Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Do you know someone that is not a fan of Star Wars? Yes, shocking as it may seem, those people actually do exist. And for those people that are out there, I truly feel sorry for them this weekend, because that means they are making the decision to not see what may be one of the better war films we have had lately in ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story’.

Now for those of us who are Star Wars fans, ‘Rogue One’ is the first of the anticipated anthology films that LucasFilm and Disney are going to be giving us on a bi-annual cycle, in off years from the main saga films. And admittedly, if the first film that we have received is any indication of the quality of films that will be forthcoming in the anthology series, we will all be in for a treat.

‘Rogue One’ tells the story of how the original plans for the Empire’s super weapon, the Death Star, come into the hands of the Rebellion. Alluded to during the opening crawl of ‘Star Wars: Episode IV – A New Hope’, the theft of the plans is a very important moment for the Rebel Alliance in their attempt to overthrow the First Galactic Empire.

The new film is an interesting mix of new ideas, taking old threads and increasing their importance, and also providing enough easter eggs for fans of not just the main saga films but also the current in-continuity projects such as the TV show ‘Star Wars Rebels’, that it really is a full run time that does not feel that it takes anywhere near the two hour and 13 minute run time that it is listed at.

From giving glimpses of new unseen planets, some new technology and ships, to showcasing well known locations such as Yavin IV and glimpses of favourite vehicles and ships as well, ‘Rogue One’ is a great melding of both new and old.

But it is the old that really grabs your attention here. Set designers did a wonderful job of building sets that give a real 1970’s vibe at times, which is critically important as ‘Rogue One’ is a direct prequel to 1977’s ‘A New Hope’, so much so that one wonders just how much time actually separates the films with regards to their timelines.

Over to the characters, and you really gain an appreciation of how much the new generation of Star Wars films are going to pushing forward with strong female leads. While I don’t really believe most people have fully appreciated just how strong of a character that Carrie Fisher’s Princess Leia Organa was in the original trilogy, they have really pushed the envelope with the main front running character in both ‘Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens’ and now ‘Rogue One’ both being female.

Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso is really setup as a character that is being used to reach a goal for the Alliance, but at the end of the film, has become a great driving force for the Rebellion and is one of the more important cogs to the success not only of the mission in the film, but the film in theaters as well. While sometimes falling flat at the dialogue provided, Jones still does enough to pull off being a natural leader, one that uses her name when needed to get results, and in a great continuation of what Star Wars does best, not force a female character to be female to be a strong character.

The other characters of the main cast are at times overshadowed by both lack of development, essentially being wallpaper to Jones at times, and also by well known characters who are here to tie ‘Rogue One’ into ‘A New Hope’. This boils down to just how difficult it is to give proper character backgrounds and explore character depth in a film that is just slightly more than two hours in length as opposed to having seasons of a television show with which to build characters.

There are definitely some new characters introduced in ‘Rogue One’ that I would love to see explored more, and maybe we might get to see that in ‘Rebels’ if the show continues long enough to make it reach the timeline of this film.

But the thing that really sets ‘Rogue One’ apart from the previous seven live-action Star Wars films we have seen in the past is not the characters, but the genre of the film. While the main saga films are epic space operas, this film is a gritty war movie. From discussions of rebellion versus extremism, to being a spy and the dirty hands that come with it, to undercover beach heads, and the largest space battle we have seen before, ‘Rogue One’ is in fact what the series calls itself, Star Wars.

Regardless of if you take the main saga films to be the rise, fall and possible rebirth of the Skywalker family and their ties to The Force, or a higher overreaching arc of the eternal strife between the Jedi and the Sith, ‘Rogue One’ slots in perfectly as an entry into the history of what is now a franchise across multiple platforms.

So much so that I slide ‘Rogue One’ as the second best of the eight live-action films, trailing only ‘Star Wars: Episode V – The Empire Strikes Back’ as the best of the bunch, and that is high praise indeed as I view that film as one of the best films of all time.

In the end, if you love Star Wars, ‘Rogue One’ is for you. If you enjoy war films, you will enjoy this film. If you don’t enjoy either, I’m not sure what you are doing making it all the way through this.

I do promise that I am back to reviewing films on a regular basis as we now have enough stability in our home to allow it. Expect a full review of recent Marvel films coming soon. As always, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer for movie talk and more. Cheers all.

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Star Wars: The Force Awakens

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It took 32 years, but we finally have it: A film completely worthy of the ‘Star Wars’ mantle, a mantle that has been dragged through the mud, restored, battered, and remade, but one that has always been at the forefront of pop media since the debut of the original film back in 1977.

