Tag Archives: Star Wars

The Beginning Matters Too: Rogue One

When you start writing a story, it’s always important to keep in mind what kind of story you’re trying to tell. Rogue One struggled with this, and as a writer myself, it’s hard not to sympathize. On the one hand they wanted to tell a standard Star Wars adventure story about Jyn Erso and the search for her father, but on the other was a war story about the rebels who stole the plans to the Death Star. They’re both good stories, unfortunately trying to tell both of them at the same time just ended up cluttering up the first act.

Jyn Erso’s story had some serious potential and I’m sad to think of what might have been. Seriously, both Mads Mikkelsen and Forest Whitaker gave some amazing performances, seeing both their characters more fully explored would have been a real treat. Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera in particular seemed like a fascinating character, and I wanted to know so much more about him, and his relationship with Jyn.

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He was on screen for two minutes, but Forest Whitaker made Saw Gerrera feel alive.

“Did you come here to kill me? There’s not much of me left.”

You can hear how tired and afraid Saw Gerrera is in that line, and it made me want to know so much more about him. How long had he been fighting the Empire? How many battles had he only just barely survived to result in so many cybernetic prosthetics? How many times had he been betrayed that he saw treachery around every corner and in the eyes of Jyn Erso, who had become as a surrogate daughter to him?

In many ways it would have been easier had anyone other than Forest Whitaker played the role, because then it would just be some random side character I didn’t care about. It was Forest’s performance that sold it. As it is, who knows, maybe Whitaker will get his own spin-off movie.

In the end though, not enough time was spent with either Galen Erso or Saw Gerrera to appreciably deepen Jyn Erso’s character. It’s a shame too, had this beginning been pursued more fully, it could have added a whole new dynamic to the finale. If I had one problem with the ending of Rogue One it was the confrontation between Jyn and Director Krennic.

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They could have added so much more humanity to this character.

What should have been a climactic moment in Jyn Erso’s character arc… just ended up feeling flat. Krennic doesn’t even recognize her, and when he does, he doesn’t even have anything interesting to say. Yet had Krennic’s backstory with Jyn been more fully explored, this confrontation could have been the emotional crown to Jyn’s storyline.

Krennic was obviously fond of both Galen, his wife, and his daughter. At one time they must have been friends, until Galen found his conscience and realized what he was doing. In one brief flashback scene we see Jyn watching her father with Krennic, and they seemed like good friends, which got me thinking. What if, instead of being two strangers, Krennic and Jyn knew each other when they faced off on the communications array?

Imagine if Krennic had been like a favorite uncle to Jyn as a child, and her an adopted niece to Krennic? Suddenly that final confrontation would have emotional teeth. Jyn would be filled with hate over her father’s enslavement by Krennic, Krennic would be furious at Jyn dismantling his life’s work… yet that love they once shared would still be there. That would give Krennic a reason to not immediately blast Jyn when he sees her, because he wouldn’t be seeing the fiery leader of the Rebellion’s strike force, but the little girl he adored.

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Now what? 

Still, could any of this gotten into the film without completely ruining the war story dynamic of the second and third acts? Yes, I believe any story can be told, but it would have been an incredible challenge and would have required more time to put into place.

As a result of the adventure story beginning, Rogue One ends up missing the first part of a good war story: the introduction to the characters. What was needed here was a beginning not unlike The Dirty Dozen, or even Inglourious Basterds, in which every character and their skillset is introduced. While Cassian’s entry successfully pulls that off, and is one of the best moments of the first act, everyone else is basically overlooked.

Had Rogue One cut the adventure story of Jyn Erso’s family, it would have gone a long way to making the beginning more structured. Yet at the same time, it would also have robbed us of Galen Erso and his sabotaging of the Death Star. As I said in my review, it was Mads Mikkelsen’s performance as Jyn’s father that gave the thermal exhaust port a new emotional weight. I can see the conundrum that the makers of Rogue One faced, and in the end I suspect they ran out of time to fix the problem properly and give both stories a chance to shine.

So yes, the beginning is a mess and there’s no getting around it now, but perhaps it did enough to the put the pieces in place for Rogue One‘s ending. Which as I already wrote, was one hell of an ending.

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And if you missed my original review, you can find it right here.
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All That Matters is the Ending: Rogue One

I loved Rogue OneLoved it. Yet even I must admit, I may have oversold it a bit when I tweeted after leaving the theater.

Okay, there might have been some slight exaggeration.

I loved it because Rogue One scratched an itch I’ve been suffering from since I first watched Star Wars when I was kid. In fact watching it felt like watching my own childhood imagination coming to life on the big screen. That’s why I was so blind to many of its flaws at first. This is also why I wait until subsequent viewings to write a review.

I understand now why so many people had a problem with The Force Awakens; large parts of it just didn’t seem sincere. It had been made, to an almost scientific degree, to appeal to a broad audience. The monster chase, the constant cameos, the almost shot-for-shot recreations of original Star Wars scenes… it added up to an experience that made it seem desperate for us to love it. Like the creators were sitting next to us, whispering “Isn’t this great? Isn’t this so Star Wars? Please like me,” the entire time we were watching. It was Star Wars though, and I was having fun, so I just nodded along.

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This may have been scientifically created be adorable, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it.

Rogue One was clearly made with a specific story in mind, and while it’s clear that certain shots were cut in later to force it closer to The Force Awakens, it’s still a story that rings of authenticity rather than sheer commercialism. More than that, this a prequel that actually does what it’s supposed to: make the original movies even more enjoyable. It fixes a flaw that’s long been made fun of in A New Hope and gives it a new sense of dramatic weight that it lacked before.

This isn’t like any Star Wars story that’s come before. If you go in expecting a fun adventure story like A New Hope or The Force Awakens, you will be disappointed. Though it’s tonally closer The Empire Strikes Back, it succeeds in being even darker. This is not a happy story, but it doesn’t make the mistake of being joyless either. There is a lot of fun to be had here, and you’ll burst out laughing at times, but there is sadness and loss here too. This is a new kind of  Star Wars story.

Rogue One is Star Wars’ very first war story.

