Thursday, December 22, 2016

A presence I've not felt since...


Wow, it really has been a good year for Disney, hasn't it?

Directed by Gareth Edwards
Written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, and Gary Whitta
With Felicity Jones (Jyn Erso), Diego Luna (Cassian Andor), Alan Tudyk (K-2SO), Donnie Yen (Chirrut Imwe), Wen Jiang (Baze Malbus), Riz Ahmed (Bodhi Rook), Forest Whitaker (Saw Gerrera), Mads Mikkelsen (Galen Erso), Ben Mendelsohn (Orson Krennic), James Earl Jones (Darth Vader), and the Estate of Peter Cushing (Grand Moff Tarkin)

Spoiler alert: high

Rogue One has done something that has not been achieved in over thirty years, despite four extremely aggressive attempts at doing exactly that: it has recaptured the feeling of a Star Wars film so well and so persistently that I didn't need to bother mentally comparing it to any of the films of the Original Trilogy while I was in the middle of actually watching it.  The Force Awakens, last year's effort at reviving the dormant franchise, while surely recognizable as Star Wars, could not quite get to that level.  For it was even more recognizable as a piece of Star Wars fan fiction—specifically, fan fiction conceived, written, and directed by droids programmed for pandering.

Obviously, there's an irony to be found in Rogue One's effortless superiority—a double irony, in factThe first is that Rogue One is the most overt piece of cinematic fan fiction to bear the Star Wars name to date, being itself a prequel to Star Wars '77 whose plot was already summed up in a sentence, and which seems to exist (at least in part) to explain, at a feature's length, a single plot contrivance in the original.  The second: Rogue One is the first (and so far only) live action Star Wars movie that consciously and deliberately abandons almost all the formal trappings that I would have told you last week were completely indispensable to any entry into the Star Wars saga.

So, although the film opens with "A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away," it proceeds without the customary text crawl.  Its title appears after a whole opening prologue, rather than exploding upon the screen as soon as that fairy tale introduction fades.  It employs hardly a solitary lick of George Lucas' wipe-heavy, Kurosawa-style editing—indeed, by my count, only a single wipe makes itself known throughout the entire two hour runtime, when we iris out to the credits at the end.  And, while maybe this is just me forgetting something, but Rogue One is the first time that a Star Wars movie has indulged in onscreen subtitles to identify the names of planets (so many planets that it comes close to being tedious, even if it does help make the Star Wars universe feel big again, for the first time since Jedi, or maybe even since Empire).  I know: it is the littlest thing to complain about; but I really do wish these title cards weren't there.  Half the irreproducible charm of Star Wars is knowing who IG-88 is, without knowing how I know it.

True Star Wars fans get their facts off the back of action figure packages.

Most importantly of all, however, it is the first Star Wars movie to try to make us believe in the power of the Force without showcasing the power of John Williams: Rogue One is extraordinarily resistant to making use of the music of the Original Trilogy, even though I don't think anyone would have complained if it had simply binged on a whole buffet of old Williams tunes, without even a credited composer to call its own.  (I mean, I don't think I would have.)  Instead, the old Williams stuff enters the score sideways, gingerly, even cautiously—while actual new composer Michael Giacchino, who would very much like to be known as the John Williams of the 21st century, commits himself to breaking down and taking apart Williams' Star Wars compositions and rebuilding them, albeit in much the same way as a blindfolded mechanic might rebuild a classic car.  Giacchino, of whose work I generally approve, has only at his very best been anywhere close to Williams in his prime; and Rogue One does not find him at his best.  Do not hope for Giacchino to bring us an "Enterprising Young Men" for the Star Wars universe.  In fact, don't even hope for a single cue in Rogue One that you could honestly call "instantly memorable"—which in terms of Star Wars music is almost synonymous with "failure."  But it is not a failure, not in the slightest: in comparison to Williams' own disappointingly spotty effort on Force Awakens, Giacchino's Rogue One score is a loud thing—a proud thing, in fact, even if the only thing it has to be proud of is that it roars when it ought to roar, and drops down into pensive melancholy when pensive melancholy is called for.  But this is enough.  Even more than enough: despite the dearth of really iconic cues (and the ones it has are all OT Williams), it always behaves exactly like Star Wars music ought.  And that is something truly exciting.

