Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016) – The “Star Wars” Mostly Works But Drags Though the Ending is Fantastic

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     “Rogue One” is a good movie. It isn’t a great movie…not by a long shot as it has structurual problems and a lot of the characters don’t have arcs and this goes for the overall structure too. If you want an experience in the “Star Wars Universe” though, this is a good experience of that, and for what it’s worth it is better than “Return of the Jedi” but I’m one of those people who doesn’t really like that film and only finds it okay.

      The film was directed by Gareth Edwards, written by Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy and produced by Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanual.

      The story involves the Rebels getting the plans for the Death Star as told through the eyes of the group that comes to be Rogue One, lead by the extremely rebellious Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), daughter of the man (Mads Mikklesen) who designs the Death Star under threat from his former friend Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn).

SPOILERS ahead

The Pros: The World – The world of “Star Wars” in that galaxy a long time ago in a galaxy far far away…is one that I care about. I am a fan and not just of the Original Trilogy, I love KOTOR, the Thrawn Trilogy, The Clone Wars (3D and 2D) and Rebels. I grew up on the games that are no longer cannon and this is sci. fi. fantasy in it’s base form. This film captures so much of that as we really see the breadth and strength of the Empire and that is one thing that kept me in this film through it all.

The Cinematography – Gareth Edwards knows how to direct and this film is beautiful in the scenes that are shot, especially those of the Death Star and the Space Battles.

The Action – The action is the strongest part as the action has consequences. Characters die and like “The Empire Strikes Back,” we see the consequences of the Rebellion. This can’t be stated enough and knowing that the Rebellion is only going to suffer more in the coming film lends this film strength.

Grand Moff Tarkin as Character – The character of Tarkin is fantastic even if the CGI is really good video game CGI but not quite there CGI. I still enjoyed the things he did even if how he looked was a little distracting. They should have just got a look a like, they did in “Revenge of the Sith.” Beyond that though, his character is a wonderful snake who is using and disposing people to meet his final ends of holding his power and position and destroying the Rebellion. He is the greatest threat outside of Vader through the film.

Darth Vader – We got to Vader’s Palace on Mustafar! The fact that this is even a thing makes me happy as it fits, the “Dark Side” gains it’s power from pain and rage and that is where Vader lost everything so Krennic visiting him here (and getting strangled for trying to assume on Vader) gives us more to Vader’s mystique. He also kills a lot of the rebels and shows why he is one of the only 2 Sith in the Galaxy.

K-2SO – Alan Tudyk is wonderful as the cynical reprogrammed Imperial Droid and he is the only one of the “Rogue One” rebels with an arc. He goes from uncaring from someone who sacrifices for others. I really like how cynical he is and how nihilistic he is about everything. He is very Marvinesque (From “Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”) and it works. It sucks the other cast members weren’t given an arc.

Getting the Plans – Getting the plans is really well done as we see Jyn and Cassian go undercover at the Imperial Intelligence homeworld to get the plans that Jyn’s father implanted in the system. It is really well done and it is this battle and heist that is easily the best part of the film. There is cost, consequences and action…it is a shame we couldn’t have gotten more of this earlier.

The Final – The rebels barely escape Vader with the plans and all of the Rogue One characters die. This is powerful and I like that for the first time since “Empire Strikes Back” the Empire felt like a threat. “Star Wars Rebels” is mostly miss on this issue sadly and most “Star Wars” lore is about the victories…but all that does is make the Empire look weak. This film did some work to change that with the final.

Okay: Rogue One Team – Bunch of guys from a Temple Guardians (a cynic and a blind man) to a rebel intelligence agent (Cassian) to K-2, an Imperial Pilot who joined the rebellion (Bodi) and Jyn. Outside of K-2 most of these folks are just there. They don’t get any arc and are just pulled along by the plot, which is sad as the idea of all of these characters was good, but none of it went anywhere.

The Ersos – The Father and Daughter relationship was supposed to be central but it wasn’t. Mads and Felicity did fine with what little they were given but we didn’t get anything on their relationship to the Empire or Krennic. They were pulled along by the plot rather than shaping the plot. This isn’t a con as it didn’t make me angry and it wasn’t bad…but it wasn’t good either.

Orso Krennic – This dude is just a pawn which for a guy who is the main villain was a waste. I cared about him more than Hux from “The Force Awakens” though as Krennic was fighting against a system that wanted to crush him. Hux was at the head of his game and was still winy.

The Cons: CGI Lore Characters – Leia and Tarkin look like video game characters. I get the look they were going for but it still looks not quite right. It worked in the story but it also took me out of the story. They should have just used look alikes.

Extremely Slow First Half – I felt like I was nodding off early on until the Death Star is finally used. This is due to characters not fully being developed and the film going way to slow. There were so many missed opportunities for character development and growth in the first hour that were never taken.