[This concludes the Spoiler Free version of the review, don’t scroll past the picture of Darth Vader if you don’t want spoilers. Just trust me, you’ll want to see this one for yourself. If you’ve already seen it and want to know why it was awesome, or perhaps you didn’t like it and want to know why I did, keep on reading.]

 

Darth Vader

All That Matters is the Ending:

Rogue One

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This is going to be a new perspective for my All That Matters is the Ending series. All my previous entries have focused on bad endings that ruined otherwise good stories. This article is going to be about how a great ending saved a story from being terrible.

If my judgement of the movie had to rely solely on the beginning, I would say it was a worse film that Episode 1. Fortunately, that’s not the case. Rogue One‘s ending, and I’m going to cheat a little and include the second act, more than make up for the rocky start. Here’s how Rogue One‘s ending did everything a good ending is supposed to do.

3. The Characters Find Meaning (If Only at the End)

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The beginning of Rogue One is a mess, at one point jumping between like 8 different planets in the first ten minutes. The problem here is that Rogue One forgot it was telling a war story, and tried to start the film like a traditional Star Wars film by featuring the tragic story of Jyn Erso. The beginning of Rogue One demanded something more akin to the beginning of The Dirty Dozen or Inglourious Basterds, where all the main characters are given their own unique introduction. To be fair, they tried to provide this, it just… really didn’t work for most of the characters.

Cassian’s introduction is the only one where this works and I love the scene where he’s introduced, meeting a contact on a remote trading outpost. First of all, this scene made the Rebellion seem like an actual rebellion. Rebellions, or any martial conflict, rely on intelligence gathering, and Cassian’s meeting a contact served as the perfect introduction to not only the character, but the movie. Cassian being forced to kill his contact, and most likely friend as well, rather than allow him to be captured clearly marked Rogue One out as being a different kind of Star Wars story. A traditional adventure story in the vein of A New Hope or Return of the Jedi would have featured a gallant rescue.

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Diego Luna gave us a new kind of hero.

Unfortunately, the other characters don’t get the same treatment. That’s another article, and if you hated the beginning (or the entire movie), my next article will be your next stop. However the ending quickly does what the beginning failed to do.

I’m going to reach back into the mists of time and bring up my Mass Effect 3 review. When I complained that there was no sense of closure for the characters, some took that to mean that I simply didn’t want them to die, or that death wasn’t a proper resolution for a character. That’s not so, and Rogue One is the perfect example of the kind of resolution I had been hoping for in Mass Effect 3.

Rather than allowing them to die off camera in the horrific holocaust of post-Mass Effect 3 Earth, I wanted to see them go down fighting. Giving their all, even in the face of an unstoppable evil. That’s exactly what Rogue One gives its characters.

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To be honest, I don’t remember this character’s name, but I’ll sure as hell remember him.

Looking at this like a typical Star Wars story you would be completely justified in thinking these characters were all pretty shallow. However, if you look at it as war movie, you’ll see that each character gets about as much attention as they do in any war movie. I regard Saving Private Ryan as one of the finest movies ever made, but thinking back on the characters… I couldn’t name any of them besides the titular role. I sure as hell remember the Sniper though, and the translator, and Tom Hanks and his second in command.

That’s just how war stories are told, you don’t have time to get in depth with most of the characters without ruining the pacing, tone, or atmosphere.

Rogue One, like most great war movies, defines its characters by how they meet their end on the battlefield.

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When you think Tom Hanks in Saving Private Ryan, this is the scene that came to mind right?

Whether it be K2’s valiant sacrifice at the vault to Donnie Yen’s calm walk across a burning battlefield, Rogue One nailed these characters and their final moments. Each character’s death also serves an important purpose to the battle itself, so rather than being death for its own sake, each character is fulfilling a purpose.

K2-S0 secures the vault to keep the imperials from pursuing Jyn and Cassian. Cassian buys time for Jyn to get to the relay. Donnie Yen’s character connects the landing pad to the communications array. The pilot connects the line to the shuttle and sends out the message to the rebels to bring down the shield. They’re all forging a link in a chain that ends with the Death Star plans being transmitted to the fleet overhead.

It’s that teamwork, that shared sacrifice to obtain their goal, that makes a great war film. Yet no only is Rogue One enjoyable in itself, it also makes the original Star Wars even better.

2. Rogue One makes A New Hope an Even Better Movie

Let’s all talk about that Thermal Exhaust Port shall we?

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You know the one I mean…

This has been a running joke since the day Star Wars premiered in 1977, and even though there was a great defense on why the Death Star needs an exhaust port, today it’s held up as the textbook example of lazy writing. Now though, after watching Rogue One, that thermal exhaust port takes on a whole new meaning.

Now it’s no longer the result of the Empire using subcontractors who cut corners, or whatever your favorite joke for the Thermal Exhaust Port is, it’s now a symbol of the Rebellion. It’s one man’s last act of defiance against an overpowering evil that had taken everything from him, even though he knew it would never redeem him of his crime of designing such a horrible weapon. It’s an impossible predicament to imagine, you know how to design a weapon of mass destruction:

Do you refuse to do it and be executed, knowing that they will go on without you?

Or do you agree to do it, and sabotage the weapon from the inside?

One the one hand, if you refuse you die knowing the blood of millions isn’t on your hands. Yet on the other, could you prevent those millions from dying?

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It’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t kind of situation.

This has been a story I’ve been fascinated with since my father introduced me to the Heisenberg Version [warning: a long, sometimes boring, but fascinating historical text in that link]. In short, the Heisenberg Version refers to how Heisenberg characterized his working on the atomic bomb for Nazi Germany. Heisenberg’s claim is that he was like Galen Erso, doing his best to convince Nazi High Command that the Atom Bomb was a physical impossibility. He went so far as to deliberately falsify the mathematical formulas he presented so as to dissuade his crazy boss Hitler from pursuing such a devastating weapon.

I have no idea if this story is true, other historians say that this was simply Heisenberg’s way of covering his ass or saving face for making the mistake that the atomic bomb couldn’t happen. I’m not a historian, I just pilfer history for good stories, and true or not, The Heisenberg Version is one hell of a story.

