Tag Archives: Darth Vader

Fanboy Review #6 – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Before I get into the particulars of the movie, I wanted to say a few words about Carrie Fisher. Like so many, I was shocked to hear of her passing. First there was the news of her heart attack, then her death, AND THEN her mother’s death. I can only imagine what the family is going through right now, and my heart goes out to them.

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To me, she’s royalty.

Of course, growing up with Star Wars I had a huge crush on Princess Leia. Yeah, I know what you’re thinking, and it actually wasn’t her slave-girl outfit that did it for me. The moment that I think I truly fell in love with Princess Leia is when she removed her helmet after thawing Han out of the carbonite. “Someone who loves you,” she said, and there were anime-style hearts in my eyes. And if that didn’t really drive it home, the moment when she turns the tables on Han on Endor, stealing his own line of “I know” just before she zaps a Stormtrooper cemented in my mind that she was no wilting daisy. True, she was the damsel in distress in Episode IV, but her sass and overall attitude showed us that she was anything but the standard-issue screen heroine of the day. Bear in mind that is was 1977, a time when the changing role of women in fiction, particularly science fiction, wasn’t even a conversation we were having as a society.

But fan worship aside, I respected Carrie Fisher for her abilities as a writer, and for her outspoken stances on mental health and substance abuse. Unfortunately (for me, at least), in all the sci-fi conventions and events that I’ve attended over the years, I never had the privilege of meeting her. From what I hear, she was quite a lady. And though Leia Organa may be the role she is remembered for the most, I appreciate the real person who brought her to life, and the lasting impact her work has had on the world. Rest in peace, Carrie Fisher.

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Now, to the review. Roll the standard spoiler warning:

[Note: I do not consider myself a movie critic. What follows is just one fanboy’s opinion based off of a single viewing of the film. Oh, and there are SPOILERS ahead, so take heed.]

The first of what could be an endless series of standalone Star Wars movies, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story hit theatres a couple of weeks ago. In that time, it’s made over $650 million worldwide. With the original extended universe cannon gone, Rogue One steps up to fill the gap of how the Rebel Alliance got its hands on the Death Star plans. With a new cast of characters, we embark upon the first of the non-episodic Star War stories.

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The ‘One’ and only. Trust me.

First Impressions:  Despite my damaged-but-still-intact love of the franchise, I wasn’t looking forward to this movie. It felt unnecessary, like an obvious attempt by Disney to milk their purchase of its revenue potential. The trailers didn’t do much to change that idea. Still, it is a return to the era of Star Wars that I love the best, so it’s not like I wasn’t going to see it. (Let’s be real here.) I liked but didn’t love The Force Awakens, so let’s see how it goes.

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LIKE. A. BOSS!

What I Liked:

DARTH FRIGGIN’ VADER! I thought he really was going to be a minor cameo in the movie, but Great Scott…that end corridor scene. Why do people fear Darth Vader? This is why. Plus, it also seems to give us an answer to why Vader is so angry when he first boards the Tantive IV. He’s calm and collected the rest of the time, but I now see why he wants to ‘tear the ship apart’ when he finally catches up to it.

– The Battle of Scarif. If you’ve read my sci-fi, you know I’m a sucker for a ground battle going on while a gigantic space battle rages overhead. We got that in Return of the Jedi, and the climactic battle sequence here is pretty much everything I could have hoped for, and more.  This definitely puts the ‘wars’ back in ‘Star Wars.’

– Perhaps a better name for the movie should be ‘Suicide Squad.’  The movie pulls no punches. I had thought that perhaps our band of misfits might be return for a sequel, but that will not be the case. One of the problems with an epic story like Star Wars is that the death of a major character will be rare. For a one-time cast, each of our intrepid heroes steps up, does their job, and goes down like a boss. When the bill came due for Imwe and Malbus, I genuinely teared up. I am one with the force, and the force is with me. I am one with the force, and the force is with me.

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– Seeing Biggs and the Red and Yellow squadron leaders back in action through unused footage from Star Wars. Now we know why there was a vacancy for Luke in the form of Red-5, and why there was no Blue Squadron attacking the Death Star around Yavin. Plus, seeing some minor characters like General Jan Dodonna  and Mon Mothma recast so that they can still be a part of story was cool as well. And that leads me to my next point…

– CGI Characters. This is perhaps my most divisive opinion on the film. Bringing characters back to life was handled pretty well and with respect, I thought. When I first saw Governor Tarkin, I thought he would be a brief cameo. Nope. He plays more of a part in the story than I would have thought. While we’re not quite there yet with the technology, we’re still better than we were with Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy. I do wish the voice actor for some of Tarkin’s lines had stayed more with Cushing’s sharp British delivery, but that we got as much as we did was great. CGI Leia was a bit less impressive, but hearing Carrie Fisher say “Hope” was moving, especially now.

