill him at the end, figure out a way to do it that doesn’t leave everyone scratching their heads. “Huh? He died from… Force-projection exhaustion?” 


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Low hopes

So here we are, one movie left, with Abrams quarterbacking again. Sure, I’m hoping it’ll be great, or at least good, but my inner child — who’s been sulking in the closet ever since 1999 — is dubious. The truth is I have low hopes for The Rise of Skywalker, in part because Abrams has a mixed track record when it comes to closure (see: Alias, Lost, etc.). 

But the larger problem might be the script: Abrams co-wrote it with Chris Terrio, who penned Batman v Superman and Justice League — a pair of incredibly bad films. Some (maybe most) of the blame there goes to director Zack Snyder, but I fear The Rise of Skywalker has rot in its bones. There’s no solid foundation on which to build, no way to conclude a story which, let’s face it, concluded at the end of Return of the Jedi. Where I’m aching for something original, or at least logical, I expect we’re in for more nonsensical moments (a decades-dormant R2-D2 suddenly wakes up because … the movie’s about to end and it’s time to find Luke?) and intelligence-insulting action sequences (the First Order’s fleet can’t catch the Resistance ships until they run out of fuel?!). 

Ah, but what about the trailers? They look cool, right? I’ll have to take your word for it, because I don’t watch trailers. Trailers ruin movies. I don’t want any jokes spoiled, visuals revealed, surprises telegraphed. I want to go into the movie cold, with close to zero idea what’s coming. The more you’ve seen in advance, the less you’re going to enjoy the film. Period. 

Full disclosure: I briefly broke my rule, only because I’m feeling pretty “over it” about the whole franchise. I watched the first teaser, the one with Rey staring down, then running from, a land-skimming TIE Fighter, which just seemed ridiculous out of context.

Then I heard that familiar, menacing cackle at the end, and that’s when I knew I was in for another disappointing Star Wars outing. So Emperor Palpatine is alive, apparently? How original. The Force Awakens gave us Death Star 3.0; looks like The Rise of Skywalker is going for Big Bad 1.0. Yawn. 

There’s another shadow looming over The Rise of Skywalker, one that’s sad and inescapable: However the movie handles the death of Princess Leia, it’ll feel artificial and contrived as it forces us to remember dearly departed Carrie Fisher. It’ll take us out of the story for that collective in-memoriam recognition. 

Think of Star Wars’ best moments. Luke and Leia swinging across the chasm. Han appearing at the last second (“Yee-haw!”) to give Luke the all-clear. Yoda raising the X-Wing from the swamp. Darth Vader spilling the beans; Luke’s gut-wrenching reaction. The shock of Lando’s betrayal. Vader saving his son from the Emperor (before George Lucas ruined it with that insipid “Noooooo!”). 

No modern Star Wars movie has given us a single goose-flesh moment to rival any of these, and that’s all the evidence I need that the Skywalker saga will go out in a blaze of Force-push, with very little pull. Prove me wrong, Abrams. 

Originally published Oct. 12. 



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Best Buy Black Friday 2019: Get a 13-inch MacBook Air for $900 and other deals

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This story is part of Holiday Gift Guide 2019, your source for the season’s best gifts and deals, hand-picked by the experts at CNET.

Best Buy’s early Black Friday sale is heading into the weekend with momentum. Today’s “doorbuster” is a 2019 13-inch MacBook Air with Retina True Tone display. And Best Buy’s 65-inch Vizio Quantum TV costs about $100 less than anywhere else. 

Also noteworthy: The 40mm Apple Watch Nike Plus Series 4 GPS model is now at $299 — its all-time low. And Best Buy is sticking with its $100 discount on Apple’s brand-new 16-inch MacBook Pro, which was announced earlier this week, and its great deal on Lenovo’s loaded Yoga convertible laptop. 

To take advantage of some of Best Buy’s best sale prices, you need to be a member of the retailer’s My Best Buy rewards program, the basic tier of which is free. Discounts are available online and in-store. And Best Buy has also revealed its Black Friday ad, offering many specific products it’s selling for the real Black Friday timeframe later this month. 