[I wish my dad had been around to see this film, he would have loved debating this point.]

Though speaking of tragically lost fathers…

Galen’s last words to his daughter, after being reunited only moments earlier, made me choke up.

“There was so much I wanted to tell you.” – Galen Erso, Rogue One

It’s such an old, tired line. Maybe it was because I lost my father not too long ago, but that line hit me right between the lungs. Mostly though, it was Mads Mikkelson’s amazing performance.

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If you knew Mads as Hannibal Lector, you won’t recognize him in Rogue One.

In fact all of the emotion that I now attach to that thermal exhaust port, is solely because of his delivering of only a handful of lines. I truly wish he’d been given a larger role because he owned that character, for those few moments he was Galen Erso. Yet, even as great as his performance was, he alone isn’t responsible for adding greatness. It is, as the title suggests, the ending that brings it home and not only brings new meaning to A New Hope but also redeems its atrocious first act.

1. The Ending Hits All the Right Emotional Notes

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Darth Vader, the faceless enforcer of the Empire, is back people!

I’ll let you in on a secret. Even though I loved my perfect Mass Effect 2 ending in which I save all my guys, my absolute favorite ending is the one where everyone dies. Dragon Age: Origins, sacrificing myself so that Alistair could be king (as terrible an idea as that sounded) was one of the high points. I’m a sucker for a good noble sacrifice, and Rogue One delivered them in spades.

I know some people probably rolled their eyes at each character’s heroic death, but I loved it, it’s exactly the kind of heroic death that Star Wars was made for. As dark as Star Wars sometimes gets, it’s still Star Wars and you don’t want to show disemboweled soldiers screaming for their mothers. So when I watched K2-S0 hold off an entire platoon of Stormtroopers, I wasn’t shaking my head about how unrealistic it is, I was smiling.

Repeating the whole staring at the grenade thing twice was a bit of misstep, I admit, but seeing Donnie Yen’s companion finally accept the Force to honor his friend hit me exactly where it should: the feels. And while my friend Hali wanted to see Jyn and Cassian kiss in their final moments, I thought it was fitting that these two simply hug as they faced their final moments together rather than force a romantic scene.

The heroic deaths do more than add resolution to the characters and their story however, it adds a new sense of dramatic weight to the A New Hope, and indeed, Star Wars as a whole.

One thing Star Wars movies have always been missing is a sense of loss. In A New Hope, only three fighters out of thirty make it back to base, but there’s no somber homecoming. Tonally, okay, that fits for A New Hope, but what about Return of the Jedi? Their had to be tens of thousands dead on the Rebellion’s side alone.

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Going off Wookiepedia, this ship alone has a crew of over 5000.

Now Return of the Jedi was originally supposed to have a more Pyrrhic victory feel at the end until George Lucas dumped a bunch of Ewoks in there for merchandising. Rogue One has the tone and feel that Return of the Jedi should have had. Yes we won, but look at the price we paid.

Even better, the “rebel spies” spoken of by Darth Vader are no longer a throwaway piece of exposition. They’re now the people who gave everything to make sure the Rebellion would survive, we can place names and faces to those spies.

Speaking of Darth Vader… guess who is back at the top of my favorite villain list!

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Vader is bringing sexy back!

Rogue One leaves behind the whining and whinging Anakin the prequels forced on us, and shows us why we loved Darth Vader. As groan inducing as the choking pun was earlier in the film, his bloody return to power on the Rebel ship more than made up for it. If you watched Stars Wars straight through from episodes 1-4, the very first time you see Darth Vader is when he impotently screams “NOOOOOO!” and thus it completely neuters his introduction in A New Hope. Now, sticking Rogue One into the lineup, his ominous arrival on the scene has some teeth to it again. Seeing Darth Vader back as the faceless enforcer of the Empire’s will makes this whole movie worth it.

This scene isn’t just useless fan service either, at least in my opinion. Darth Vader has never been one to get his hands dirty unnecessarily, but in this case he’s trying to keep the rebels from escaping with the plans. He doesn’t have time to let his visually challenged Stormtroopers try and slug their way through, this demands an efficiency only he and his  lightsaber can provide.

Then later, when the rebel corvette is at the mercy of his Star Destroyer, well then he can take his time and pick it apart as his leisure.

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“This is a consular ship!” “Trooper, didn’t we just watch them escape five minutes ago?” “Yes sir!” “That’s what I thought.”

I’ve read some pretty damning reviews of Rogue One, and I can see where they’re all coming from. In fact this review is so late because I was afraid of publishing so glowing of it, but try as I might, I just couldn’t bring myself to not like it. I am who I am, and I enjoy the stories I enjoy.

I loved this movieIf you didn’t, I get it, and I’ll be thoroughly savaging what went wrong with the beginning later for your amusement.

But I loved it, and if nothing else, I hope this explains why I did.

3 Things the Next Star Wars Movie Can’t Do

So I loved the new Star Wars. A lot of people didn’t, however. I understand why, and honestly I gave The Force Awakens a pass on several flaws simply because it was well-paced adventure story that recaptured the magic of Star Wars. That said, I am going to be expecting more from the second film in the new trilogy, because as popular as A New Hope was, it was The Empire Strikes Back that cemented Star Wars’ position as a cultural icon.

If the next movie wants to succeed, here’s three thing it can’t do.

(Note: Spoilers for The Force Awakens to follow, and this article is referring to Episode VIII not the Rogue One spin-off.)

3. Load the Movie with Cameos

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That armor is a neon sign screaming “BOSS FIGHT”… and yet we never actually get to see her in action.

I mentioned that the monster VS bounty hunter chase scene in The Force Awakens seemed completely out of place. Well I recently found out that one of the Bounty Hunter teams that shows up hunting Han Solo were from the cast of The Raid. That’s when I realized there are way too many cameos in this movie. I have no problem with a cameo so long as it blends seamlessly with the rest of the film, but most of the cameos in The Force Awakens don’t. There are seams. Big, ugly, rippable seams.