– The Score. John Williams didn’t do the soundtrack for this movie, but Michael Giacchino does a pretty good job at capturing Williams’ trademark Star Wars style. I do wish the main theme had been used a bit more, though. It’s not just for Luke!

– Expansion of the New Lore. From the Guardians of the Whills, to reaffirming Kyber crystals while establishing that this is what powered the Death Star’s planet killer, this story does a lot to fill in the gaps of the continuity, particularly since the old lore is dead, dead, dead.

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Cool shot. Too bad it’s ‘Sir-Not-Appearing-In-This-Film.’

What I Didn’t Like:

– The TRAILER. Part of the reason I wasn’t excited about the movie was because of the trailers leading up to it. It felt like one big warning that Jyn might somehow betray the Rebellion and join the Empire, that she should remain true to herself no matter what came her way. Well, almost none of the footage or lines from the movie trailer made it into the final movie. Jyn’s dramatic turn in an Imperial uniform while the lights in the corridor go up? Nope. Any hint of her joining the Empire? Nope. Cassian and Jyn on the beach fighting AT-ATs? Nope. Vader talking with Krennic on the Death Star? Nope. Jyn’s whimsical line of “It’s a rebellion. I rebelled”? Nowhere to be found. I understand that footage can be cut different ways to dramatically change its meaning, but the footage they used is not even in the movie. Not just a scene here or there, but a sizeable chunks of what was shown just isn’t there. It’s too bad, because I enjoyed the movie that I got a whole lot more than the movie the trailer previewed.

– No Title Crawl. Yeah, I know that it’s not part of the trilogies, but I still missed it. The slow scroll of words while the Star Wars theme blasts is an essential part of getting me hyped for what’s to come. It wasn’t there at all, and its absence was ringing.

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Yaaaaas!

– The Names. Aside from Krennic, Jyn and Galen, I had a hard time remembering the names of the characters. Maybe it’s just how long the Star Wars universe has been around, and the memes that go with it, but the names sort of went in one ear and out the other. They also didn’t seem to use them in dialogue very much, so that part made it even harder to catch them. If you don’t know a character’s name, I think it’s a little harder to sink your teeth into them, figuratively speaking.

– The Beginning of the Film. It felt slow and overly complicated. To be fair, there were a bunch of characters to introduce, but it seemed like a lot of explaining on a theme that we likely already know going in. We get to Jedha and things pick up, and then sort of fades again at Eadu. Scarif is pure joy and awesome, however.

– This is kind of a weird one, but important to me nonetheless: I know that having the Rebellion do shady and horrible stuff is a way to make it more realistic, but I like the clear dichotomy between the good guys and bad guys in this franchise. I generally prefer more morally ambiguous stories…just not in Star Wars. It’s for all the same reasons why the ‘Section 31’ episodes of Star Trek: Deep Space 9 don’t work for me. Yeah, that’s great for another sci-fi property, but keep it out of this one.

– A Nerdy Nitpick: I realize that Diego Luna was using his normal speaking voice in his portrayal of Cassian Andor. While he is from Mexico, his accent came off as French (which struck me as on-the-nose considering he’s in the resistance against a jack-booted fascist regime). We’ve never had much variance of accents in Star Wars, just the occasional British accent, so that was a little distracting from his performance.

– A REALLY Nerdy Nitpick: Galen’s farm at the beginning bears a striking resemblance to Uncle Owen’s farm on Tattooine. The equipment, the interiors, even the layout all have a similar look. The thing is, Uncle Owen wasn’t into growing crops — he was a moisture farmer. Tatooine has so little moisture that a whole industry had to spring up around coaxing moisture from the air and turning it into usable drinking water. The planet Lah’mu, however, is wet. Really wet. So wet that Krennic walks through a puddle to get to it and it’s sprinkling while they are talking. So what kind of farming was Galen doing?

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Questions you have. Resolution to them we have not.

Unresolved Questions:

If anything, Rogue One does a pretty good job of tying up loose ends, especially with its rather Shakespearean ending. If Galen thought that the Empire would never find the hidden weakness he installed, why was it found so easily in A New Hope, leading to Tarkin’s “moment of triumph” speech? Also, why would Leia even pretend to be on an ambassadorial mission when it was clear that she had just been at Scarif? Vader would be like, “Dude, I saw you take off from that Mon Calamari ship like 30 minutes ago.” Deny it to the end, I guess. And would Leia be surprised that Darth Vader was on her tail when she says, “Only you would be so bold.” Or was that, again, for some sort of deniability?

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So what’s your point, Matt?

Conclusions:  I realize that it might be hard to know whether or not I liked this film based on what I stated above. I like this movie, I really, really do. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was far better than any one-off film had any right to be. Believe it or not, it reignited my love for the franchise far more than did last year’s The Force Awakens. While I still worry that the anthology stories may overstay their welcome in the future, this was a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe, and a pleasant surprise to this very jaded and cautious fan.