We’ll keep this list up to date with the best deals in real time, but the current highlights are below.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The M-Series Quantum delivers excellent picture quality, with deep black levels, accurate color and very good 4K HDR performance. And its smart system is phone-friendly, with Google Cast and Apple AirPlay control.

Walmart is selling this exact set for $100 more and the the 50-inch model for $467 — but that’s the M7 series, which doesn’t deliver quite the same level of picture quality as that M8. It’s still a great price, however. 

Sarah Tew/CNET

Yesterday, Apple unveiled a new version of the MacBook Pro with a 16-inch display, a revamped keyboard, improved AMD graphics, a bigger battery and boomy speakers. Today, Best Buy is knocking $100 off its list price.

Read our 16-inch MacBook Pro review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Dyson’s lightweight, compact, cord-free floor cleaner was down to $350 when it was Best Buy’s featured doorbuster. Now still a good deal at $150 off list price.

Read our Dyson V10 Cyclone preview.

Lori Grunin/CNET

We’ve long been fans of Lenovo’s flagship Yoga laptops — and the C940, which debuted in January, is one of a handful of Intel’s Project Athena devices designed to make it perform more like a phone. The C940 wakes instantly from sleep and has a fingerprint reader that works in a second and Wi-Fi that connects just as fast. This model features a 400-nit FHD-resolution and up to 17.5 hours of battery life.

Read our Lenovo Yoga C940 preview.

Sarah Tew/CNET

We love the UE Boom 2 — a compact, durable wireless Bluetooth speaker that plays loud and sounds good. It’s stain-resistant, shock-resistant and fully waterproof. Battery life is a strong 15 hours, and it can be paired with a second UE speaker for stereo sound.

Read our UE Boom 2 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Sure, this entry-level configuration has lower-end components (Intel Core i3 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB SSD). But you’re still getting the best Windows two-in-one tablet, with the Type Cover thrown in, for $700. This package was down to $600 last week — but it’s still a fantastic deal at this price.

Read our Surface Pro 7 preview.

Best Buy deals that have expired (but are likely to return)

Sarah Tew/CNET

The Gram 17 weighs less than most other smaller laptops. It also has an amazing battery life. In fact, its 12 hours of run time made it one of the the top 10 laptops with the longest battery lives we’ve ever tested. Normally, it’s too pricey for us to recommend without qualification. Best Buy’s discount makes the case much more straightforward.

Read our LG Gram 17 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best Buy comes within $1 of the all-time lowest price we’ve seen for the 11-inch 64GB iPad Pro, $650. And the 256GB model is also on sale for $800. Note that you need to be a member of the retailer’s My Best Buy program to get this sale price.

Read our 11-inch iPad Pro review.

Tyler Lizenby/CNET

The Dyson Cinetic Big Ball Animal Allergy vacuum does its job without a filter — and maintains suction over the long haul because of it. It’s great with fine particles and bested the competition at deep cleaning. Our only beef is that it’s too pricey — and Best Buy has taken care of that. This is a steal.

Read our Dyson Cinetic review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Best Buy has Bose’s SoundLink Revolve on sale for $120, which is the lowest price we’ve seen for it. This model is smaller than the SoundLink Revolve Plus, but it’s a good compact Bluetooth speaker.

Read our Bose SoundLink Revolve review.

David Carnoy/CNET

Best Buy has the JLabs JBuds Air on sale for $30 through Sunday, Nov. 10. They normally retail for $50. JLabs makes a lot of true wireless earphones and this is its most affordable — and frankly, the only one I’d buy. It’s a decent set of true wireless earbuds that’s a relative bargain at $30.

David Carnoy/CNET

We saw this deal last year but it’s still a good one: Sony’s micro Bluetooth speaker, the SRS-XB01, is on sale for $15 at Best Buy.

Read our Sony SRS-XB01 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

If you’re less inclined to buy from Apple, Garmin’s rugged fitness watches are great. The Fenix 5X cost $700 when it came out in 2017 — now, Best Buy has it for $300. I’ve been using Garmin’s lower-end Forerunner 245 and I like it a lot. The model on sale here includes all of its fitness tracking functions and adds an altimeter and barometer. Plus, you get topographic US maps, routable cycling maps for turn-by-turn navigation and a scratch-resistant sapphire lens.