Gareth Edwards, tapped to direct Rogue One after the qualified greatness of his success with Godzilla, certainly projects his own excitement for the herculean mission he took on—namely, to bring us a Star Wars prequel that appears to have any affection for the movies it's supposed to serve as the backstory for.  (Seriously: if there's anything that can explain the Prequel Trilogy, it's that Lucas had come to sort-of despise his own creation, even if he hadn't consciously accepted it yet.  Whereas selling his empire to Disney suggests that at some point around 2010, he did.)

And Edwards' excitement is breathless: even without recourse to the customary Star Wars wipes, Edwards and his three-man cutting team seize upon the spirit that animated Lucas in the editing room; especially during the first half of the film, the story is propelled heedlessly forward with blunt, smashing technique, every scene ending half a second before you'd think it ought to, perilously close to stamping on actors' lines; but the timing is virtually flawless, and it's actually only a shame when it slows down.

Marshaling production designers Neil Lamont and Doug Chiang and costume designers David Crossman and Glyn Dillon to the task of recreating the universe Lucas and Ralph McQuarrie and John Barry built, I'm not sure I can even name a more successful throwback.  And it is in everything: in the desert planet locations that look worn-out and sandblasted by eons of hardship; in the utiliaritarian-baroque space opera of the Empire's architecture; in the Star Destroyers, made of billions of ones-and-zeroes yet indistinguishable from Lucas' giant overlit plastic models; and, yes, it is in those mustaches.

The only technical element where Rogue One sometimes falls down is cinematography: Greig Frasier is no slouch, and Edwards surely knows how to make a fine image if he bothers trying, and between the two of them, they often do find the combination of grittiness and grandeur that Lucas pulled off so well between 1977 and 1983.  But other scenes demonstrate indifferent framing or arbitrary handheld shooting—just a little too 2016 in their vintage for their own good.

Yet let's go no further: after all, these are the outliers.  And there are moments within Rogue One that are, perhaps, the most visually perfect Star Wars has ever been: the way Edwards unveils the Imperial fleet and the Death Star from out of a curtain of cosmic darkness; the sheer destructive force of the Death Star test run, that makes you feel for the first time the awesome immensity of its power—oddly enough by reducing that power by an order of magnitude, and thereby allowing our tiny heroes to actually give it a sense of scale; the cyclopean statues of ancient heroes, reminding you that the Force isn't just the plaything of Jedi and Sith, but the factually-true religion of the entire galaxy, only recently suppressed by Imperial propagnda.  Then there is Darth Vader, signalled first by his shadow, a play right out of the Spielberg Indiana Jones playbook.

And no review could ever be complete without fawning in the direction of the exit of Darth Vader from our story—occasioned by a horror-tinged sequence so terrifyingly brutal (and fannishly ejaculatory) that you just don't mind at all that this movie already ended three whole minutes ago, or that this scene exists solely to exploit your affections, or even that this scene is literally just the first scene of Star Wars '77, except with state-of-the-art special effects, to the extent that if you were to watch Rogue One and A New Hope back to back, you'd no doubt be honor-bound to be justifiably annoyed by the sheer redundancy of it (while the continuity errors it introduces are even worse).

So it's like the doctor said, I guess: "Don't do that."

But if this much of Rogue One is wonderful, what—if anything—is actually wrong with it?  Crucially, this particular Star Wars Story could've used another draft.  But then, maybe all it really needed was for someone at Disney to cancel those fucking reshoots, which make a hash of character and motivation and sometimes even the basic mechanics of the plot.

The rumor, as I understand it, is that Edwards' original cut made Rogue One's leads too "unlikeable" for test audiences, and my supposition is that they were held "unlikeable" because they were made to be mean and cruel and violent, in the mold of outright terrorists.  Brazen stuff.  Maybe necessary stuff.  Only time will tell on that.