The Raid was a terrific movie, I loved it, but that doesn’t mean you can just throw the actors from that into Star Wars and somehow expect it to improve the film. If the scene had incorporated the actor’s amazing talents, like having the bounty hunters be incredibly good at close-quarters combat, then maybe it could have worked because at least then you could introduce them again in the next movie. As it is though, they show up, have like two lines of dialogue, and then run from the giant monsters. Then they report Han Solo has the droid to the First Order, but that information didn’t need to be conveyed because we later see spies at Maz’s tavern relay the same information. As it is, the scene only served to slow down the film.

However the prize for worst cameo is a tie, and it goes to these two:

These two appear as Admiral Statura and the stupidly named Snap Wexley. Now they’ve both worked with J.J. Abrams before, and they’re both good actors. But I felt they just didn’t fit into the scene they were shoehorned into.

I mean Admiral “IT’S A TRAP!” Ackbar was in the room, the most badass piece of calamari to ever escape a sushi restaurant, and they didn’t let him deliver the briefing? Instead they let these two do some technobabble that builds absolutely no excitement for the coming battle. Admiral Ackbar’s solemn voice added weight to the briefing about the second Death Star, something that would have been gladly received in the briefing for Starkiller.

Now I get it, it’s Star Wars. If J.J. Abrams was a personal friend of mine, I’d be begging him to give me a bit part in the new movie. Hell, if I had the necessary guile and insanity, I’d kidnap his family to be a small part of the next Star Wars movie. But as the director helming the new Star Wars, J.J. Abrams needs to say no to these people. He needs to let me murder his family rather than give me a role in the next movie.

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Or he could send Liam Neeson after me. I’m good with either scenario. (AP Photo/20th Century Fox, Magali Bragard)

That said, I hope JB-007 makes another appearance.

2. Skip over the details

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I touched on the fact that The Force Awakens often glazes over the details, and how that was fine because it was a callback to the original movie. However if Disney wants to create the same incredible universe that the original universe did, they’re going to have to do what Empire did:  flesh out the mythos and lore of the universe. Honestly I don’t care if the next movie explains how the First Order built Starkiller base, and actually I hope they don’t because any explanation will probably sound stupid. I do, however, want to know more about the First Order, why there is (or rather was) a peace treaty between them and the Republic, and how much space they control.

The Empire Strikes Back conveys a ton of information about the Star Wars universe without ever having to stop to explain it in a long drawn out expositional conversation. The Executor Super Star Destroyer as Vader’s command ship, cements the technological superiority of the Empire over the Rebellion, as do their AT-AT walkers. The probe droids sent out at the beginning of the film give the audience a grasp of how vast the universe is, and the difficulty of locating the rebels. Admiral Ozzel tries to convince Vader that the base on Hoth might be pirates or smugglers, subconsciously letting the the audience know that this universe is teeming with life beyond just the Rebellion and the Empire.

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And some of that life is just ugly as sin.

Then of course there’s the bounty hunters, which introduced us to Boba Fett. He was hilariously inept as a bounty hunter, but the way he was introduced sold him as a capable and dangerous villain. The hierarchy of the Empire is also revealed, whereas in A New Hope it was kind of nebulous. In the original movie Darth Vader seemed subordinate to Grand Moff Tarkin. The Empire Strikes Back reveals him to be the highest ranking person, second only to the Emperor. And when the Emperor commands Vader to communicate with him, Vader immediately obeys; abandoning his dogged pursuit of the Millennium Falcon. Vader’s demeanor, and the Emperor’s dialogue about disturbances in the Force, reveal the Emperor to be a powerful enemy.

Point is, a lot of small details were sprinkled throughout the film, ultimately helping to cement Star Wars in the public consciousness and sparking people’s imagination. It’s that kind of detail that needs to be liberally sprinkled across the next movie. Let us learn through osmosis how this new universe works, how powerful the New Republic is compared to the First Order. What is Leia’s position in the Republic? Where did Snoke come from, and what are his abilities?

If the next movie keeps the details as nebulous and vague as The Force Awakens did, then   I can’t see them sustaining an interesting world in the long-term. Note: I’m not saying to go crazy like The Extended Universe eventually did. Just some background to flesh out this new universe.

 

1. Make it all about Skywalker(s)

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Now I know Luke’s lineage was a huge factor in the original trilogy, but if Disney wants to make Star Wars movies from here to eternity, it’s going to need to leave behind the whole ‘chosen lineage’ aspect behind. There’s a lot of speculation around Rey’s lineage, but I’m really, really hoping she doesn’t turn out to be a Skywalker.

Why?

Because it’s boring. It’s been done before, and nothing in the story requires her to be a Skywalker. If Rey ends up being yet another Skywalker, then basically we’re saying that the entire universe revolves around one family and that will kill Star Wars faster than a vengeful George Lucas reacquiring the rights. If it continues down that road, eventually Star Wars is going to end up looking like World War I, in that all the leaders are related to each other.

I’m not saying Luke can’t play a part, obviously. He needs to train Rey and I’m looking forward to seeing him actually do something in the next film. I’m not saying that the Skywalkers can’t still play important roles in the universe.

I’m just saying they can’t be the only thing holding the universe together.

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They’ve already killed off the one non-Skywalker character that affected the story, the last thing we need is more Skywalkers Skywalkering it up in here.

Yes, I admit it could be an incredibly poignant story if Rey ends up being a long lost sister or cousin to Kylo Ren. But at the same time, come on… we can craft an amazing story without having to rely on the family angle again. We really don’t need to go down this road again.

Star Wars: The Bad Awakens

So the teaser for the newest addition to the Star Wars Franchise is out and…and it’s pretty damn underwhelming. One might even go so far as to say…bad.

Real bad.

So as a teaser this is should be showcasing the best they have to offer so far, and if they looked at this teaser and said “yeah, these of are some of the best parts of the movie so far” then oh boy…we’re all in a lot of trouble.

First of all, it opens on fucking Tatooine, the most boring setting in the entire franchise. A giant fucking desert with absolutely no interesting landmarks. The whole reason it was used in the first film is because it was a visual representation of Luke’s boring, pre-jedi life. In the hero’s journey of Luke’s life, that was the Ordinary World. Yet for some reason, everytime someone makes a Star Wars movie now, it just has to show Tatooine. Enough already.