And that’s the way this fanboy sees it.


Why I Love Villains

Okay, I’ll go ahead and say it – I love villains. Most of the time, I find villains far more compelling than the heroes who face them.  To clarify − before anyone goes there − I’m talking strictly about fiction here, and not the real world.

My interest in the bad guys goes way back to my earliest childhood. The first truly awe-inspiring villain I discovered as a kid was (surprise of surprises) Darth Vader. He was a mystery behind that all-too familiar mask of his, with that raspy respirator, hissing and sighing to announce his presence. He instantly commanded respect from those who served him, and brooked no sharp tongue. (I find your lack of faith disturbing!)  Vader was just cool, from the way he walked to his deep basso James Earl Jones voice. Like some Black Knight out of legend, he was powerful, strong and – if you’ll forgive the pun – a force to be reckoned with.

You, um, might say that I was more than a little inspired by him.  Just a bit…

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That’s me as a Sith Lord.
No, really, that’s me in there.

Vader started a trend with me. I found as I grew up that I seemed to gravitate towards the villains in the various cartoons I watched as a kid. (A notable exception is Transformers, where I liked the good guys better overall.) Take for instance COBRA from G.I. Joe.  They get all the sharp-looking  vehicles, armor and suits. Most of them wear ninja-esque balaclavas or use masks to hide their faces. Compare that to the Joes, who look like a bunch of regular people. Boring.  The only one on the good side who had that level of panache was Snakes Eyes, and let’s face it – he should have been on COBRA’s side. Come on, his name is Snake Eyes for crying out loud!

Unfortunately for all their style, COBRA wasn’t very competent.  Your average Viper can’t hit the broad side of an aircraft carrier, but then again, neither can any member of the Joe team. In fact, all of them in that franchise seem pretty incapable of basic marksmanship.  Be that as it may, even though COBRA is constantly thwarted in their diabolical schemes, they look great while losing.

Especially the Baroness. Ahem…

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Cooooooo-braaaaaaa!

It took me a while to figure out what it was about the likes of Boba Fett, Skeletor, Storm Shadow and Magneto that really called to me. Yeah, they were enigmatic and looked imposing, but it was more than that. It was because villains don’t play by the rules, or more to the point, they play by their own rules. One of the reasons they are so powerful is because they are not constrained like the rest of us. They operate by their own code. They’re rebels, they’re renegades. They are the ones who break from the pack and do what they want, when they want.  And, you know, there’s something very attractive about that idea.

When I discovered James Bond films, I found another deep well of villainy. Bond villains are a special breed. While they are all too eager to tell Bond about their master plan, and tend to have a predilection for Nehru jackets, they are all very smart (though not all that wise). Many of them are doctors, scientists, secret agents and the like. Intelligence is something that I think all great villains share. Moriarty, Lex Luthor, Brainiac, Doctor Doom, Voldemort, Dracula, Sauron, Ozymandias, Roy Batty, HAL-9000 − geniuses all. And let’s not forget one of the most brilliant villains of all time…

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Come on, you know you wanna yell it out!

When it comes to a villain’s role in a literary sense, I think this old saying about sums it up: “It is the presence of the wolf, not his absence, which makes the deer strong and fast.” There is a symbiotic relationship that exists between heroes and villains. A hero is often defined by his nemesis, and vice versa.

Do me a favor − think about the last few movies, books, comics, stories, etc. that you found particularly powerful or moving. Now think of the villain of each one. Chances are they had a particularly memorable and/or potent opponent playing opposite the protagonist. Villains can make or break a story.  Even in those tales where the heroes are up against nature, society, or even their own natures, it is the obstacles they must overcome, the hardships they have to endure, that really make you empathize with them.

Villains are great at forging that pathos between the reader/viewer and the hero. Why? Villains are engines for conflict. Without some sort of conflict, you don’t have much of a story. That’s also why antagonists can be, and often are, much cooler/lethal/stronger/smarter/more awesome than the protagonist.  They have to be…or rather they need to be.

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Can you imagine one without the other?

If you didn’t have an incredibly competent, seemingly unbeatable opponent for the protagonist to face off against, victory would seem hollow and meaningless.  When our heroic lead manages to succeed, even when all hope seems lost, it feels so much more satisfying, right?

We as humans love underdogs, the ones who bravely soldier on against impossible odds. We love to see underdogs succeed even when all conventional wisdom says they should fail. So, the greater the villain, the greater the sense of achievement when our hero emerges triumphant in the end.

And that is why I love villains. At once they represent power, mystery, intelligence, style and the crucible in which heroes are made.

Oh, and the maniacal laugh. Definitely the laugh.