Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

The first time I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens about a year ago, I left the theater enthralled by the dynamic new characters, imprinted by the instantly-iconic new planets, and superbly entertained by an overall great film.

I felt none of these during Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As the first stand-alone Star Wars film (rather than an “Episode,” a specific piece of the lineage), it has plenty of room to experiment and redefine what a Star Wars movie means. If they continue to go the route of Rogue One, however, the standalone anthology films might not be for me.

Rogue One explores just how the Rebellion got the plans to the Death Star, without which the victory in Star Wars: A New Hope could never have happened – certainly an important moment in the Star Wars saga. A quirky band of rebels, led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), is tasked first with finding Jyn’s father, a designer of the Death Star, and then learn it was designed with a core weakness, and then task themselves with procuring the plans so the Rebellion can destroy it.

Everything requires a lot of steps, it turns out. I found myself irritated by a climactic battle scene, where the Rebels first had to disguise themselves as Imperial officers (a moment reminiscent of That’s So Raven), then get the plans, then radio-signal them up to Rebel ships, but first clear the air lock, and fix the broken satellite, and also fix the comms tower while they’re at it. It felt like the unending climax of Finding Dory, where trivial conflicts would pop up only to accumulate another 5 minutes running time, rather than build up any real tension.

What made it all worse was that these characters weren’t any fun. Jyn and Cassian had no personalities to speak of, and even the deadpan humor from new robot K-2SO fell flat. It’s already hard to be engaged in a movie where we all know the ending, and it’s even harder when you don’t particularly like anyone onscreen.

I did appreciate how the ending (which I won’t spoil) was handled, as it was a pretty gutsy move from a major movie studio. Rogue One ends on a very dark note, appropriate for this time in Star Wars “history” and the broader film anthology.

I didn’t like Rogue One, with weak characters and a frustrating narrative that were simply not up to par with what we expect from the Star Wars saga. It was interesting to see this piece of the story fleshed out, but these are not people and places I care to revisit. At least (according to Kathleen Kennedy) there won’t be a sequel!

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Weekly Round-Up: March 27 – April 02, 2016

  • The Manchurian Candidate (1962) – Fiercely brilliant political puzzle, following a troubled Korean War vet piece together what happened overseas as a senator’s sensational Communist accusations sweep the presses. Slightly slow at times but an overall masterwork, driven by sophisticated dialogue and genuine suspense. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: Attack of the Clones (2002) – Another one that’s easy to make fun of, but this chapter in the saga provides a nice glimpse into everyday life of the Republic and passionate music by John Williams (to accompany romantic dialogue of varying quality). RECOMMENDED.
  • Brooklyn (2015) – Steadily soaring in my favorite films of the past decade, this love story continues to wow me with its intelligent dialogue and nostalgic setting. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see three weeks ago?

Weekly Round-Up: April 03-09, 2016

  • Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith (2005) – Certainly the strongest of the prequel trilogy, this chapter follows the young Anakin Skywalker on his path to becoming Darth Vader. Ian McDiarmid steals the show as Senator/Emperor Palpatine in all his cackling glory. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Spectacular sequel, with a terrific cast of new characters and respectful restraint for bringing back familiar faces. One of the finest films of 2015, and maybe just maybe my favorite Star Wars film. REQUIRED.
  • Beauty and the Beast (1991) – My favorite movie. Got to see this as a Throwback Thursday screening at El Capitan Theatre, with producer Don Hahn and directors Gary Trousdale and Kirk Wise speaking about the film’s production. REQUIRED.
  • The Jungle Book (1967) – Bizarro yet truly inspired Disney film bringing together the dark romance of the jungle with swingin’ jazz music. Like Pinocchio, this features a cast of memorable villains, notably the dry wit of Shere Khan and the subtle predator King Louie. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.

What did you see two weeks ago?

