‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’: Writing The Wrongs of Prequels’ Past

Back in 1999, Episode 1: The Phantom Menace graced movie screens across the world in an attempt to broaden the horizons of that galaxy far, far away. There were some good moments, but mostly themes like trade deals, the Sith not really being as present as the title indicated, and yes, THAT “Gungan” character that bogged down the movie. Considering that the original trilogy happened about 20+ years prior, there was an entire generation that was enamored of the original space western that George Lucas crafted.

Disney’s grand plan called for a Star Wars Anthology series that would take place in between the year break of the new trilogy. While the Death Star met its untimely demise in 1979, there are treasure troves of interesting stories to tell in that time period. Enter Rogue One: A Star Wars Story where a rag-tag group of mercenaries try to see what’s up with the Empire’s huge weapon. Director Gareth Edwards both had to strike the right tone and keep that tone within the familiarity of the Star Wars universe – a balance that is done in a great way in this movie.

War is hell, and Rogue One conveys that notion within the Star Wars universe. The destruction and plight on the battlefield is felt immensely, especially within the third act. The time period between Revenge of The Sith and A New Hope needed to have that dark undertone of the Empire’s rise to power. The movie itself walks the fine line between trying to convey that theme of “hope” (“rebellions are built on hope”) and the eventual dread and power that takes over the galaxy. Some may apply it to current events or even political aspects that have occurred in prior history, but there are multiple viewpoints that you can take. At the heart, you have a totalitarian and ruthless regime, and the good, albeit battered and beaten, emboldened to fight it in anyway possible.

The heart of the movie shifts between the relationship of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and her father Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) within the building of this ultimate weapon that is said to eradicate planets. Jyn Erso infuses a sense of heroism and doubt at the same time into the film, which is done in a great way. The complex emotions make one of our main protagonists relatable. The force is still a strong theme within the movie – all the Jedi are either in hiding or been killed, but the fact that it can be used with regular characters is an interesting point. Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) both diversify the Star Wars universe and instill the notion that the “Force” is still very much alive. As long as the belief is there, there is still hope. 

There is not only dissent within the Empire where Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) and a digitized Grand Moff Tarkin (Peter Cushing) are both fighting to be the right hand man of the Emperor and Darth Vader. There’s also a disconnect on how the Rebel Alliance wants to do things. Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) serves as a good embodiment of doing what’s right vs just accepting orders. The movie actively pushes the viewer to look at things differently, giving a different layer to the cut-and-dry “good vs. evil” narrative that we’ve seen in prior movies.

K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) is the perfect contrarian droid as opposed to C3PO, often dripping with sarcastic quibbles, the reprogrammed imperial droid had some of the best lines in the movie. With a war movie that is riddled with loss, there were instances of humor that seemed natural.

Darth Vader is used sparingly and effectively. One of my worries going into this movie is that it would rely too much on the Sith Lord himself, but it struck a memorable balance. Although, the movie it not perfect (forced love between Diego and Jyn, a last battle scene that may have been a little long) Rogue One is a triumph that Edwards was able to balance between what we love about the franchise and a gritty, rugged tone of a war movie.

Main Photo Credit: Lucasfilm

Movie Review: Deadpool

Deadpool

 

After I went to see Deadpool, I told a friend of mine that Deadpool is the inappropriate joke that I both wanted to tell and be. For a long time, there was a question of if this movie was ever going to be made. The test footage that was leaked in 2014 had fans like myself in a frenzy to hold on to hope that there was still a chance. When the movie initially got green lit, many people questioned if the movie would hold true to the very gritty and vulgar nature of the comic. Deadpool not only makes good on both of those themes, but it’s a welcome addition in a 2016 superhero movie slate that is going to get darker and less humorous by the looks of it.

The seeds for Ryan Reynolds’s portrayal of Wade Wilson was initially planned in the so-so 2009 X-Men Origins: Wolverine movie. The reason why Deadpool works so well is because it looks like Reynolds is just playing an extension of himself. A duo of wit and sarcasm worked extremely well even in the most dire moments of the movie. I can understand why Reynolds faught so hard to get this movie made because I cannot see anyone else play this character but him. Weasel (T.J. Miller) serves as the perfect “sidekick” to Wilson often bouncing the risque jokes off each other that you and your friends have in group texts.

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Plot-wise, the movie is a straightforward origin story with a Deadpool-esque twist. What caught me by surprise were the heavy moments of the movie as one would initially think that we would see Wade Wilson carry out his zany and violent executions (those were marvelous). There’s a romantic sub-plot with Wilson’s girlfriend Vanessa (Morena Baccarin) that helps elevate the dire circumstances of Wilson’s cancer diagnosis. Our main character has to escape the grasp out of death’s hands for the one he loves and deal with the consequences of those choices. From first glance, you would not think that Deadpool has that type of range, but it’s a welcome element to really care about Wade Wilson in addition to being Marvel’s court jester.

