Thursday, December 22, 2016

Not a STAR WARS story- A Star Wars STORY

Let’s get the important thing out of the way first.

The movie was fantastic, had interesting characters, and impressive visuals.  The story pulled the audience along with strong drama and edge of the seat action scenes.  The 3D added a sense of movement and immersiveness to the space battles and chases

Michael Giacchino has truly established himself as the next John Williams by being the first other composer to score a Star Wars film and have it still sound right.

Visually, and content wise, it clearly lived in the Star Wars Universe.

It’s also the first of the non numbered Star Wars films, and that shift is clear.

Star Wars Episodes were, and continue to be, broad Heroic Fantasy Adventures.  Through the course of those adventures, a vast, diverse and heavily populated universe was created.

The main characters of the Episodes are HEROES, their opponents VILLAINS.   Everyone else in the adventure is background.

Disney is guiding the Star Wars franchise into creating different film genres in their universe, matching the way the Marvel films are unfolding.

This tale of how the Death Star plans got into the hands of the HEROES is not a Heroic Fantasy Adventure.
The characters may not be the HEROES of the Episodes, but their achievements galvanized the rebellion we see in those Episodes.

Instead of the type of story shown on the big screen before, this one is instead it is a military/ espionage adventure about resistance fighters in occupied territory.

It’s an well crafted one, and the additions blend seamlessly with the universe of the Episodes:

U-wings and Tie Strikers look right in the sky with X-wings, Y-wings and Tie Fighters.

Death Troopers fit in with other divisions of Stormtroopers.

Previously seen locations look like they did in the Episodes, and new ones match the universe. There’s nothing jarring about transitions between them.

The rebels could be members of Red Squadron, the Endor Strike Team or any other military units assisting the HEROES.

Krennic fits in with Piett, Neieda, Ozzel or any other officers working for the VILLIANS.

The oversized AT-ACT walkers are terrors to ground troops on the battlefield

K2-SO has a combination of R2’s sass, and 3PO’s worries.

Appearances of, and references to, the HEROES, VILLIANS or other characters of the Episodes packed in the required amount of awesome.

It is completely and thoroughly set in the Star Wars universe, yet it is also completely and thoroughly not an Episode.

It’s a remarkable balance that will allow the franchise to grow in a ridiculous number of directions.  However, unlike the previous Expanded Universe, keeping everything cannon under the controlling hand of Disney will go a long way to prevent missteps, contradictions and reboots.

Why the decision to Expand the universe on screen instead of simply creating a new Expanded Universe?

The same reason for any decision made by a company.

All totaled, every Star Wars novel since 1977 (358 of them, by 76 writers) have pulled in 1.8 billion dollars over these last thirty-nine years.  

In one weekend, Rogue One hit around 291 million dollars. 

In percentage terms, that’s 1.6% of the money in only .02% of the time, or an 80 fold increase in rate of funds.
(Episode VII alone surpassed the combined book numbers by $200 million.)

Disney gets more money, we get more on screen time spent in the fully created and realized Star Wars universe, that are consistent, not only with the films, but the Clone Wars and Rebels cartoons, and any new books or comics.  That’s what you call a win-win.

I find it incredibly difficult to talk about this film without spoilers, because of its direct connection to the original Star Wars.

Therefore, I’m putting a big honking space here.
To enhance the entertainment of the gap, there are some cool photos. 

Those of you who haven’t seen it, and don’t want to know anything- STOP READING AFTER THE PICTURES!!!

Due to work commitments and a general fear of being near the Rockaway Mall the weekend before Christmas, we chose a far less updated theater than the AMC we usually hit.

The screen size, seats and sound system were a little below what we were used to.  

However, the Cinépolis Parsippany more than compensated for any deficiencies by having Death Star popcorn holders.

And members of the 501st hanging around the lobby. 

Their quality of uniforms allowed us to overlook any that were “a little short for a Stormtrooper.”

These perks not only enhanced the theater, but made up a little for there being no Vader meet and greet on our last trip to Disney, and me always finding the Tie Fighter commemorative popcorn holder stand when it was closed.

