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“Rogue One”a step in the right direction

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Last year, Disney reintroduced the Star Wars franchise to a new generation with “Force Awakens.” The positive of that was to see a new story on the big screen from the galaxy far, far away. However, my greatest disappointment was how so much time was spent rehashing material from the first movie instead of being its own thing. “Rogue One” has the upper hand because its a true prequel. This one has the advantage to expand on the universe while being a true link to “Star Wars.”

The main center of the story is a heroin named Jyn (Felicity Jones) who reluctantly assists a group of rebels to find out what the evil Imperial army is up to. I like how at first she doesn’t show interest but suddenly shows a sign of care once faced with what’s to come. Although she has little to no appeal in the space battles, her curiosity peaks when she learns how her father is in the mix of this. She is rebellious yet cunning. Honestly, I can’t think of a female character in the Star Wars universe that wasn’t highly determined.

Joining for the trip is an officer named Cassian (Diego Luna) whose only there to do his job. Tasked with the mission at hand, Cassian shares the same instincts but knows his limits. In one crucial moment, he’s told to assassinate someone vital to bringing down the Rebellion. Once in the moment, he hesitates questioning what value it would bring.  I like how he’s not stubborn to a new idea and at least there is no romantic pairing with Jyn. He’s an honest companion that questions his rights as a fighter.

Other rebels on the way range from a blind man who believes in the Jedi ways and his friend who is more militant. There’s sort of a ying and yang idea going on here as the two have different fighting methods. One is more resourceful on spiritual belief while the other is more into physical action. Its elements like these that make me wonder why “Force Awakens” wasn’t this clever with ideas like this. Sure it had Finn questioning if he’s a human or a fighting machine, but “Rouge One” was built around a fresh story.

To be fair, this one doesn’t shy away from reheating leftover elements. Case and point is an android named K-2SO. He’s obviously the C-3PO type who is very knowledgeable despite being the comic relief. Thankfully, Alan Tudyk’s performance saves the character from being a predictable variation making K more open to fighting when needed and hilariously pessimistic. In a way, this bot reminded me of Marvin the Depressed Robot or some kind of creation that only Douglas Adams would delight in.

Like I said, “Rogue One” doesn’t shy away from the bin of “oh, look its this from the other films” or “wow, that answers this.” I can’t begin to describe the amount of Easter eggs and things I’m sure Star Wars fans of old will be overjoyed in. The one I’m most surprised is a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin. I guess now in days you don’t need to hire a new actor with heavy make-up and I should be too shocked considering this same method was done in Tron Legacy to Jeff Bridges. Still, I liked how limitless this movie went when it came to linking itself to the older entry.

When you boil it down, “Rouge One” is hard to talk about without giving away most of the plot details. For fans of old and new, this will certainly be a nice Christmas treat. I know considering how much of a kick I got out of seeing real sets instead of CGI crafted ones, actual planet environments instead of studio built ones and intense battle scenes that challenge or match the charm of the original trilogy. I can’t tell you how much I smiled to see the AT-TA walkers during the big finale. This is a fun ball of nostalgia while also delivering a complex movie about power and fighting back.

Though parents, be fair warned. “Rouge One” is highly recommended not for smaller fans. This is a radically different movie as director Gareth Edwards wanted this to be more like a  war movie and I feel he succeeded. Despite the PG-13 rating, this is packed with many intense battle scenes and shootouts that parents might want to reconsider this as a Christmas gift for their kids. Even bigger of a debate is the ending (which I will try to avoid ruining) as key characters get killed off to which I’m certain will upset some viewers. For alternatives, I suggest taking them to either “Moana” or “Fantastic Beasts.” Both films have a kind charm that are better suited for the holiday. “Rogue One” is a good entry and an improvement over last year’s entry. But what irks me is how it won’t be canon with the new trilogy. Apparently, the idea is to make a series of Star Wars anthology movies that are more in line with the original films. Honestly, I’d more inclined to see them than watch the continuing retreaded adventures of Kylo Ren.

New “Star Wars” good entry but lacks something

star-wars-force-awakens-official-posterIt has been a decade since “Revenge of the Sith” and my thoughts were simple. Six films were all that was needed in the Star Wars canon. There was no way they could make a new set of films or even a new one period. The cast was too old and I didn’t feel there was anything else to explore in the franchise. Sure there were tons of worlds but considering the fan fiction and “Expanded Universe,” I didn’t think there was a possible way to make a new movie at the time. And when Disney bought the rights from creator George Lucas, I still didn’t think it was possible. Well one way or another, they did it. They were able to make a seventh entry in hopes of making a new trilogy from what I hear.

I went in, had my “Dark Crystal” t-shirt on (lost my Star Wars shirt. still fitting seeing 33 years ago that movie came out on the 17th of December), treated some friends of mine and watched the movie. My reaction will be quite different from what many will expect. But let me say off the cuff that this is a Star Wars movie. There are elements and things that I can look at and say this is something I can picture in the Star Wars universe. The planets, alien beings and spaceships are Star Wars elements. But as far as the rest of the movie goes, it makes for a good entry. Not a great entry along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back,” but at least respectfully better than the prequel trilogy.