Character Arcs? – None of the “Rogue One” cast have character arcs…and they need them for us to fully feel their loss. Outside of K-2 I cared way more about Vader and Tarkin since I knew from from prior works…this film needed to develop the main cast and it failed to deliver.

   This was a film that I’d recommend to anyone who is a fan of Star Wars. I enjoyed it even though I wouldn’t call it great, it isn’t “The Force Awakens” (a film with characters that had actual arcs and growth) but it is better than “Return of the Jedi” and easily my 4th favorite “Star Wars” film. There was the potential to do so much more, either making this a complete heist type film (an under appreciated genre) or make this an ensemble film. I wanted to love Bodi, I wanted to care about to Orsos…but I was never given the chance too. We didn’t get exploration of what they really desired and were fighting for and that went for the rest of “Rogue One” which makes the deaths matter not nearly as much as they should.

Final Score: 8.1 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episode 11 – “Pursuit of Peace” – Populism to Bring Change

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     “Pursuit of Peace” is somewhat connected to the peace arc but is far more focused on internal affairs, which is why I am giving it it’s own review. It is in this we see inside the Republic and how terror is being used to force votes in favor of keeping the war going, to the point that those who are against spending more money on the war are fighting themselves beaten by thugs. It’s a powerful episode and the ending scenes are some of the best this series has offered thus far.

     The story involves Amadala and the Peace Faction (Mothma, Organa and Farr) working to bring about an end to protesting the War Bill and turning the public against it after Mina is killed by “Republic” forces though it is mixed as far as information goes since rumor has it Dooku was involved. From here they chose to stand for her legacy as the final vote approaches in regards to the Bill. Padme and her faction must face threats of violence and the public that has turned against them to stop the Bill from passing.

The Pros: Robonino and Chata – These two guys are a great and they nearly stop Padme, they critically injure Organa and keep him from making his speech forcing Padme’s hand and they injure Farr. These two cause such an uproar that many of the Senators are living in fear for their live and don’t want to vote against the Bill.

The Peace Faction – Padme, Organa and Farr are the most vocal and Farr fights on even with his injury while Padme’s idealism really comes through while Organa is good at hiding his idealism as he is so popular he is a celebrity of the Senate. Seeing their dynamic is wonderful as each has distinct personalities.

Padme – Padme fights for her life on multiple occasions and in the end stands up when her servant tells her story as Padme speaks for the people who the Bill will affect negatively. War makes all the people suffer and the people need to be remembered if the war is ever to be won since they are the reason people fight. It’s a powerful speech and this one really shows how strong Padme’s empathy is, as well as her populist power.

Palpatine and Mas Amedda – These two are working together and Amedda knows where things are going with Empire as the final goal. Together they consider how one voice can change the public and Palpatine decides to wait before taking things to extremes as he knows the nature of the senate.

The Cons: The Banking Clan – These guys are only ruled by greed and I would have liked to see a more logical justification on why they planned to hike interest rates. These guys weren’t handled well, it felt like money for the sake of money with no rational explanation of how loans actually work.

  This episode really showed the power of populism and how one person can direct fear in a different direction, or to remind people why they fight and from there use it to support the Thesis. Padme is a master of words and it is great seeing her idealism contrasted with the ambition and manipulations of Palpatine.

Final Score: 9.5 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 3, Episode 3 – “Supply Lines” – The Cost of War and Matters of Diplomacy

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     This was a good episode, which is surprising given it had Jar Jar Binks in it, who yes was the weakest part of the episode…but outside of Binks this was a powerful episode that showed the complexity of diplomacy and how no person whether they are Jedi or Clone Trooper are safe in the battles in this war.

     “Supply Lines” was directed by Brian Kalin O’Connell and written by Steven Melching and Eoghan Mahony.

     The story involves the Separatist siege of the Twi’lek world of Ryloth and the Republic’s attempt to get supplies to them through Bail Organa while Master Di fights the Separatist forces on the planet, holding out until the people can get supplies. The situation soon becomes complicated when the neutral world of Toydaria where the King must make a decision to help the people while dealing with the threats from the Trade Federation if they openly break their neutrality.

The Pros: The Politics – The politics are complicated and I felt for the King of Toydaria who was trying to look out for his people and Ryloth so has to openly turn down Organa while secretly letting him send the ships he brought so that Ryloth can still receive supplies. It is a sad situation but the Trade Federation’s threats push Toydaria to possibly join the Republic in the end.

Ryloth – Ryloth is a world with giant mushrooms and a people whose technology isn’t all that advanced but who are ready to fight to the last to defend themselves against the Separatist onslaught. Within the Twi’lek culture we see the Jedi looked on as Outsiders but also a willingness to fight to the last man. I immediately cared about this world.

Toydaria – Does a fantastic job showing its neutrality by not allowing people off their ship unless it is for diplomatic talks in talking to their King and council. They all have guns who we see and all can fly. It was great finally seeing Watto’s people. I was impressed with the culture presented with their council based on consent even though they have a King.

