Suffice to say that THIS is what I was expecting when someone told me JJ Abrams was directing Star Wars E7 The Force Awakens. This is not to suggest that I didn’t love E7, because as a Star Wars geek even the achy breaky bad mistakey known as E1-E3 have their merits: Liam Neeson as Qui Gon Jin and Ewan McGregor as Ben Kenobi, not to mention Darth Maul’s kick ass fight scenes. True, they can’t mask the complete abortion that is Natalie Portman as Padme or any version of the super emo and constant stream of terrible actors known as every Anakin Skywalker ever, or the absolutely horrid screenplay or Jar Jar… but I digress. We were talking about bringing balance to The Force, not killing it.
While E7 was certainly a joy to watch (the humor in it was the best part for me) and while it was so wonderful to see all my old friends back together, it fell short of expectations, and I’m sure I’m not alone in saying so. Most people that I know have lukewarm feelings about E7, saying, “well, at least it was better than E1-E3.” I just think that E7 was funny and a great way to spend two hours of my time. It did, however, make me wonder whether or not JJ Abrams is just a Trekkie at heart and whether he might not be trying to make his favorite the better of the two. I dare you to tell me that he wasn’t capable of what Rogue One carried off so spectacularly, even effortlessly, or so it seemed.
Rogue One is directed by a dude I’ve never heard of, but who I’m sure is someone I would love to play Star Wars Trivial Pursuit with. None of the main cast of characters were familiar to me but they were addicting, I tell you. Addicting! I grew to love every member of the Rogue One team as the story unfolded in scene after scene of Empire versus Rebellion goodness.
It was nice to see a scattering of familiar characters in this film. The elegantly spoken Mon Mothra is in it, along with some of our less charming but still recognizable and celebratable characters from the Mos Eisley Cantina. Also Grand Moff Tarkin, played by the same effing guy who played him in A New Hope. That guy is totally a vampire: he looks no different 39 years later and he is no less of an asshole either.**
Our little band of heroes is, like in so many successful stories in print or on film, an eclectic band of strangers brought together by a common interest; and, as I don’t know any of their names yet, I’ve given them my own. Reprogrammed Imperial Droid was delightfully fun. Not 3PO stuffy either, but rather a bit more Fred and George Weasley snarky. My favorites were probably Blind Asian Guy and Ghengis Kahn, who were both bad-effing-ass on the battlefield. Blind Asian Guy totally shooting a blaster and hitting more targets than a whole squadron of storm troopers and the badassery of Ghengis Kahn’s blaster was just flat out exciting. The battle scenes were the best of any of the previous films. Again nothing against those untouchable films of my childhood, but technology lended a gigantic Mickey Mouse hand here folks. The scenes in Rogue One had just enough nostalgia mixed with just the right amount of 21st century technology to make George Lucas go “There. That is what I envisioned all those years ago.”
I’m going to say this, and then grow eyes in the back of my head so that I can be on the lookout for any SWG who may kill me for saying so, but Episodes 4-6 may only be superior in the same nostalgic way that Harry Potter is kept safe by his mother’s blood. Star Wars Rogue One is Voldemort, and he can touch you now. ++
Obviously there is no replacing Han and Chewie, Leia and Luke, 3PO and R2; hell, even the sand people, jawas and uncle Owen and aunt beru. Episodes 4-6 were made magic by their time, by the growing Sci-fi genre and even by the fact that George Lucas couldn’t sell it to his own mother when first he tried. But I like to think that Rogue One is the 21st century version of that magic. It’s what 40 years of ILM and Skywalker Sound turned into, and let’s face it, after the abomination of Episodes 1-3 and the “it’s ok but it’s really just like A New Hope” of Episode 7, Rogue One needed to be just that: magic. The ability to successfully portray Jedi and bring Darth Vader into the 21st century without all the cornball of that hokey religion known as The Force is as delicate an operation as diffusing a bomb. Why is that? Because The Force and every other brand of magic looks cheesy on screen. There’s no way around it. It’s why the HP movies were saved by the snarkiness of Fred and George and the drawing power of those amazing stories. It’s why LOTR was so successful: even when Gandolf used his wizard power it was toned down and minimal.
The story was easy to follow, with just enough “you have to be a Star Wars Geek to get it.” John Williams was, as always, such a presence in the film that he was damn near a character. Also, three words: James Earl Jones. Hopefully he made more than $150 this time.
Anyway, now I feel like I’m just rambling, which is kinda what I do, isn’t it? I’ll say one more thing before signing off though: when Jyn and Cassian are about to jump onto the endless reaching tower of the Empire’s archives to steal the Death Star plans, the only thing that could have made it better is if one of them would have kissed the other, saying, “for luck.”
I have added a Star Wars time line for (and I hate to feel like I’m picking on you, but come on man) novices who have no idea what I’m talking about without having a map in front of them.
**it has been brought to my attention that Grand Moff Tarkin is CGI, not a vampire; although he is dead, so I’m gonna say the vampire thing is still a possibility.
++ the use of the phrase “touch you” is not any reference to Voldemort as a pedophile. Even old Moldy Voldy is better than that. Not Professor Umbridge though. She can bite the big one.
Ps. I feel weird having to point out the non-pedophile status of Lord Voldemort but there are probably some people out there wondering about it once I put the “touch you” out into the world. And I can’t take it back folks. One: I’m not a good enough writer to think of anything clever to substitute it with. Two: I really loved the parallel of it. So suck it up.