Tatooine sucks.

My god...it's boring...It's nothing but boring for as far as the eye can see!
My god…it’s boring…boring for as far as the eye can see!

But okay, it cuts from the poor bastard stuck on the Mexico of Star Wars to some more Stormtroopers on a transport. And you know that part looks alright, I’d actually like to see a movie from the perspective of an ordinary Stormtrooper. That’s not what we’re going to get, but still, that’s a good scene. Very atmospheric.

And then we’re back on Tatooine.

God damn it, people! What did I just say!?

And then as if being on Tatooine isn’t bad enough, we’re introduced to the Star Wars equivalent of the Dyson BallVac.

Yes, that is a Droid rolling on a soccer ball while tense, thematic music strums in the background. And this isn't a joke.
Yes, that is a Droid rolling on a soccer ball while tense, thematic music strums in the background.
When Stephen Hawking said real life often comes to mirror Science Fiction... this isn't what he meant.
When Stephen Hawking said real life often comes to mirror Science Fiction… this isn’t what he had in mind.

Then we cut to some X-Wings skimming across the water and I’ll admit, this scene is as impressive as hell. My mouth actually dropped open. It looks like they built real, functioning X-Wings and filmed them flying across the waters of Lake Como. That’s as close to photo-realistic CGI as I’ve ever seen. And just when I’m starting to think that maybe this won’t be such a disaster after all –

This happens.
This happens.

Now I’m not going to go into the impracticality of this design. After all, this is Star Wars, a fictional universe where building giant space-borne death cannons are practically an everyday occurrence and magical space wizards hold flaming sticks of molten energy right next to their faces. I don’t care about practicality. I do care if this looks like the goofy drawings of a 9-year old, which it totally does. I’m pretty sure I drew this exact same thing after I saw the original trilogy for the first time, because that’s how a nine-year-olds brain works.

What would make lightsabers even more awesome? I thought. Attaching even more lightsabers to the lightsaber!

I was hoping the creative minds behind the newest Star Wars movie, their last hope for redeeming a franchise that’s become a parody of itself, would have a bit more imagination and restraint than my nine-year-old self. It also doesn’t help that this scene is accompanied by some of the most hackneyed and overwrought evil dialogue I’ve ever heard.

The Dark side…and the light… – Darth Evil

Really? Why don’t you just throw in some references to those darn kids and their dog while you’re at it. Couldn’t you have at least gotten a voice actor that could pull off that dialogue? Hire back James Earl Jones for god’s sake.

Then, as the conclusion to the pulse-pounding teaser that’s supposed to getting us excited for a new Star Wars movie, they show us the Millenium Falcon.

On Tatooine.

God Damn It! 

Is this whole movie going to take place on the worst place in the fucking galaxy? 

Though I guess I can take solace in the fact that, even 30 years later, Tie Fighter pilots still can't shoot straight.
Though I guess I can take solace in the fact that, even 30 years later, Tie Fighter pilots still can’t shoot straight. Seriously guys, you had one job!

Yeah. I’m thinking we should probably write the whole thing off as awful right now.

How Star Wars Went Right: The Prequels vs The Clone Wars

So I lied earlier, I’ll be doing the comparison between the Prequel trilogy and the Clone Wars now, since it’s taking longer to choose the episode arcs I want to write about than I thought (currently it would take a book to cover all the things I want to cover.)

The Plan

clone-wars-palpatine

The Prequel Version:

We all knew that Senator Palpatine was the villain the moment he stepped on stage in Episode I. We knew it, the cast new it, everyone knew it. Yet despite the fact we all knew it, the prequel trilogy tried to make it some big mystery with “Darth Sidious” and treating the audience like a bunch of idiots who couldn’t possibly connect the two together. This is a huge problem because in order to preserve the mystery, they never showed us Palpatine actually doing anything evil. This is supposed to be the True Lord of the Sith, a master manipulator who’s enacting a plan so devious that the Jedi can’t even see it, let alone stop it. Yet the only kind of political maneuvering we see in the prequels is Palpatine’s replacing of Valorum as Chancellor. Then, two movies later, he walks into the senate with his melted face of pure evil and announces he’s taking over the Republic and making it an Empire. And the senators applaud? Really? And the Jedi, who we’ve been told are the heroes of the galaxy, are slaughtered wholesale and not one person finds that odd or objectionable?

“Hey everyone, I know I look like evil incarnate but it was totally the Jedi. Yeah, they’re responsible for everything. Also, I’m declaring myself Emperor. You know, for kicks.”

In the end, Palpatine doesn’t take control of the senate through any kind effort on his part. He gains control of the senate and the republic because that’s what the script demanded, it wasn’t a natural evolution of events, it was completely contrived. We never get to see the plan that brought about the end of the Jedi, which is a shame because as The Clone Wars shows us, it’s a brilliant plan…

The Clone Wars Version:

The Clone Wars dispenses with the mystery portion of Palpatine and as a result, shows us everything the Prequels didn’t. We get to see how Palpatine’s smooth diplomatic skills and ability to manipulate people came to turn the Republic into the Empire. Palpatine doesn’t just walk into the senate one day and announce he’s taking over, it happens in degrees.

He drives the Republic into crippling debt by escalating the war and creating more clones, which in turn leads to more Jedi leading troops on the frontlines and leaving the Jedi Order increasingly vulnerable. With the Jedi becoming the generals of the clone armies, Palpatine succeeds in corrupting public opinion about the Jedi, painting them as the war hungry fanatics behind the war. Palpatine derails peace negotiations by first assassinating the Separatist Senator who suggested them and then allowing Separatists to bomb Coruscant to make the whole peace negotiation look like a ruse meant to lower Republic defenses. And as the war continues to escalate, driven by the fear that Palpatine so masterfully creates, the Senate allows Palpatine to centralize more power through his office until he controls the entire Republic military. Every move he makes and every interaction he has with the senate is specifically designed to make him look like an honest man of the people, a simple politician who was thrust into a situation beyond his control. He plays his role so masterfully, no one even suspects him to be the orchestrator of a plot centuries in the making.