Star-Wars-7-Character-Guide-Finn-ReyWithout ruining too much, “The Force Awakens” has plenty of interesting elements and story ideas. I dig the idea of a stormtrooper named Finn (John Boyega) questioning his place in the universe. Along the ranks of the Iron Giant and Peace from “Wizards,” his position as a weapon is seen as an afterthought as he seeks for redemption. I felt the character and the actor were one seeing how much subtly they show in his wish to change. This is not a basic cliche but a full developed character. Not once in the saga have we questioned the aspect of a mindless solider’s ability to have a personality and questioning morality. Here, we do and it does feel philosophical in a sense. Not in a “beating over the head message” but more of a character motive which is very fitting here. To me, this was “THX-1138” but performed better.

Of course, things get into a tangle with a desert scavenger (Daisy Ridley) who is also searching for purpose as well. Again, hard to talk about the character without giving too much but here are the basics. This is a cool heron. When she is captured, she doesn’t sit and wait for someone to rescue her. This is the kind of character that will seek a way to escape no matter what it takes. Of course, this does contradict it a bit seeing she thinks certain parents who abandoned her as a kid will return. On the plus, its nice to see a female hero that can fight, use logic and know how to run a “bucket of bolts.”

star-wars-force-awakens-han-solo-chewbacca“Force Awakens” I’m sure will be the talk of the town with old fans seeing some familiar faces appear. Confirming just by the trailer, yes we get Han Solo and his sidekick Chewbacca. I admit, seeing Harrison Ford still doing stunts at the age of 73 was incredible. It shows he still knows hows to be an action man even long after the originals. Some get cameos, some get a small importance to the story while others appear just to please the fans. Its nice to see familiar faces and the original actors but part of me wishes they did a lot more. Or didn’t use some for a sequel bait. Oh, well get to that later….in non-spoiler fashion.

However, not all of the new adventures works. At least for me. The story-line I felt took one too many familiar beats from the original trilogy. And I understand what its trying to do. Certain elements are trying to please the mass of die hard nostalgia fans. Again, I can’t talk about them without spoiling it. But let’s say unlike Terminator Genysis, they at least take old stuff and try to do new things instead of tossing them at the screen and seeing if it sticks. A good example is the aspect of the villain. Yeah, they try to do this thing with Vader by giving him a mask and family issues. Its no Vader but there is this nice menace that reminds us of the power that was once there.

force-socialAnd speaking of which, the new baddies were get are not that interesting. Instead of the Empire, we get the First Order. Yeah, an obvious take and attack on Nazism even right down to the flags and its general making dictations of conquest as an army of stormtroopers observe. Yeah, you can argue that was something with the original trilogy but here, it feels a tad more obvious even right down to the banner design. Even the new set of villains are sort of forgettable. With more focus on our heroes, the basic gist we get from these new evildoers is they are evil and want to take over the galaxy.

Even Kylo Ren is pitted as the next Vader and to be honest, he does has some intimidation. You can feel this fear and anger flow from him but only when he had the mask on. Though, there are times when he did act like he was having a childish fit when he thrashed his light-saber at computer screens after hearing bad news. And without giving too much away, when his true face is revealed, most of that menace dimmed. It appeared more like a brooding version of the secret love child between Benedict Cumberbatch and Josh Groban. And the ever so hyped Captain Phasma felt very useless to me. Aside from one moment near the end, this metallic baddie never did anything that stood out to me. The only one who stood out was Domhnall Gleeson as General Hux, a tough as nails general whose so determined to conquer even to the point you see his eyes bug out of his head when he’s screaming speeches.

Now, I understand this is a new entry in a trilogy Disney is crafting but when making a new film, it would be nice to at least tie up some loose ends. Again, without spoiling too much, there are open questions left here and there which I feel give too much sequel bait. Call it a nitpick, but seeing we are being introduced to these characters for the first time, I feel it would have been nice to at least give a sense of closure without being too broad. I understand there are character arcs that need to be explored but even in the first Star Wars (“A New Hope”), it ended on a note that felt satisfying as opposed to saying “there will be another” in a blunt manner. A better example are the new Planet of the Apes movies which do open the door for a sequel but not in a demanding way. It tells us the story is concluded and there is room for another as opposed to making obvious set ups. When something like that happens when it leaves too many questions floating around, it obviously says “there will be a sequel to answer those” and it really annoys me. Again, these are new characters and at least we should feel a sense of closure as opposed to a “To Be Continued” feeling by the end. Its a double edge sword but that’s how I felt.

Aside from the flaws, I can safely say this is a Star Wars movie. I can look at a certain scene from the movie and say on the fly, this is what a Star Wars movie looks like and acts like. The action scenes are enjoyable, the new monsters and aliens are unique to look at, the weapons are certainly Star Wars and the new worlds we see are a nice change of pace. I feel like its something “Star Trek: Generations” tried to do by merging the universe of the old with the new, but I feel its done a tad better here. Maybe if the villains where more threatening and the story took some new risks, it could have been this great sequel along the lines of “Empire Strikes Back.” But I feel its enjoyment is on the level of the first movie and “Return of the Jedi.” And thankfully its nowhere near the area of the prequels, but part of me feels there could have been more improvement in spots. On the upside, it was nice to see a new Star Wars movie on the big screen and makes it an easy recommendation. Just don’t go in with too much hype is what I say.