But, first of all, if the reshoots were intended to make our heroine, Jyn Erso, some brand of "likeable," they did not succeed.  But likeability is an overrated concept anyway.  (Just to stick with Disney properties, it is a common misconception, for example, that Tony Stark is "likeable.")  Instead, what matters is whether a character is compelling, and you get the penumbra of something compelling with Jyn, without anything concrete enough for it to totally work.  The final cut relies, almost exclusively, upon Felicity Jones' performance—a bit of a gamble, that—but it does mostly pay off: Jones' contribution is to look pissed constantly (even when she cries), but it works well enough.  Yet she needed more from the screenplay, to move her from the apolitical hollow woman we meet her as, back to the hot-blooded anti-Imperial ideologue she ultimately becomes.

But, anyway, maybe I should recap that story, as if you haven't already watched the damn thing yet.  So: Rogue One is the tale of the Rebels, referenced in the first few seconds of Star Wars, who stole the plans to the Death Star, the planet-killing armored space station that gave the Emperor the courage to liquidate the Senate, right before his agents blew up Alderaan as a show of force to everyone who might have dared oppose his Galactic Empire.  Those plans, however, revealed the gaping flaw in the Death Star's systems, and gave the universe a new hope—as it were—for freedom.

Rogue One tracks the most important member of the team that stole those plans, and begins with her childhood, when her brilliant father, Galen, was kidnapped by the Empire, and forced to build their mighty super-weapon for them.  It skips, then, to her adulthood, when she's kidnapped by the Rebels, and induced to participate in a mission to get in touch with her foster father, one Saw Gerrera, a former Rebel too extreme for the wussy Mon Mothmas of this galaxy, but who has in his possession a message from Galen that reveals the existence of the weakness he has built into his creation.  From there, it is off to steal the actual Death Star plans, since Galen was too overcome with remembering his daughter to bother mentioning "if you hit the exaust port you'll find at the end of a trench at latitude X and longitude Y, then my beautiful Death Star will explode like it was nobody's business."  This is the only explanation that makes sense, anyway, because (after all) that is the only relevant information the Rebels require; and, from the apparent evidence of both Rogue One and Star Wars, nobody ever actually needed the Death Star plans in order to destroy it.

This is one way that the fan fiction of the script screws up the film: in purporting to explain a plot hole from the first Star Wars (the videogame logic of the Empire's ultimate weapon possessing such a ludicrously pissant weakness), it only manages to opens up a much bigger one; and while that bit of incredibility was only there to move the story in Star Wars forward, in Rogue One, it is the story entire.

It only gets shaggier from there, as Jyn, her scummy, amoral Rebel handler, Cassian Andor, and his deadpan droid sidekick, K-2SO, hop from planet to planet a bit aimlessly—the film toys with the idea of assassinating Galen, and pitting Jyn and Cassian against one another—until finally they wind up on the Empire's archive planet, in order to get the plans they only need because Galen couldn't mention anything useful in his hologram recording, and because they failed to save poor Galen from a X-wing's errant proton bomb.  On the way, they pick up a couple of homeless guys, one of whom is blind and knows kung fu, along with the Imperial defector who brought Galen's message to Gerrera in the first place.

And that is the structural problem that Rogue One has a very hard time dealing with: a standing army of characters, all of whom have, at best, just one single note—including the protagonist.  There is a vastly superior version of Rogue One that pares down its cast to the core trio of Jyn, Cassian, and K-2SO—indeed, I'll put it out there right now.  K-2SO is the best droid the Star Wars canon has ever delivered, a refreshing riff on C-3PO whose particular one note is likewise annoyed pessimism, but who (within Alan Tudyk's extraordinary vocal performance) alloys that annoyed pessmism with depression and anger and, for the first time with one of Star Wars' robots, actual agency.  (The bit where he slaps Cassian right in his stupid mouth is sublime.)  Not for nothing is K-2SO's final scene the most affecting of the whole film.  And it helps immensely that, while this paranoid android is just about the only source of legitimate wit and fun that Rogue One possesses at all, he is also exactly enough.