Weekly Round-Up: March 20-26, 2016

  • Beach Party (1963) – The one that started it all. Delightful pop musical introducing us to the cast of kids led by Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello in their prime, with a terrific soundtrack featuring the two leads plus Dick Dale and His Del-Tones. This isn’t a masterpiece, but a wholly enjoyable piece of 1960s kitsch. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • Thor (2011) – I couldn’t believe how much I liked this movie. The arrogant Norse god Thor is stripped of his powers and banished to Earth, but this “fish out of water” story is consistently endearing and compelling. His brother Loki is my favorite Marvel villain to date, and Natalie Portman also delivers a strong performance as a determined physicist. RECOMMENDED.
  • Eating Raoul (1982) – Still in love with this wacky comedy, one of the sweetest and cleanest movies about very adult subject matter. HIGHLY RECOMMENDED.
  • In the Realm of the Senses (1976) – A very dirty movie about very adult subject matter. This round (my third or fourth time watching), the musical moments stuck with me the most, melodies underlying the desperate passion the couple has for one another. RECOMMENDED.
  • Captain America: The First Avenger (2011) – Complex and moving story of a “kid from Brooklyn” becoming a powerful hero. Like Thor, this movie is heightened by strong characters and a layered narrative. RECOMMENDED.
  • Star Wars: The Phantom Menace (1999) – I was reminded why people make fun of this one, but several moments (particularly the “Duel of the Fates” climax) are genuinely thrilling Star Wars moments. Definitely worth watching, even in spite of Mr. Binks. RECOMMENDED.

What did you see four weeks ago??

Weekly Round-Up: December 20-26, 2015

Hope you all had a very happy holidays!

Okay, I only saw one movie last week:

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Yep, still good the third time around. Tremendously entertaining sequel with terrific new characters – definitely worth the 32-year wait after Return of the Jedi. REQUIRED.

Also, honorable mention for the Judy Garland TV Christmas special, which I may have seen twice in four days.

What do you watch with your family over the holidays? Reply below in the comments!

Weekly Round-Up: December 13-19, 2015

This past week was pretty busy – as the holidays are approaching, a lot more time has been focused on visiting family & friends (as it should be!) leaving smaller pockets of time for entertainment.

After a couple false starts (starting movies and falling asleep instantly), I realize I’ve only seen one complete movie this week:

  • Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015) – Okay, I saw this twice last week and am seeing it again today. Tremendously entertaining sequel with terrific new characters – definitely worth the 32-year wait after Return of the Jedi. REQUIRED.

Have you seen The Force Awakens yet? Reply below in the comments!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)

The seventh episode of the monumental Star Wars saga opens just like every Star Wars should. The iconic print logo and opening fanfare. The introductory prologue written in yellow. A wide shot revealing an ominous spacecraft.

Followed by a cut to the interior of a rattling space pod, overhead light flickering on the helmets of stormtroopers about to invade. As traditionally as this film begins, it suddenly jumps and disorients us within a dark, confined space.

The Force Awakens is a brilliantly constructed and spectacularly told film. It manages to both give audiences what they want, while subverting action film norms through its consistently surprising narrative. The tropes of action films are often mocked, and almost always dismantled, by the charming relationship between the sharp, powerful, self-sufficient heroine Rey and the occasionally old-fashioned-minded Finn.

Not that you can blame him – Finn is a product of the First Order, a neo-fascist return to the days of the Galactic Empire. He knows only the world he was taught, and his antiquated attitudes are a product of the only life he knows. There is even a metafictional irony in this, as Finn is one of few black heroes in any blockbuster film – he himself is an anti-traditional male lead (another trend this film will hopefully dismantle).

They join forces (along with some other familiar faces) against Kylo Ren, the terrifying new villain played to chilling perfection by Adam Driver. While it’s hard to imagine anyone filling Darth Vader’s shoes, Kylo Ren seems to come as close as you can get.

[Semi-Spoiler] And the best part is, we’re deeply invested in these characters and the story by the time familiar faces arrive. This is a terrific decision by the filmmakers, to allow us time to get to know the new stars, who will hopefully carry this new trilogy, before bringing back iconic figures from the originals. [End Semi-Spoiler.]

I had the opportunity to see this on its debut Thursday night, with a terrific audience: applauding as each new character is introduced on-screen, cheering in key moments (like the first lightsaber “unsheathing”), and gasping at plot surprises (there are plenty). I didn’t get to watch the original Star Wars back in May 1977, but seeing The Force Awakens on opening night sure feels like the next-best thing.