And while he has the senate, people of the republic, and even the Jedi dancing to his tune, he slowly turns Anakin to his side.

Palpatine and Anakin in The Clone Wars
Whispering poison in Anakin’s ear…

Using Anakin’s already existing anger and frustration with the Jedi council, Palpatine plants seeds of doubt and hate in Anakin’s mind.

Anakin’s fall in the prequels never made sense because he basically went from good, albeit confused, young man to slaughtering everyone he’s ever known and cared about in fifteen minutes. Okay sure, he straight up murders mother-fuckin’ Mace Windu, but to go from that to essentially killing a class of kindergartner Jedi is a big leap.

Fortunately in The Clone Wars, we get to see more of the subtle manipulation of Anakin. We get to watch as Palpatine sews seeds of doubt in Anakin’s young mind, and then cultivate those doubts with frustration and fear. Palpatine almost becomes a father-figure to Anakin, which only makes it easier for him to slowly sway Anakin to the dark side.

And since his character in The Clone Wars is so much more relatable, his downfall becomes truly tragic…

The Romance

Anakin and Padme's Romance

 The Prequel Version:

The Star Wars prequels have the singular distinction of containing the most stilted, awkward and downright creepiest romance ever put to film. Scientists have had more success programming robots to feel love than George Lucas had filming a love scene with Oscar-winning actress Natalie Portman. Padme came across as a kind of whinging tween girl and Anakin kept looking at her in a way that made the entire audience afraid we were about to see Darth Vader: Sex Offender.

There are few things in this life that are truly awful to behold; war, pestilence, death… the romance scenes in the prequel trilogy.

The Clone Wars Version:

What the movies couldn’t do with a massive budget and award-winning actors, The Clone Wars managed to do with just a handful of scenes and a smattering of dialogue. Less is definitely more when it comes to romance scenes, and Anakin and Padme snatching small moments in the show to be with each other was infinitely more romantic than the holiday retreat to Naboo during Episode II. Anakin’s utter devotion to Padme, rather than coming across as the creepy fixation of a future serial killer, actually becomes an endearing trait that deepens Anakin’s character. A less creepy Anakin also makes Padme’s feelings for him seem genuine and not a manifestation of Stockholm syndrome.

Anakin and Padme in The Clone Wars
A single, well-timed glance can convey more meaning than a hundred lines of dialogue.

Some of the best moments showcasing Anakin and Padme’s relationship are the ones where they’re not even trying to be romantic. Arguing over the politics of the war for instance, provides both an excellent overview of the Clone War and makes their relationship seem far more real, because real people argue all the time regardless of how much in love they are. When they’re in public, they’re joint attempts to remain cold and neutral to each other to maintain their deception also goes a long way to establishing their romance. The decision to imply their romance was not only a wise decision, but probably also a necessary one since you don’t want to go boring kids with a bunch of romantic dialogue they won’t understand.

Their relationship also gives the audience a much needed human perspective on the Jedi and their teachings, and more specifically, the flaws in those teachings…

The Jedi

Jedi-Sith

The Prequel Version:

If the Jedi have one flaw that I simply cannot come to grips with, it’s their Vulcan-like dedication to eliminating emotions. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate, hate leads to suffering, shut the fuck up Yoda! Maybe anger is just anger, it doesn’t have to lead to hate. If anything you’re teaching young Jedi to be afraid of their emotions and it’s that fear that’s leading to suffering.

I can understand wanting to control your emotions, that’s something all humans have to deal with, but the Jedi teachings seem to promote the utter elimination of emotion. In order to control your emotions, you have to understand them and the Jedi seem to have no desire to want to understand them.

In the prequels when Anakin seeks guidance on his visions of the future and Padme’s death, Yoda’s advice basically boils down to “go meditate on the force.” Yeah, big fucking help you scrawny green toad. Anakin could have found more useful advice in a fucking fortune cookie.

The Clone Wars Version:

The Jedi teachings we see in the Clone Wars are far more rounded and fleshed out than what we got in the Prequels, much resembling the wisdom of Yoda’s teachings in the original movies. Most of the wisdom of the Jedi wasn’t displayed through Yoda though, but through Plo Koon.

Master Plo Koon was one of those silent pieces of set dressing in the prequels, the one with the badass face mask.

Plus that breathing mask just looks badass.
With a mask like that, you know he means business.

I think one of the best moments for Plo Koon in the series is when Ahsoka is kidnapped and Anakin is sitting around worrying about her, blaming himself for her kidnapping. Now Plo Koon is very close to Ahsoka as well, but the difference is that Plo Koon isn’t blaming himself and while I think he’s concerned, he’s not worrying himself. He recognizes that it’s a situation he can’t hope to change, but more than that, he trusts Ahsoka to take care of herself. He tries to teach Anakin this lesson by telling him that, if he trained Ahsoka well, she’ll find his way back to her.

And that’s something we all struggle with: trusting other people to take care of themselves. When it’s someone we care about, humans have the bad habit of constantly worrying that something bad will happen to them. We can’t trust them to take care of themselves because we’re not there to control them. That’s what it boils down to, and what leads Anakin to falling to the dark side. It was his fear that Padme would somehow die that drove him to seek the Emperor’s help, since Yoda basically handed Anakin a fortune cookie and told him not to worry about it.

Had Plo Koon been Anakin’s adviser, perhaps he would have found a way to come to terms with his fear and trust Padme to take care of herself. Maybe he could have come to accept the fact that sometimes bad things happen, and there isn’t anything he can do about it. That he’s a Jedi, not a god.

So what I’m saying is, this whole thing is Yoda’s fault.

The War

CLoneWars

The Prequel Version:

It was a war full of sound and fury, but ultimately signifying nothing. Since the Clones had no character and were as soulless as the droids they were fighting, all the battles ultimately became nothing more than eye-candy. War loses all its horror when no one gets hurt, that’s why we can all play war games and not get PTSD. If we found a way to fight wars using nothing but droids and clones while eliminating all collateral damage, we’d probably never stop fighting. We never saw a single refugee, a clone trooper with no legs being wheeled around, or even any kind of economic downturn on Coruscant. If you were an average, everyday citizen in the Star Wars Prequel Universe, you probably wouldn’t even know there was a war happening.