OK, seriously now…for those who haven’t seen it and don’t want to know anything:


No one left afraid of spoilers?



Yeah, I got the vibe that this was a Dirty Dozenish suicide kind of mission, but the reasons there’s no planned sequel for this gang was crystal clear by the closing credits.

These rebels know the weight of their mission and all “die well” by willingly sacrificing themselves at various points along the way. It is their successes that allow the HEROES to triumph in Star Wars, and are commemorated by Rogue Squadron after them by Empire.

These characters are not the Hero’s Journey icons of Farm Boy, Princess, Wizard and Pirate.  Instead it’s their knowledge and experiences that make them vital.

Jyn Erso has the emotional connection and drive coming from the knowledge that her father, while appearing to willingly work for the Empire, hid the design flaw in the Death Star that allows Luke to later blow it up with a single shot.

Cassian is a Rebel intelligence officer with the experience and abilities to run and pull off this kind of mission.

As a reprogrammed imperial droid, K2-SO grants them access to and information of internal workings.

Chirrut brings insane blind samurai levels of coolness to hand to hand combat and laser bow attacks. In addition, he illustrates how the force has become only a legend in the galaxy.

While his partner Baze brings…a big freaking gun (which I think I remember using in the Dark Forces computer game) and the attitude behind it to get them out of some sticky situations.

Bohdi, a defecting imperial pilot, provides more inside information, plus transportation.

Having them interact with the Prequel Episode’s Mon Mothma and Bail Organa, provided a bridge from o the seeds of the rebellion in those films to the final form we see in the Originals. 

Especially since many of those interactions were on the, now fully fleshed out and functional looking, Yavin IV rebel base.

Throwing a cameo scene of Artoo and Threepio there was cute, and I’d guess done only to keep the streak of having them, and Anthony Daniels, appearing in every Star Wars theatrical release.  Just like the Power Droid…GONK!

Connections to the cartoons were plentiful as well.  Saw Guerrera originated as a one off in a Clone Wars episode, and will no doubt have his back story expanded further in Rebels.  Entrusting his time in this story as Jyn’s mentor and leader of an extreme rebel faction to veteran actor Forrest Whitaker insured a memorable impact.

Speaking of cartoon connections: The Death Star uses Kyber Crystals.  That means it's basically shooting planet smashing lightsaber beams.  Dang!

Quick fly bys of the Ghost in the final battle, a pass through by Chopper on Yavin IV, and the paging of General Syndulla lets us Rebels fans know that at least some of the Spectres make it through to the Original Trilogy.

Similarly to the surprise level Episode I generated by it taking place way earlier than those Originals, Rogue One slides in the other direction.  Its climax ends minutes before the opening scenes of Star Wars that blasted into the public consciousness in 1977.

Red and Gold leaders from unused footage of film also show up in the final space battle.  The losses suffered in getting the plans explains why their squadron numbers are reduced, why there’s no Blue Squadron,  why “Red 5” was an available call sign, and why everyone in the rebellion looks like they’ve just been through hell.

Side note: It was nice to see a suspicion I had confirmed if that the Walkers had to face real fighters instead of modified speeders, the battle of Hoth would have gone much differently.

It will be nifty to watch Rogue One and Star Wars back to back once the home release happens, to see how it all lines up.  I do have to wonder why Doctor Evizan and Ponda Baba  were still picking fights with strangers after miraculously escaping an exploding city a couple of days before.

But those connections will only add to the experience, especially for the Dark Side elements.

Speaking of that side, there was Director Krennic as the villain of this piece.  With his grudge against the Erso family, and his total ruthlessness in his methods to build the Death Star, he was a formidable foe.

But his interactions with the VILLAINS of the Episodes show, in the grand scheme, he’s the same as any other imperial officer we’ve seen.

Grand Moff Tarkin clearly outclasses him in every way possible.  Partially due to the equal parts creepy and awesome decision to use computer tricks to put 1977 looking Peter Cushing in the role.  Part of me feels it’s wrong to cast a dead actor, but weighed against viewing the entire Star Wars Universe as a self contained whole, it works.

Finally, there’s Vader.