Rental Corner: Young Indy’s First Uneven Adventure

Before the Ark, Indy was a kid! Go figure

Before the Ark, Indy was a kid! Go figure

In 1992, George Lucas produced a TV series that filled in the “missing gaps” of Indiana Jones’ life after much questioning from his crew about what did that famed adventurer do in his youth. The result was The Young Indiana Jones Chronicles whose soul purpose was to not just present what Indiana Jones did growing up but also educate at the same time. In all honesty, I feel this is a good concept seeing the role Harrison Ford made so famous have his origins revealed while learning about the decade or time period. It was a big gamble for ABC and while it was a not a huge hit, the “Chronicles” of Indy’s life never made a big impact.

As a result, 44 one-hour episodes were re-edited into 22 films that were syndicated about on television and made available to DVD a while back on three massive volumes. Right away, I know I shouldn’t be reviewing one of these seeing its only two episodes stitched together to make a 90 minute feature length flick but curiosity got the best of me and I had to say something about this. Its more than just reviewing a “telefilm” (where TV episodes are edited “seamlessly” together) but just to describe how this method doesn’t work in my opinion.

Re-titled “The Adventures of Young Indiana Jones,” the “Chronicles” are now a long story that follows Indy’s childhood all the way to how far it can into his teenage years. The reason for this reediting was to show the chronology in Indiana’s progression and show the history of the character. That I can understand but the idea of re-editing the episodes into one movie still doesn’t work. “My First Adventure” is a good example as it takes the first portion of the pilot “Curse of the Jackle” and pairs it with an unused episode titled “Tangiers, 1908” (as the show was canceled material for other episodes were left unaired or even unused.)

In the first half of “First Adventure,” we briefly see Indy in his New Jersey home having fun with his unnamed friends and learning things from his own surroundings. And considering the amount of technology experiments he performs from homemade hot-air balloons to railroad track ships, it makes me wonder why we didn’t get this as an entire episode. Then the Jones family moves about the world as his dad decides to do some expeditions and give some lectures on the way (to be fair, Lloyd Owen’s portrayal matches that close or if not on track with Sean Connery.)

First stop is in Egypt where young Indy gets the chance to see a real mummy in its tomb and at first, it starts to have the feel of an adventure like the first films where a bit of treasure is missing, suspicion of a curse comes underway and even the way Indy thinks is akin to his older counterpart but sadly that is underused. Unfortunately, the story itself feels unfinished as the resolution of the missing Jackal headpiece that starts this whole tirade  never gets found. I heard originally the “Curse of the Jackle” pilot aired as a two-hour event and perhaps, its better to view it in that context seeing how confused I felt thinking this plot element would carry over into the next story.

Tangiers, Morocco takes up the second half as this surprisingly was an unaired episode used here for chronological purposes but after the confusion of leaving one story unresolved, it doesn’t feel like much is accomplished by the end credits seeing one mystery is left opened. The other part deals with Indy befriending a slave named Omar who learns in return the hardships of such a low life. In the tradition of rich kid meets the voice of poverty, this is not that bad of an idea and at least it goes somewhere. Indy and Omar later run about the Tangiers marketplace where they are kidnapped and tossed right into the slave trade as tensions rise during an auction where young Indy realizes that being a servant is not a cup of tea.

I can’t fault this one too much for its unresolved first half but I was so invested in the mystery and mythos that I really wanted it to have a proper conclusion. The Tangiers story is not bad as I have a soft spot for these kind of tales where the rich gets to see a new view of the world and learn its not all a perfect world and at least it has a conclusion. I liked the chemistry between Indy and Omar as it felt close to that of Johnny Quest and Hadji but more in the view of leaning each other’s goals and seeing life views from their own perspective.

But at the end of the day, I want to watch the actually TV series not for reasons of preservation but to see how it all differs from the edited down films and the missing resolution of “Curse of the Jackal.” Even cut from these movies is George Hall introducing the series as a 93 year old Indiana Jones with an eye patch who gives set up to each episode and story. Unfortunately from what I researched, some of the unaired episodes didn’t have the old Indy introductions which might explain why they bunched them into their own separate flicks.

But looking at the series on its own terms, I think kids and teenagers will enjoy the adventure aspect and gain something in return while older audiences will respect the pulp fiction/action feel in the dialogue and characters. I didn’t even get to mention how for a series shot on 16mm film this looks beautiful even with the on-location stuff giving that extra push for a matinee serial feel. Unfortunately, Indy’s first adventure didn’t feel like a grand start and while I do respect how much it doesn’t dumb itself down for its audience, I still feel like more could have been done. Or at least let us see what these episodes looked like in its original context before the re-editing. I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this one seeing how engaged I was but I do hope later episodes (or films in this case) don’t feel this off balanced.