Read our Garmin Fenix 5X preview.

Ariel Nunez/CNET

Walmart has been selling these headphones for about $120 — a massive $80 discount off the $200 list price. Now, Best Buy takes it a step further by cutting the price to $90.

Read our Powerbeats3 review.

More sales will kick off on Thanksgiving Day

Best Buy stores are opening at 5 p.m. local time on Thanksgiving, with the company highlighting the deals listed below (again, straight from its press release). These will presumably be available online as well.

  • Save $350 on 70-inch Samsung 4K UHD Smart TV with HDR (sale price: $549.99)
  • Save $280 on 58-inch Insignia 4K UHD Smart TV with HDR Fire TV Edition with free Amazon Echo Dot (sale price: $199.99)
  • Save up to $250 on iPad Pro 
  • Save up to $100 on iPad 10.2-inch
  • Save $400-$500 on the Note 10 Series (with qualified activation) 
  • 20% off haircare for My Best Buy members 
  • Save $80 on Google Nest Hello Video Doorbell (sale price: $149.99)
  • Save $1,000 on Hydrow Connected Rower (sale price: $1199)

Free next-day delivery on some items, free shipping on everything else

Feeling the heat from Amazon Prime, Best Buy is now adding free next-day delivery on “thousands of items” purchased on its website. And it’s also offering free standard shipping on everything else through Christmas Day, with no membership or minimum purchase required.

Same-day delivery is also available for some online orders in dozens of US cities, too. 

The full list of Black Friday sales are online, too

Check it out here.


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Originally published earlier this month. Updated with our favorite deals now highlighted at the top.



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40 Big Tech Predictions for 2019

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Digital transformation has arrived.

Not a single industry is safe from the unstoppable wave of digitization that is sweeping through finance, retail, transportation, and more.

And in 2019, there will be even more transformative developments that will change our businesses, careers, and lives.

Business Insider Intelligence, Business Insider’s premium research service, has put together a list of 40 Big Tech Predictions for 2019 across Apps and Platforms, Digital Media, Payments, The Internet of Things, E-Commerce, Fintech, Transportation & Logistics, and Digital Health.

This exclusive report can be yours for FREE today.



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Army photogrammetry technique makes 3D aerial maps in minutes – TechCrunch

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Aerial imagery is a common asset in military matters, but 3D maps can be difficult to collect on short notice without specialized equipment. This new photogrammetry technique from the Army Corps of Engineers, however, can make accurate 3D maps from ordinary aerial footage in just minutes.

Photogrammetry is the process of comparing multiple photos of the same location or item to produce a 3D map of it. It’s a well-known method but in some cases is still reliable on human intelligence to determine, for instance, which frames of a video should be used to produce the best results.

Ricky Massaro from the Army’s Geospatial Research Laboratory in Virginia has mitigated that problem and produced a highly efficient photogrammetric method that can turn aerial imagery into accurate 3D surface maps in near real-time without any human oversight.

This image shows the depth map as color – red being higher. It was created from combining multiple 2D images.

The system was tested by the 101st Airborne, which flew a drone over Fort Campbell in Kentucky and mapped a mock city used for training exercises. It was also deployed in Iraq for non-combat purposes. So this isn’t stuck in a lab somewhere — it’s been put to work, and is now being publicized because the patent filing is in and the Army is now negotiating to commercialize the system.

“Whether it’s for soldiers or farmers, this tech delivers usable terrain and intelligence products fast,” said Quinton King, a manager at TechLink, the Defense Department’s commercial tech transfer organization. “And I’m happy to help companies learn how they can leverage Dr. Massaro’s work for their own products or applications.”

The real-time photogrammetry wouldn’t replace lidar or ground-based mapping systems, but act in concert with them. Being able to produce accurate depth from ordinary aerial imagery, and without having to send tons of data to a central location or involve human experts, makes it adaptable to a variety of situations. If you’re curious about the specifics, you can check out the patent application here.



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