But the whole trio had the potential to match the OT in every respect: Jyn's dual-wielded daddy issues; and Cassian's genuine untrustworthiness, a marked contrast to Han Solo's enchanting pretend version (the first time we meet Cassian, he straight-up murders a fellow Rebel, all in the name of operational security).

But the rest of them?  They are, to a man, complete wastes of time.  The blind Jedi worshipper Chirrut Imwe is incongruously awful, in both his conception and execution (his character can be boiled down to his obnoxious mantra, repeated approximately one billion times over the course of the movie).  He has a scene that appears to exist to make Stormtroopers (and Stormtrooper body armor) even more idiotically useless than they ever have been before; and, as you can imagine, this is profoundly idiotically useless indeed.  Meanwhile, his personal sidekick/fellow homeless man, Baze Malbus, appears to tag along solely in order to service dialogue with his counterpart, whom (as far as I recall) nobody else even talks to.

The rest at least seem to exist in the same movie as our central heroes, but they amount to so little, you still have to wonder why they're here.  Saw Gerrera lets himself die for unclear reasons halfway through the film (perhaps mostly because he's cannily been framed as a hybrid of Ben Kenobi and Darth Vader, as an old mentor who lives in a cave, but who also has cyborg parts and a respiratory disorder).  And then we have the defector, Bodhi Rook, who has got to be the biggest missed opportunity in the cast.  A nonentity elevated only slightly by Riz Ahmed's twitchy performance, Rook takes center stage in the midst of one of Rogue One's gnarliest gestures toward darkness (and there are many gestures toward gnarly darkness here), when Gerrera submits him to interrogation by way of a psychic octopus monster, which Gerrera explicitly states will surely drive him mad.  Sadly, however, only the hurried pace of those reshoots could possibly explain why Rook appears to get over his vicious tentacle mind-rape by taking a quick nap.

On the Imperial side, we are not blessed with anything too much better: Ben Mendelsohn manages to whip up something with the Imperial functionary who's keeping Galen prisoner, albeit mostly by giving him a lisp; and I probably don't need to belabor how film-breakingly distracting the CG ghost of Peter Cushing is.  Unlike most critics, however, I applaud the sheer audacity of the effort; and I suspect that Grand Moff Tarkin is the one element that will play much better on rewatches.  But Lord, on this first time around, you can't do anything but gape at this phantasm's formaldehyde-ridden skin; apparently, rejuvenating Carrie Fisher in a digital fountain of youth was a much easier technical challenge.  But then, we also only see her for one shot; whereas some dummy decided that Moff Tarkin should be in, like, ten whole scenes, and for no articulable reason at all.

And I mean at all—because the most potentially fascinating feature on the Imperial landscape is also the one we barely even get to glimpse.  That's the Death Star's designer, Galen himself (played with enormous grace, in his too-few scenes, by Mads Mikkelsen).  He's spent the past twenty years—contrary to his nature and his beliefs—ingratiating himself completely to his captors, all so he could force a flaw into his genocidal masterpiece.  (Notably, this is hardly a plan which he can rationally expect will actually work.)  It boggles the mind, just a little, that a team of four professional screenwriters were able to somehow convince themselves that a bureaucratic turf war between a pair of striving Space Nazis (one of whom is clearly an animate corpse) was actually more interesting than the daily defiance of death experienced by the highest-placed traitor in the whole Empire.

Of course, there are many other flaws to pop up throughout Rogue One's grave adventure: Darth Vader's entrance may be ecstatic on a visual level, but that atrocious "Take care not to choke on your aspirations" quip competes with the Twitter joke in Moana for the single ugliest thing I've heard in a theater all year.