The Clone Wars Version:

You start seeing the true cost of war on Ryloth, where the series really begins to pick up. The battle in orbit over Ryloth was far more interesting than the Battle of Coruscant because, for one, there was actual build up to the fight and the show didn’t just plop us down in the middle of an incomprehensible maelstrom. There was tactics and surprise attacks and maneuvering, like how you’d actually fight a battle rather than dozens of ships lining up to broadside each other like we’re in the 19th century. Secondly, Ahsoka’s bombing run and her disastrous defeat, finally showed us the cost of battle. Ahsoka losing her clone wingmates helped give me a new perspective on the Clones and how they related with the Jedi. Ahsoka is devastated by the loss of her clone pilots, and that was enough to give the battle some real emotional weight. Once the characters actually became involved in the battle, instead of just being present, all the action of the Clone Wars came together.

On the ground we begin to see the cost of the war on ordinary people as Ryloth, home of the Twi’leks, is turned into a bombed-out ruin. Finding the orphaned child finally gave me a sense that yes, people are dying and losing their homes in this war. The clone’s interaction with the orphan girl also gave the clones some humanity, laying the groundwork for the characterization that would make the clones pivotal to the story, and making me care about their lives.

Saving innocent refugees? Now that's a cause worth fighting for.
Saving innocent refugees? Now that’s a cause worth fighting for.

I think the absolute best battle showcasing the war is the battle of Umbara, an inhospitable rock whose native inhabitants refused to bow down to the Republic and fought tooth and nail in defense of their world. First of all this was just a great change of pace for the show. After fighting battles in relatively clean, well lit places, the battle on Umbara’s eternally fog shrouded surface really made you feel the dark, claustrophobic fear of battle as the Clones were forced to fight meter by bloody meter for the planet surface. Second of all, after fighting soulless droids for most of the series, clones facing off against other humanoid opponents made the battle feel that much more brutal; especially since these people were fighting for their independence. They may have been fighting for a twisted dictator, but then again, so were the clones. Neither side knew they were fighting for the same person, the clones thought they were fighting for the Republic and the Umbarans thought they were fighting for their freedom, but they were all fighting for the Emperor. It all just highlighted the utter pointlessness of it all.

And the pointlessness of it all was driven even further home by the madness of the war when General Krell came on the scene, a cruel and calculating Jedi who relished in the slaughter of his clone troops. Sending wave after wave of clones against invulnerable tanks was such an infuriating sight that I would have executed Krell myself if I’d had the chance, and inspiring that kind of hate and disgust in me isn’t easy to do. It’s something I didn’t expect from a kid’s show, that’s for sure. As terrible as war is though, the show reminds us that war also inspires acts of true valiance and courage, and the ending of the episode arc is probably one of the finest I’ve seen.

Darkness, brutality and secrets. An episode tailor made by the Sith.
Darkness, brutality and secrets. An episode tailor made by the Sith.

None of this is to say that The Clone Wars is haute cuisine, or a narrative on par with A Game of Thrones, obviously it’s not. But then it doesn’t need to be, and it succeeded in what it set out to do: create a compelling, dramatic and fun space opera. Like the original trilogy it told a great story in a way that would entertain kids while making sure there was enough going on to hold the interest of adults. It managed to do something I thought was impossible: it redeemed star wars in my eyes.

I guess we’ll find out whether or not Disney can take advantage of this opportunity and build on the trust The Clone Wars built or whether the new trilogy will drive the final stake through the heart of Star Wars. Coming up this week will by my write up on some of the best Clone Wars Episode arcs and an analysis of the Burial at Sea DLC for Bioshock: Infinite. As always, any critiques or requests would be greatly appreciated.

The Clone Wars: Star Wars Made Right

So Netflix recently added Star Wars: The Clone Wars to their catalog of streaming shows, and I decided to give it a try. As much as I hated the prequel trilogies, I still love Star Wars and I wanted to see if the Clone Wars could do anything worthwhile with the Clone War setting. Not only is the show thoroughly enjoyable but it managed to do the impossible: it redeemed the mistakes of the prequel trilogy!

Star Wars: The Clone Wars

A Storyteller’s Review

Star-Wars-The-Clone-Wars-Season-4-Episode-15-Deception

The Clone Wars begins badly, the first season ends up feeling like a kid’s show where the young main character, Ahsoka Tano, helps teach those stupid kids about life and love. The characters are goofy, and the Battledroids “Roger, Roger” gag gets old the first time they use it, and there is a disconcerting lack of violence. I don’t mean disconcerting because I’m a sociopath who thrives on bloody death and mayhem… well okay maybe I am, but that’s not the point I’m trying to make. Obviously I wasn’t expecting this show to be a Tarantino-esque slaughterfest where humans contain more blood than most hospitals, but this is called The Clone Wars, I was expecting at least some violence. Instead, any actual deaths seemed to occur off camera and the show even seemed squeamish about showing Battledroids being destroyed.

I almost gave up after the first couple of episodes but then, I thought, most series have a rough first season. Even The Next Generation and Deep Space 9, two of my favorite shows, had some pretty awful opening seasons. So I skipped the first season and started on season 2.

The Clone Wars Season 2, fortunately, starts maturing rapidly and begins drawing you into the story. The show wisely begins phasing out the wacky dialogue of the battledroids, General Grievous becomes a cruel and calculating general instead of a bumbling comic relief character, and Anakin and Obi-wan start showing the friendship that Alec Guinness manage to establish with a single line of dialogue.

"And he was a good friend." - The Great Alec Guinness
“And he was a good friend.” – The Great Alec Guinness

By the third season the Clone Wars is truly exceptional with interesting characters, good action, and excellent effects.