There’s a nice little X-Men tie in with the inclusion on Colossus (Stefan Kapičić) and Negasonic Teenage Warhead (Brianna Hildebrand). I’m glad that I saw the X-Men universe was present, but even in that, this is still a Deadpool movie. The movie doesn’t have to change it’s themes to fit into the box that was already made in previous movies within Fox’s realm.  Ed Skrein (Ajax) and  Angel Dust (Gina Carano) as serviceable as the super villain team. The dynamic between Ajax and Deadpool works, but I feel that the personality of Deadpool would overshadow any non well known villain. Perhaps in the sequel or the much talked about X-Force movie, we’ll see a bigger bad guy.

Anybody or any studio that had any hesitation of an “R” rated superhero movie will look at the impending success of Deadpool and reconsider any preconceived notion that they might have. Director Tim Miller stayed very loyal to the source material which included blood, guts, and breaking of the 4th wall. In his first directing job (who knew?). it’s a champion for even the most far fetched comic book movies to be made. Can we get a proper Tank Girl movie? How about an even better Punisher movie? Everything is on the table with all the Chimichangas in the world.

 

 

 

 

Film Review: ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’

by Murjani Rawls

In 1977, I was but a twinkle in my mother and father’s eye, so I did not get to experience the pandemonium of Episode IV: A New Hope first hand. Of course I have seen the original trilogy (all versions), but my first real theatrical experience with the Star Wars franchise was with the negatively received prequels. For better (or worse), they furthered my interest into the story’s ethos and heart, but I still felt that everything was incomplete especially with the comic and novel stories. In those mediums and the well done animated series withstanding, the series needed a strong showing on the big screen again.

The Force Awakens was many years in the making and a needed injection of new directing blood into the Star Wars series. Not only does this movie do a great job in saving the pillars of why older fans fell in love with the heroes and villains, but introduces a new generation into the updated version of a A New Hope. Let’s be honest, there are so many versions of the original three, that you really have to dig deep to find the right ones that aren’t riddled with special CGI touches. TFA not only gives a great homage to it’s past, but furthers the themes for a new generation of moviegoers. Yes, the “saturday morning” me was excited for this movie. Who didn’t have a bit of glee inside when John Williams’ opening score rang through the theater with the opening scroll.

Coming in at PG-13, this movie is a little bit darker than it’s predecessors complete with a little bit of blood and a little bit more violent than previous entries. I feel that this was a big sticking point to meet our new evil threat, The First Order. For this, there were a little bit of mixed feelings. Yes, I felt that they were powerful, but I didn’t get the sense of dread I did with the Empire. Especially with Starkiller Base – I mean, let’s build a bigger death star? Adam Driver’s portrayal of Kilo Ren was brilliant as a person who is torn internally between the light and dark side. This journey, highlighted in this movie will be an interesting sticking point going forward in the next two installments. I had to keep reminding myself that this was only the first movie in a three part trilogy. Undoubtedly, there are many moving parts to the First Order. General Hux (Domnhall Glesson), Captain Phasma (Gwendoline Christie), and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) will be explored more in depth, I hope. Is it me, or does Snoke only feel like the man standing in front of the real man in charge?

With our heroes, TFA channels Episode IV and brings people together from small and unlikely beginnings to lead the charged. Rey (Daisy Ridley), Finn (John Boyega), and Poe Dameron (Oscar Issac) gives us a look at saving the galaxy from all aspects. All give strong performances in which you really cheer for them to win and find their own ways despite Rey and Finn being novices. Oscar Issac as Poe Dameron is really charismatic to the point where I thought early on that he was going to be the real hero. Rey’s acceptance of her “gifts” like a certain jedi before her was on a certain trajectory, but had her own twist which made it seem fresh. Finn’s atonement to trying to make a difference in a good way was natural from a human perspective.

There’s a constant theme of homecoming throughout the movie returning an older general Leia (Carrie Fisher) and Han Solo (Harrison Ford). Without trying to give too much away, Solo is much like a pseudo Obi-Wan in this movie trying to attest for a certain sin. It was good to see him and Chewbacca back to their old tricks for a time. The older characters are not present to take over the movie, but are like a nostalgic nod to the past that furthers the story of our new characters- an element I really liked.

BB-8, probably the unsung star of the movie, will definitely be flying off the shelves this Christmas merchandise wise. The whole movie itself is stunning from a visual perspective. I’ll be the strong advocate in seeing this movie in IMAX 3D – yes, spend the extra money to experience the movie in the best form possible. JJ Abrams did the right thing in properly balancing the main challenge in restarting a franchise that needed a redeeming quality in the movie theater. The Force Awakens not only reinvigorated the kid inside you, it made you rediscover why you loved Star Wars in the first place.