And Edwards, who has clearly not learned much from Godzilla's several mistakes, still has a tendency to draw story beats out too long (and they ultimately drag the swiftness of the editing into the muck along with them, especially once our heroes get to Galen's planet, and stand in the rain for what feels like half a damned hour, accomplishing nothing that couldn't have been gotten through in two fleet minutes).  Furthermore (and just like The Force Awakens before it), the film is at its dullest when it comes to space action.  To be sure, the moon-sized specter of Death Star itself is always gorgeous—and never trivial.  Indeed, as long as Edwards is busy indulging his inner Kubrick, and taking his inspiration from 2001's astronomical awe, he never places one foot wrong.  But then we get those Rebel spaceships, striking from their hidden base, and, well, they strike with an abiding inelegance, as if Edwards had no particular designs on the execution of all the cool ideas in his cosmic battle, and just let his pre-visualizers handle the whole affair.

The ground battles, oddly enough for a Star Wars flick, are rather more engaging—AT-ATs have never looked better, or been scarier, than in their first appearance here—but Rogue One's cross-cut-to-hell-and-back climax is the epitome of Edwards just grinding it out, and it is Exhibit A in the case against this film's unnecessary legion of characters.  Every last one of them dies on cue, the moment they complete a heroic task.  It isn't just predictable; it almost gets a little boring.  Indeed, for a film that overtly wants to put the war into Star Wars—which isn't unique whatsoever, and go watch Luke find the smoldering corpses of his aunt and uncle if you somehow still think it is—there's not a single death in this movie that feels random or arbitrary.  (It is 100% clear that Cassian, for example, should have missed his jump, and fallen right the fuck down that bottomless pit.  And perhaps, in another reality, he did.)

Thus, in the end all we really have, despite Rogue One's pleasingly dark tenor, is a film that puts the Star Wars into Star Wars; which is totally great, and at this point even surprising.  But it's not exactly the most morally or intellectually challenging thing in the world, is it?

And yet: when it comes to the scope of Rogue One's commitment to death, I don't know if I would trade that for anything in the world.  The movie climaxes with a Death Star-driven fireball, and it hits us like a supersonic shock wave just how inevitably doomed our heroes' endeavor always was.  It is one of the most beautiful moments in the Star Wars canon; it is, in its way, even shocking, at least in the context of a franchise property in 2016.  This movie, for all its faults—even for all its unforced errors—does have the courage of its convictions.  By being resolute, and staying so small in itself, it has the power to make Star Wars big again.  There will never be a sequel to this spin-off—and maybe that's where Rogue One departs from "Star Wars" in the single most dramatic way it ever could, even as it does so much to actually make the Star Wars brand mean something, for the first time in what seems like forever.

Score:  8/10


  1. I'll probably be skipping this movie, content with two statements, hilarious to me, that I've read in promotional interviews:
    1. Director Orson Krennic--er--Gareth Edwards, explaining that a traditional opening text crawl was eschewed to preclude it from inspiring a spin-off from his spin-off movie.
    2. Photoshop co-inventor John Knoll sperging out about the military potential of C-3PO which this movie realizes in its equivalent robot. This confirms for me that in losing George Lucas, the producers have lost their own C-3PO, the truly artistic nerd obsessed with "human-cyborg relations." I'd rather watch Peter Cushing play Doctor Frankenstein, than watch the Promethean licensing of his face.

    1. If Edwards thinks that, he's wrong. (I mean, I said there'd be no sequel, and that much is true, but if the Star Wars phenomenon has taught us anything, it's that they can make a spin-off--at least in comic book or novel or videogame form--about anything. I bet there's a 300 page tome about the tragic misadventures of Salacious Crumb.)

      I'm not sure if you come to praise George Lucas or bury him, but I think we both have to give Disney this much: when it comes to finding ways of pushing frontiers, they are continuing his work, grave as some may find it.

      Of course, Disney could be said to have their reasons: when their most financially robust property is a superhero franchise, you can see the percentage in developing a technology that would allow them to sidestep the fact that actors age and die. And then we can have Marvel movies that are just like Marvel comics! Isn't that great? (Oh, no, wait. It's the opposite of that.)