His meeting with Krennic on Mustafar brings back the terrifying presence that came with his initial appearance.  Although, he does still have some vestiges of Cartoon Anakin’s snarkiness.

His blasting through the wall of the Rebel Cruiser chasing down the plans in the finale is both a set up for, and homage to, that first on screen appearance. 

Except by that point, he was in an “I have you now” fully in control of the situation moment, rising back to similar levels of anger once he learned the plans had left again.  It’s also pretty clear now he knew Leia was lying through her teeth before my favorite line, 

“You are part of the rebel alliance and a traitor, take her away!”

In Rogue One,  we see the Dark Lord of the Sith in full on battle mode in pursuit of the plans allowing nothing to get in his way as he tries to prevent them from being passed to the Tantive IV and spirited away.

He is an nightmarish engine of destruction, effortlessly combing his Sith powers and lightsaber skills to mow through the rebel forces in his way.

In short, he is as he was before we saw his redemption, and before we saw his terrified childhood, whiny teenage years, and indecision and worry filled early adulthood:

He is once more the premier, pants wettingly terrifying, unstoppable, implacable dark warrior VILLAIN of the Star Wars Universe.

“Now I am the Master” indeed.


longbow said...

I agree with most of what you wrote. But there were two things about it that took me out of the movie and never let me back in.

First, neither Jyn nor Cassian had any charisma individually nor chemistry together (not as romantics and not as comrades in arms). K2 and Bohdi were the only strongly compelling characters and having so many others kept their motivations and development from being fully explored.

Second, huge.. huge huge plot holes. There was no reason for anyone to go to erdu. The weapon was already built as demonstrated on the city so there was no point to killing Galen. I can't even remember the excuse they used for sending the X-wings.
In the climactic battle, the whole thing is about bandwidth? If 2 guys die for this connection I can send a short message about how to send a longer message? BTW, that message is "do what you were going to do anyway" which was attack the gate. They were either going to do that first to enable all their ships to return or after they defeated the destroyers.

Lesser complaints:
physics of pushing one ship into another looked off.
Why was that sphincter just opening and closing
Whoever cast Donnie Yen must not have seen his movies cause they thought the best way to make him cool is to have him talk a lot.
Best moment was shown in a preview (Walker taking a bazooka shot to the head and sort of looking peaved)
CGI Leia - well done. Spent a lot of time on one really good shot. CGI Moff looked very CGI and stupid.
Why did the Deathstar destroy the records complex again??

Jeff McGinley said...

Thanx for posting, but I can't hear you over constantly humming Imperial March since seeing this film.

longbow said...

I find myself oddly craving blue milk

Jeff McGinley said... milk.

OK, I was tired the other day and couldn't find my Captain Continuity hat, here goes:

First, Jyn had charisma and chemistry when dealing with her father, or Saw (who raised her) her life on the run as an outsider makes sense that she didn't make other connections. She could make a good rallying speech however.

Cassian was one of the seediest rebels we've seen. A lone operative who does the rebellion's dirty work, and has no friends, or need for charisma or chemistry. What the two had is earned respect for eachother.

Jym was motivated to go to Erdu to save her father. No one else heard his message. Rebels planned to take him out to prevent any further contributions. The trip to Erdu confirmed the need to go to Scarrif, fighters attacked to remove the research centers ability to make anything else.

Bandwith is an ENORMOUS problem in the Star Wars universe. Maps, plans and information are always carried around by ship, and/or tucked into droids. Intergalactic communications are common, but blueprints don't transmit well.

Telling them to destroy the gate was the indication that they had the plans. Otherwise the rebels might have cut and run is they were losing.

Lesser items:

Because that's what sphincters do.

Donnie Yen personified the idea that the Jedi and the force were only legends in the Star Wars universe at that point. "Hokey religions and ancient weapons."

Marketing people who make trailers are idiots who spoil everything, but the best moment was Vader's rampage which wasn't in any trailer.

CGI Leia - one line, quick surprise reveal.
CGI Moff Main character in movie, much more scrutiny time. Still looked pretty good.

Tarkin had the records complex destroyed because it was breached to prevent anything else falling into rebel hands. And to punish Krennic.