Rogue One

Rogue One tells the back story that occurred immediately before the original Star Wars movie, about how the rebels acquired the plans to the Death Star.  It’s a kind of conscious effort to knit together the original movie with the end of the three prequels, so we see older characters from the prequels, as well as characters from the original Star Wars film.  (Keep an eye out for a quick glimpse of R2D2 and C3PO, as well as the guys who are primed for a fight in the cantina at Mos Eisley.)

empire_rogueone-160822Rogue One not a great movie, in my view, but it’s definitely worth seeing if you’re a Star Wars buff.  The film is choppy, as if the goal was to show us as many different planets, moons, and other locations in the galaxy as possible, and the plot is, at times, a confusing jumble.  It’s got some memorable characters — I particularly liked the hulking, sarcastic robot turned gunslinger who is a key part of the rebel group, and the blind devotee to the teachings of the Force — but the overall tone is very dark.  We are seeing the cruel, barbaric Empire in full flower in this film.  And we also get a peek at Darth Vader at the height of his powers, before he becomes conflicted by his interaction with Luke Skywalker — the adherent of the Dark Side who can brutally cut through a dozen rebel fighters with a few gestures and slashes of his light saber.

The movie uses some kind of computer program to recreate characters from the original film — like the evil Governor Tarkin, and Princess Leia in her white Star Wars outfit.  The technology is vastly improved, but you still feel like you are looking at a computer animation, rather than a real person.  It’s kind of fascinating and creepy at the same time.

One other comment:  if you’re going, don’t waste your time with the 3D version, which is what I saw.  I didn’t see any reason why there is a 3D version.  There’s nothing hurled at the screen, and no overly dramatic vistas.  Unless you like sitting in a theatre wearing a cheap pair of glasses, I’d head to a regular screening.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

When you think about it, the Star Wars movies are pretty much all about dysfunctional families.  Luke Skywalker’s relationship with his dear old Dad, Darth Vader, was a frenzied, arm-chopping, each-trying-to-control-the-other mess, and when we learned about Luke and Leia’s back story in the prequel movies, and saw that they were the disturbing product of an incredibly creepy and awkward romance, the broken familial bonds become even more pronounced.  We never learned anything about Han Solo’s family, or Chewbacca’s.  So far as we have seen, there is no happy family headed by Ward and June Cleaver in that galaxy far, far away.

Star Wars:  The Force Awakens continues that heart-warming trend, except that now the circle of family dysfunctionalism has broadened even more.  One of the new characters was apparently abandoned by her family and left to fend for herself; the other was stolen from his family when he was a little tyke and forced to become a soulless storm trooper.  And let’s just say that Han and Leia’s family, and relationship, aren’t exactly what you’d see featured on the cover of Reader’s Digest.  What’s worse, Luke’s latest failure to establish a warm and loving relationship with a close relative has sent him off the reservation and off the grid, making him the subject of a universal manhunt.  And the ultimate sign of some serious family issues comes when a kid would rather hang out with a colossal 3D image of an ugly guy with a grotesquely misshapen head than spend some quality time with old Mom and Dad.

star_wars_episode_vii_the_force_awakens-wideSo let’s say this for the Star Wars franchise — for all of the uplifting music and cute robots and aliens and successful missions to blow up colossal planet-killing weaponry, the films don’t exactly sugarcoat the trials and travails of the standard nuclear family.  If you’re a Dad who’s planning on seeing it, prepare yourself.  You’re probably going to walk out of the theatre after watching it and think, sadly, that being a Dad is a pretty tough job and even heroes aren’t all that great at it.

That said, I liked the movie very much.  I’m not going to drop spoilers on those of you who haven’t seen it, but I will say that I thought the new characters were very likable and the new bad guy is a pleasant surprise because he actually seems somewhat conflicted and human.  Daisy Ridley, as Rey, takes the self-sufficient female character action up about 10 notches above the supremely capable Princess Leia from the original movies, and John Boyega, as ex-storm trooper Finn, is both believable in action sequences and funny to boot.  The special effects are terrific, as usual, the rolling ball robot is very cool, and the new aliens — especially the near-sighted female who runs a raucous watering hole where rebels and fascists alike can hang out and somehow managed to get Luke’s and Darth Vader’s old lightsaber — are great.  And it’s especially wonderful to see Han Solo and Chewbacca back in action, with Han teaching the youngsters how to properly do that rebellion thing and Chewie kicking some serious storm trooper butt.

Sure, there’s a some very familiar — very familiar — plot threads at work in the film, like the evil First Order that seems like Empire Light, a bad guy dressed in black with a black helmet, a desert planet, X-wing fighters and tie fighters zipping around at impossible speeds, another planet-busting gizmo, and a bunch of people looking intently at a video display while an impossible race against time is occurring — but there was enough that was different to keep the movie unpredictable.  And, I particularly liked the ending.  I got the sense that the old storylines had finally been disposed of, the Death Star recycling was finally completed, and now it is time to move on to something really new and different.  I hope I’m right on that.

Go see it!