    2. Well, I watched it, and I think I come to praise Old Georgie. Before selling out, Lucas sought to turn his fairy-tale opera into a cartoon ballet, in his technocrat's competition with Zemeckis (Jar Jar Binks = Roger Rabbit). Disney, ironically but predictably, seems determined to erase cartoon heritage, including its own. This meant J.J. Abrams turning Star Wars into an actors' soap opera: out with the ecstatic visual rhythms, in with the mugging and special guest stars.

      Rogue One struck me as a curious but incoherent slog. John Knoll seems intent on remaking the Dark Forces computer-game as a photo-technocrat's effects demo, resulting in both persuasive battleships and the irritating, pointless videogame effigy of Peter Cushing.

      Meanwhile, Tony Gilroy seems content to script a post-Hunger-Games installment of his Bourne Identity political allegory. Osama Bin Laden waterboarding his prisoner with a giant octopus seemed revolting and pointless. When the crying Chinese moppet wandered into the West Bank war zone for her close-up, I was scrutinizing the extra playing her mother, wondering: Is the mother Chinese, too? Or Arab? Or an octopus? I started to giggle at the idea that I was watching a movie labeled Star Wars.

      Heroine Jyn Erso's name evokes Han Solo, but she's a medicated Jason Bourne cypher lacking even the terrible excuse of amnesia. Diego Luna has the role of a medicated Princess Leia; the robot is a medicated Chewbacca. By contrast, I rather liked the bickering homeless guys standing in for C-3PO and R2-D2.

      Disney executives were probably responsible for the inclusion of Darth Vader, whose comic-opera dialogue, for me, briefly conjured the pleasure of the 1977 film, in a jarring and frustrating way.

      I applaud only director Gareth Edwards, whose climactic, Return of the Jedi action montage had great editorial energy, despite the handicaps of inane videogame plotting, medicated non-characters, and overused design concepts. The swooping cutaway from the massive server tower's exterior to its interior had coffee-table delight. His long close-up of the heroine's tearful reaction to her father's message was also effective.

      Diego Luna's character has the operative line of dialogue, when he quotes every reality TV show ever: "I'm not here to make friends." Instead, the movie is here to win, and it certainly did.

    3. It's hard for me to explain how "choke on your aspirations" is *actually* worse than "apology accepted, Captain Needa." It just is.

      Turns out that all the Vader stuff that made it into the film--as we all suspected and was recently confirmed--was indeed all reshoots. (Incidentally, I failed to heed my own advice, and immediately rewatched Star Wars after Rogue One. It's less than just redundant; the Rogue One scene actively contradicts the dialogue and situation in the original, and makes Captain Antilles look like a moron--and an asshole. You're a "consular ship" on a "diplomatic mission," Captain? Really? I still wouldn't trade it--it's just too cool--but wish they'd finessed it a little bit more before they shot it.) What surprised me, though, was that the ending was rejiggered exactly so that everyone could die; apparently the pre-Gilroy script had Erso and Andor surviving, which would've been lame.

      That said, I'd still like them one more pass at the thing. Maybe then they could make heads or tails of that psychic octopus. We're agreed on that: it's one of the most go-nowhere thing I've seen in a major motion picture in a while.

      Anyway, I like medicated Chewbacca. K2-SO forever.

  2. I'm glad you liked this one! I honestly had no idea where you'd land on this one. I figured either 10/10 or 4/10, but 8/10 seems a solid middle ground. I obviously got way more hung up on the shoddy story elements, but it WAS a fun ride.

    And c'mon, THE FORCE AWAKENS isn't THAT bad.

    1. SPOILERS: Also, Saw Gerrera's sacrifice is utter hogwash. He's spent all this time being a paranoid survivalist until all of a sudden he's had enough? He died of what usually happens to characters in musicals: The plot doesn't need him anymore so he's gone.

    2. One more thing, then I'll leave you alone.

      Sometimes I want to tell you things, and the comments section is an inefficient way to do it. If you're comfortable with either, feel free to send your email address or phone number to

      That way we can email or text and resemble actual friends. And I can tell you immediately that Pittsburgh is getting La La Land showtimes tomorrow.