Whereas Anakin was an insufferable ass in the prequel trilogy, he actually turns into quite a likable and ultimately tragic character in The Clone Wars. You can also see the frustration and rage hiding just beneath the surface, and watch it erupt every time something goes wrong for him. Obi-wan remains mostly unchanged from the prequel, which is fine because I actually liked his character in the movies, but we also get some more backstory for him that makes him more relatable. Amidala is shown to be a shrewd and capable politician whose dedication to peaceful negotiation not only makes sense, but deepens her character (unlike the movie where her pleas for peace seemed to come straight out of her ass like a bad case of royal flatulence). Finally, Chancellor Palpatine is revealed to be the cunning master manipulator he’s supposed to be, and as you watch his schemes develop you’ll come to understand why he is Lord of the Sith.

The most surprising characters of all, however, are the Clones. The battles in the prequel series lacked any kind of emotional impact because it was a bunch of droids vs a bunch of soulless clones, and since we never got to see any civilians get hurt, the clone wars of Star Wars III felt like one of the cleanest and most polite wars ever fought. Giving the clones character was not only a brilliant move, but a completely necessary one as well, because without them the story loses all its humanity.  Rex, Cody, Headcase, Fives, Echo and the rest all have their own personalities and you’ll come to know every one of them. “We’re men, not machines” is the line they use whenever they encounter someone who dismisses them as ‘just clones’ and its absolutely true. They’re the only thing that makes the ‘war’ in Clone Wars real, because as the war expands, the cast of clones shrinks as more of them are killed in battle until only a few remain standing. And as the war grows, so too does the intensity of the action.

And what spectacular action it is!
And what spectacular action it is!

Their squeamishness over showing violence completely evaporates as well, and some of it becomes downright brutal for a kid’s show. Thanks to the fact that lasers and lightsabers cauterize wounds instantly, the show can show decapitations and severed limbs like no other (non-HBO) show out there. Even the blaster wounds start looking nasty when you see the burning hole left over in some poor clone’s chest, or worse, some young kid that die shockingly often in this series. Again this isn’t some kind of psychopathic desire for violence I’m expressing, it’s the fact that this kind of real action adds weight and meaning to the action. Seeing a single young Jedi get a blaster bolt through the chest in The Clone Wars packed a much bigger emotional punch than the entire Jedi massacre scene in Revenge of the Sith. In fact all the scenes featuring the Jedi are infinitely improved in this show.

As the prequel trilogy wore on, the lightsaber fights grew more and more ridiculous until it all ended in a 45-minute ballet between Anakin and Obi-wan that succeeded in doing the impossible: making a lightsaber fight boring. Fortunately The Clone Wars has struck a nice balance between style and action. There are still enough acrobatic maneuvers to make the fight interesting to watch without slowing down the action and pace of the fight itself. When a character pulls out his lightsaber in The Clone Wars you’ll be saying to yourself “Yeah! Let’s do this shit!” instead of “Oh God, not again!” like you probably said in the prequels.

"Can we hurry this up Ben? I'd like to kill you and go home before my kids enter college..."
“Can we hurry this up Ben? I’d like to kill you and go home before my kids graduate college…”

It’s in Season 5 and 6 where this show goes from excellent to downright exceptional. The show begins tackling issues that Star Wars has usually been unwilling to address, such as: the Jedi’s use of children as recruits, their role in galactic affairs, and their use as a military force. Finally, without giving too much away, season 5 sees the completion of Ahsoka Tano’s character arc. Ahsoka probably grew the most as a character throughout the show, going from an overly enthusiastic and naive kid to a capable and effective Jedi. In fact it’s through her eyes that we really get to see how the Jedi order operates, and through her experiences that we get to see the flaws in the Jedi teachings. She turns out to be the wisest character in the show and watching her grow throughout the show was probably one of the best parts of the show.

Season 6 is where the show really hits its stride, and the beginning episode arc of Season 6 is absolutely phenomenal. Since Order 66 is known to everyone I’m gonna go ahead and say that the first four episodes are about Order 66 and one of the character’s brave attempt to uncover it. You might think that, knowing Order 66 is executed successfully, it would be a boring episode because you know the outcome. But then you’d be wrong. Knowing that the character fails in his mission is what makes these episodes so emotional to watch, because even though you know he has to fail, you’ll be rooting so hard for him to succeed and watching him fail will so much more difficult for it. His bravery and creativity in the face of overwhelming odds is truly one of the shining moments of the show.

And there are so many shining moments.
And there are so many shining moments.

The Clone Wars is not only a worthy successor to the Star Wars canon, but in many ways exceeds its predecessors. There a few bumps here and there; some of the episodes appear out of order, Palpatine’s voice actor changes for some reason in a couple episodes, and of course there are a few goofy episodes that don’t add anything to the story. These are all minor ripples compared to the one big ripple that disrupts what was an otherwise enjoyable saga: Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars brand. Now don’t get me wrong, I think Disney buying Star Wars might do wonders for a series that was on the edge of becoming a self-parody, but it came at an inconvenient time for The Clone Wars. Following their purchase of Star Wars, Disney put a hold on all current Star Wars productions, which unfortunately means The Clone Wars ended without having the opportunity to wrap up several important storylines or include any kind of closure whatsoever. So you’ll end up getting involved the show only to have the carpet ripped out from under you and leave you crying for more.

Though I don’t appreciate the abrupt ending, it might be for the best because in the end I’d rather be left wanting more, and the final season of the show happens close enough to the events of Episode III that you’ll be able to pretty much guess what would’ve come next.

The Jedi Temple after the Massacre in Episode 3: Revenge of the Sith
Though, no lie, I would kill to have seen this recreated in The Clone Wars.

Though I admit I would have liked to have seen Anakin’s transformation into Darth Vader occur in the show, if only to give us the tragic downfall of a good man that we were robbed of in the prequels.  And if Disney can get the same writers and cast back to do a new season I certainly wouldn’t say no.

If you’re still not sure about the Clone Wars, you can check out my review later this week which will cover what I thought were the best episode arcs. I’ll also be comparing and contrasting The Clone Wars against Revenge of the Sith to illustrate how they both attempted the same thing, and why only Clone Wars was successful at it.