Bail Organa – This guy is a smooth operator and we see he will do anything to help his cause. Whether it is delivering the supplies secretly and having Binks stall or openly accepting surrender.

The King of Toydaria King Katuunko – This guy is a strange situation and he does choose the middle path. He doesn’t want to lose trade with the Trade Federation but knows the people of Ryloth are suffering. For this reason he decides against accepting so his people will still be okay but secretly helps Organa so Ryloth will be helped. In this he shows great wisdom and I really enjoyed this character.

Master Di – This guy is all about honor and dies fighting to stall the Separatist forces so Organa’s supplies can get to them. He’s an awesome character and I really enjoyed what little time we had with him. He felt for the people and his dying crying is “For the Republic! For Ryloth!”

The Cons: Jar Jar Binks – Guy is still a clown and still can’t stand the character. Super annoying and adds nothing to the script.

The Trade Federation – Openly evil and manipulative, did not like that. They should have offered to send supplies to the people instead rather than say that Organa and the Ryloth Senator were lying. No wonder the Toydarian King decided to change sides.

  This was a good episode that showed the price of war on the populace (Ryloth and the death of Master Di) as well as the complicated situation that political leaders like Organa and the Toydarian King were placed under in wanting to the right thing while still protecting their position against possible enemies. This episode did that really well with the only real problems being the Trade Federation still being sociopathic and Jar Jar Binks being Jar Jar…Wish they hadn’t brought this character back. Hopefully “Star Wars Rebels” will refrain from doing so.

Final Score: 9.3 / 10

Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Season 2, Episode 16 – “Cat and Mouse” – The Choices in Battle

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     We kick off our reviews of “Star Wars: The Clone Wars” with “Cat and Mouse” it is episode 16 in Season 2 but first in the timeline of events that occur in the series. I got to say, I was much more impressed than I thought I’d be. There are some problems that were obvious, but when it comes to the four core speaking characters I actually cared about them and was curious about what choices they would choose to make. The villain also had a cool design and great backstory.

      The episode was directed by Kyle Dunlevy and written by Drew Z. Greenberg and Brian Larsen.

    The story involves Anakin and Obi-Wan trying to get supplies to Christophsis which is under siege by the Confederacy Admiral Trench. They must get supplies to Bail Organa and stop the siege before Christophsis is lost to the Confederacy. Anakin is leading the attack before Obi-Wan arrives with a secret weapon that could change the course of the battle.

The Pros: The Action – The action sequences are beautiful and really show how big and important all our characters are. Anakin and Obi-Wan feel like generals commanding troops and Trench feels like a threat with his overwhelming numbers and destruction he has done to Christophsis. For this reason his defeat and what it takes to get there feels wonderful.

Admiral Yularen – Is the Admiral over Anikan but works directly with him as he had lost troops to Trench before and wants to play a part in Trench’s downfall when they use the secret cloaked ship that Obi-Wan brought. He goes with Anakin not delivering the supplies for the risky plot to end Trench showing how flexible he is.

Admiral Trench – Trench looks like a giant spider and has a great design. He is a thinker and we see how he thinks all of his plans fully through. He also would have one the battle and not been destroyed if Anakin had been less reckless, which is what he was banking on since he had more ships and the largest ship in the fleet, where Anakin just had a small cloaked vessel. I really liked this guy. He was a respected Admiral for a reason.

Anakin Skywalker – Anakin makes a hard choice to use the cloaked vessel to fight and end Trench rather than delivering the supplies. It was the right one in the end and Organa thanks him. In this we see that Skywalker is very ends justify the means contrasted with Obi-Wan’s quest to save lives. Neither approach is wrong per say, Anakin is just more prone to risk.

Obi-Wan Kenobi – Obi-Wan is the cool head of reason in this who brings a secret cloaked ship to get supplies to Christophsis. It ends up being used as a weapon though by Anakin and we see just how powerless Obi-Wan is to prevent Anakin from doing anything. Obi-Wan was right about that the supplies would have saved lives but wrong in this instance in the fight against Trench as Trench wanted a direct fight as he knew he could win, therefore only surprise could beat him.

Okay: The Clones – We get some personality shown when a new recruit named Sparky takes over for a clone who dies and quickly learns that nothing is routine with Anakin and that every mission is going on the offensive. It’s a powerful short sequence they have talking together and you realize that they’re trapped in the war even though they’re feeling beings with their own choices.

The Cons: The Droids – The droids were made to be comedic and that was really annoying. Battle droids knocked heads and the Hyena Droids were laughing as they were flying. Don’t make the enemy of your series a joke, that just reflects poorly on the writing. Trench should not have to be the only real threat this episode.

    This was a great episode that gave a great exploration of two ways of thought. Action and from action solving a problem immediately even though it may be reckless, and waiting and patience which might win the long term but could also lead to further suffering through inaction. These ideas are contrasted in Obi-Wan and Anakin and it made the episode a pleasure to watch.

Final Score: 8.6 / 10.