Yes, we did get the Prequel Trilogy starting in 1999, but they always felt like they were missing something, and J.J. Abrams has given us exactly what that was with ‘The Force Awakens’: an underdog fight.

Say what you will about the Prequels, but from ‘A Phantom Menace’ through ‘Attack of the Clones’ and up to ‘Revenge of the Sith’, they never gave us a story that the masses could get behind. Honestly, I’m not even sure if any of us even knew that this was what was missing until seeing the new film.

‘Star Wars’ requires a strong, ever-present dark side to balance out what is essentially a coming of age story for our heroes and their discovery of the The Force. All three of the Original Trilogy films had an out-in-the-open big bad and the Resistance resonated with the general audience all the more for it.

With that little background information behind us, let us finally get to the meat of this little blurb. ‘Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ is just simply a fantastic blockbuster film. It is not perfect, and there are a few things I that I could nitpick but I won’t for a while, but it is damned entertaining, and is a great example of how to tell a story.

You may run into some people that will lament that ‘The Force Awakens’ comes across as a shot for shot remake of ‘A New Hope’, and as a result will also begin to tear into Abrams’ reboot of ‘Star Trek’ from 2009. Don’t listen to these people. Yes, there are some similarities between the very original Star Wars film from back in 1977 and this year’s release, but that is bound to happen, as there was clearly a story that work and Abrams and co-writer Lawrence Kasdan went back to scratch from.

Of course, with any film this big, this anticipated, and under a microscopic lense from day one like ‘The Force Awakens’ was, there are bound to be a couple of slip ups, and the biggest, as far as I am concerned, was the casting as Adam Driver as the big bad, Kylo Ren. Spoilers will prevent me from diving into this right now, but this is the one major item that I wish could have been improved upon.

On the flip side of the coin, I think we are seeing the debut of the next big name actress as Daisy Ridley is the star of this film. We are left with some big questions as to just who Ridley’s character, Rey, is, but this was a masterstroke from Abrams and Kasdan, even if neither is returning in a writing role for the next two films to come. These questions will surely be the carrot to the horse for the story of Episode VIII in 2017, and I for one cannot wait to see how that plays out.

Ridley has the ability to give a complete range to her character, and most of that is built on her eyes, which is nicely tied into the film during the second act, to the point where you ask if she was cast to fit the role or if the role was adjusted to her. Either way, Ridley’s Rey is the character that the Sequel Trilogy will be tied to.

As good as Rey was and as much as I wish that Kylo Ren could have been a tad different, ‘The Force Awakens’ is stolen by the returning Han Solo and Chewbacca. Harrison Ford seems like he has been waiting for the past 30 years for this film, and be it true or not, appears to be having a sincerely great time returning to one of the two roles that made him a household name.

His chemistry with our favourite Wookie, Chewie, has never been better than it is in the new film, and the way that they play off of each other allows the film to move from the first act into the third, and provide not only the film’s key doses of nostalgia, but also the necessary torch passing to not only Ridley’s Rey, but also to John Boyega’s Finn.

At the end of the day, the easiest way to describe ‘The Force Awakens’ is this way: take everything that you love about the Original Trilogy, couple it with today’s CGI, motion capture and special effects, add some well placed nostalgia, sprinkle in enough new blood, and what will you get? A new generation’s epic sci-fi space opera. Exactly what we all hoped for 16 years ago, we just may not have been ready for it yet.

I will do a further review after the next time I have seen ‘The Force Awakens’, one replete with spoilers, but ones that will allow me to properly explain all of my thoughts.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer. Also, take a moment to peruse my past reviews, and let me know what you agree or disagree with. Cheers all.

Why Disney Bought Marvel and Star Wars

With ‘The Lone Ranger’ set to come out in the middle of next week, it started a train of though about why Disney was forced to purchase both Marvel and the rights to Star Wars. They fail at producing blockbuster franchises on their own.

Now, I am sure some will point to the success of the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’ franchise at the box office as a major win for Disney, and monetarily it definitely was, but as ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ showed, making money does not a good movie make, and Disney has a bit of a track record of this as of late.

In recent years, Disney has tried to take properties from many different genres of entertainment, from video games to books to old film ideas, and launch them as possible money-making franchises.  And aside from ‘Pirates’, none of them have succeeded.

The problem I am having with writing this is the fact that I have enjoyed the majority of the films that Disney has produced during that time period, from ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ to ‘Tron: Legacy’ to ‘John Carter’, so I have found some pleasure from the films and would have more than likely enjoyed additional forays into those worlds.