    3. No, no, The Force Awakens is pretty good, although it's emptier than any other Star Wars movie, possibly including the prequels. (They at least attempt to be about Darth Vader's downfall, only in the most inefficient, dull way they possibly could.) In the end, TFA is about the familial strife of the Skywalker clan (pitched in a much less compelling, much less mythopoeic register) and two people wailing on each other with lightsabers, without being as fun and innovative as Star Wars '77. It's still a better movie than the prequels, obviously, and--hey--I liked it enough to buy it, my enthusiasm having been restoked by Rogue One. (And all that said, depending on where Episodes VIII and IX go, maybe TFA will turn out to be much better than I thought.)

      And yeah, I think there are some reports that Saw Gerrera initially had a much more robust role. But maybe I'm just being an unreliable gossip.

      Finally, of course: I'll shoot you a line. As for La La Land, I saw it today. It was pretty great.

  3. Grand Moff Tarkin didn't bother me at all. I loved every scene that CGI Peter Cushing was in, and it was the one element that most drew a direct line from Rogue One to A New Hope for me. Now, age has started to rob me of the fine details on my vision, but I thought it looked fine. Definitely different, but I chalked that up to the difference between well-lit 1976 sound stage on film and grimdark 2016 digital ultra high definition.

    Vader's quip really bothered me at first, but as I thought about it, it really wasn't so different from 'I find your lack of faith disturbing' or 'Apology accepted, Captain Needa'. Even though the Vader gutting the rebels scene was cool and all, it felt like tacked-on fanservice to me. Like fans will bitch if you don't have a lightsabre or something. Another reviewer said this, and I kind of agree, that the Star Wars universe is very limited with what you can do with it. I have no problem with the gritty heist movie where everyone dies, but if you need to tack on some lightsabre action to get it made, that's wrong. Scenes of a Death Star looming over the horizon like a dreadnought battleship over a tugboat are good though.

    Also, the two warrior priests were totally pointless. If you want to talk about the tone of a film, you're in the middle of your gritty and brutal heist, when all of the sudden it turns into a Jackie Chan film? I mean, I guess the Force was with him, but Luke Skywalker actually brawled Jabba's guards rather than just having his wirework team flip him through them. And he took out a TIE fighter with a bow and arrow? I mean, I guess that whole 'The Force is with me, I am one with the Force' thing explains why the Stormtroopers never manage to shoot anyone important in the OT, right?

    Haven't seen La La Land. Been thinking about it though. The first trailer looked so cool and noir, but the second trailer made it look like a fun and quirky musical. I'm kind of in a state of tone shock from the swing though, which I found made me less excited about seeing the film. Weird.

    1. Tarkin looked *pretty* fake to me; not ridiculous or bad, just fake, and surprising because I didn't know he would be in the movie that much. (His construction drew all my attention, perhaps because I knew he was fake.)

      Still, watching Star Wars '77 again, it struck me even harder: Cushing looks *older* as a CGI construct. They went overboard on the detail, I think (and they're just not there with the hard-to-capture details of how skin interacts with light); I expect that's why the recreation of a ~20 year old woman looks so much better. (Although I'm suspicious now that they'll resurrect Carrie Fisher. I guess it depends on her contract with Disney!)

      The Jedi Zatoichi stuff is by a huge margin the worst stuff in the movie; still, while a Star Wars movie with no resort to showing the Force or Jedi/Sith struggles sounds appealing on paper, I just can't trade the Vader rampage for anything. It's like the end of Phantom Menace: if you think about him for even a minute, Darth Maul doesn't suck much less than anything else in that movie, but I can't convince myself it matters while "Duel of the Fates" is shrieking at me about how awesome he is.

      Anyway, I would've enjoyed Rogue One all the more if a Stormtrooper had managed to kill one of the characters halfway through. You want war, Star Wars fans? That would've been enough to sell me.

    2. Oh, and as for La La Land, it's pretty great. It's mostly the quirky, fun musical, I think, but it has a whole hell of a lot of legitimate heart.