As a result of their inability to create a steady stream of franchise fare for the theatre, which to be honest is the backbone of the major studios in this day and age, it forced Disney to look to outside sources to bridge that gap.  With the acquisition of Pixar finally happening in 2006, Disney was able to leverage that move into a significant boost for their animated feature film department which saw a decline in the quality of films produced around the turn of millennium.

As a result of this acquisition, Disney has seen a sharp turnaround in the quality of animated features, up to and including 2010’s ‘Tangled’ which highlighted the fact that they could look at outside companies as a way to increase their overall box office successes.

What this led to was Disney looking at up and coming studios with the possibility of having success on the franchise level, and this led Disney directly to Marvel Studios in particular, and Marvel Entertainment as a whole.

Disney purchased Marvel Entertainment at the end of 2009 on the strength of 2008’s ‘Iron Man’ and 2010’s upcoming ‘Iron Man 2’ and the prospect of the paycheck that would be 2012’s ‘The Avengers’.  A previous deal allowed Paramount to have their logo on the last two Marvel films in ‘The Avengers’ and ‘Iron Man 3’ but these two movies, the first produced fully since Disney purchases Marvel, currently sit at third and fifth in box office receipts worldwide in unadjusted sales, which tells you the value of just what Disney purchased here.

As a result of this, Disney also took a long look starting in 2011 at purchasing LucasFilm from George Lucas to gain access to the profitable ‘Star Wars’ franchise.  While not securing the rights to the first six episodes of the ‘Star Wars’ saga yet, the purchase of LucasFilm enables Disney to produce films that further the saga and standalone’s that would enhance the universe, all of which will draw large crowds to the theatre.

Who knows for sure if this was a long term plan of Disney’s, to purchase Marvel and LucasFilm, or if this is a direct result of past failures to launch monetarily successful film franchises, but what it has done is create an atmosphere where Disney, in 2015, will be producing films for three of the most successful movie franchises of all time: ‘Pirates of the Caribbean 5’, ‘The Avengers 2’ and ‘Star Wars Episode VII’.  While there is an outside chance this could be overload on general audiences, for the serious movie fan, this could be the best summer ever.

Wether any of this will mean a successful run for ‘The Lone Ranger’ in the theatre or not remains to be seen, but it does mean that Disney is hoping that they can learn how to build franchises with these acquisitions, and who knows, we may yet see a ‘Tron’ trilogy come to  fruition as well.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.

Oz: The Great and Powerful

ozDisney’s track record as of late with adapting pre-existing stories into big-budget live-action film productions has been spotty at best.  While there are some out there like myself that have enjoyed their recent forays such as 2010’s ‘Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time’ and ‘Tron: Legacy’ and 2012’s ‘John Carter’, many have not enjoyed them, and while 2010’s ‘Alice in Wonderland’ has set all kinds of box-office records, it has not moved into the area of must-see long-term film that many Disney animated films have.

With that being said, we come to this years first foray into big-budget, possible franchise starter attempt for Disney in ‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’.  An attempt to tell the origins of the Wizard of Oz character, Disney brought in Sam Raimi to direct and eventually turned to James Franco as the lead character after trying unsuccessfully to bring in more well-known actors.

Raimi and Franco of course have previously worked together with the original ‘Spider-Man’ trilogy, and I found that Franco’s Harry Osborn in those films were lacking and we get more of the same here as well.

As a whole, I found that the acting from the main four actors, Franco, Michelle Williams, Mila Kunis and Rachel Weisz, was lacking, and I was particularly let down by Kunis whom I felt could have had a possible career defining role in this film, but that never came forward.

Probably the best character in this film is Finley the flying monkey.  A CGI character voiced by Zach Braff, Finley steals most of the scenes that he is in.  I firmly believe that Finley is best looking overall CGI character we have had since we got our first full look at Gollum in ‘The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers’ back in 2002.

Visually I would say that ‘Oz’ is the best looking film so far in 2013, with rich colours and vibrant backdrops thoughout the film.  Even the darker scenes managed to visually pop off the screen and bring more life to the film.

There are also enough tips of the hat and homages to the 1939 film ‘The Wizard of Oz’ to tie it all together, even though Disney were not allowed to directly show the tie-ins due to rights issues, like having to use a different shade of green for the Wicked Witch of the West than in the original film.

‘Oz: The Great and Powerful’ is a great tie-in to ‘The Wizard of Oz’ but is yet another tie-in prequel that lost some of its magic due to the digital nature of film today compared to the original, much like what happened with the prequel trilogy for ‘Star Wars’.

For all this and more, feel free to follow me on Twitter at @kymayer.  Cheers.