Rogue One and the Last Jedi

Welcome to the 20th edition of My Fortnightly Movie/TV Thoughts.  Last fortnight, I reviewed Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015).  This fortnight, I’m reviewing:

  • Rogue One (2016), rated M for science fiction violence
  • Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), rated M for science fiction violence

Those are the Australian ratings; in the United States, the ratings are:

  • Rogue One – PG-13 for extended sequences of sci-fi violence and action
  • The Last Jedi – PG-13 for sequences of sci-fi action and violence

As usual, I’ll give the trailers and clips at the end of the reviews.  And as usual, I offer the following disclaimer just to be safe:

WARNING: POTENTIAL SPOILERS AHEAD.  PROCEED AT OWN RISK.

Rogue One

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Subtitled A Star Wars Story, Gareth Edwards’ contribution to the ongoing tale was the first live-action theatrical Star Wars film to not be in the official Skywalker Saga, or officially numbered, or to feature a member of the Skywalker family (or even of any of the main films) as a major character (although there are appearances aplenty).  It’s also the first to not be scored by John Williams, and the first to not begin with the traditional scrawl bringing us up-to-date with the galactic situation, and the first to not identify itself as a Star Wars film, AND is the franchise’s first war film.  And yet it pays off as a truly stellar science fiction experience, and is one of the best films in the franchise.

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About 6 years after Revenge of the Sith, Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), Imperial weapons designer, tracks down research scientist Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) to coerce him into completing an incredible superweapon the likes of which the galaxy has never seen: the Death Star.  Galen’s wife Lyra (Valene Kane) is killed after threatening Krennic, while their daughter Jyn (Beau Gadsdon) escapes.  Galen reluctantly agrees to go with Krennic, while Jyn is rescued by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a Rebel.

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13 years later, Jyn (now played by Felicity Jones), now a prisoner, is rescued by the Rebellion.  They have heard rumours that a defected Imperial pilot (Riz Ahmed), in the custody of a now-rogue Saw Gerrera, has revealed the existence of a planet-destroying weapon – along with a message about it from Galen Erso.  Jyn is sent on a mission to Saw’s hideout at Jedha City – on the Imperial-occupied Jedha moon, where Kiber crystals are being harvested for the Death Star.  Unfortunately, this is also where Grand Moff Tarkin has chosen to test the Death Star’s capabilities.

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OK, where do I start?!  For one thing, the plot is good.  Really, REALLY good.  Better executed than several of the other Star Wars movies.  It’s easily one of the most plot-centric of the franchise, although character development suffers somewhat as a result.  However, since when has character development been Star Wars‘ strong suit?

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I really, really love the feel and tone of this movie; despite being the 12th installment in a series called “Star WARS”, this is the franchise’s first war film.  It’s a much grittier and more serious affair – and benefits immensely.  It also showcases the loss and tragedy that directly led the Rebellion to get their hands on the Death Star plans (the movie ends just before A New Hope begins).  We get to see first hand the desperation and hardship of those who lived under the Empire’s thumb.  We also get to see another side of the Resistance, a less glamourous side, and at times, a darker side.  SPOILER I also rather liked how in the end, if it weren’t for the relatively small band of main characters mutinying and taking drastic action, the entire original trilogy would never have happened.  END SPOILER

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The music score on this film is incredible.  This is the first live-action theatrical Star Wars film that John Williams does NOT provide the score for, but his replacement – Michael Giacchino – more than makes up.  It’s both majestic and haunting and adds to the feel of the film.

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The cast is good.  I rather liked Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso, our feisty protagonist.

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Forest Whitaker gives a very good performance as Saw Gerrera, a grizzled, disgruntled rebel who has formed his own guerilla campaign.

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My favourite character in the film is Chirrut Îmwe, a blind Force-sensitive mystic who remains a brilliant fighter, often succeeding where others couldn’t.  Donnie Yen provides a top-notch performance in the role.

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Ben Mendelsohn also provides a truly solid and intimidating performance as the film’s main villain, Director Orson Krennic, the man who built the Death Star.  His interaction and competition with Grand Moff Tarkin makes for interesting viewing.

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Another solid actor is Mads Mikkelsen, who is perfect in the role of Galen Erso, Jyn’s father, whose role is of particular interest to us Original Trilogy fans.

 

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And, let’s not forget the end cameo, who also appeared earlier in the film on Mustafar.

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Or the awe-inspiring moment the Death Star first appeared!

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Or when it was first fired!

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(Incidentally, in the above scene, the two technicians are played by Rian Johnson and Ram Bergman, respectively the director and producer of The Last Jedi.)

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There was some controversy over the digitally recreated actors; Peter Cushing, who died in 1994, was recreated via CGI for the role of Grand Moff Tarkin, while Carrie Fisher’s younger Princess Leia look was similarly recreated.  Many found these recreations to be awful and distracting.  While Cushing’s recreation DOES look animated IF you know it’s animated and pay too much attention, it didn’t bother me too much, and you have to admit: he looks a hell of a lot better and more real than CGI Dwayne Johnson in the climax of The Mummy Returns!  As for Leia, she looks brilliant – not at all fake.

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And of course, need I mention the action?

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And of course the visual splendour.

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This is also the only Star Wars film – apart from A New Hope and The Phantom Menace, that can be easily watched and understood by someone who’s never seen a Star Wars movie.  Rogue One is a truly Great science fiction film, and possibly stands alongside The Last Jedi as the 2nd and 3rd best Star Wars movies (behind Revenge of the Sith), as unorthodox as that statement is; at the very least, it’s one of the franchise’s best.  Heck, even many of those dissatisfied with the recent Star Wars movies enjoy it.

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Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi

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“Controversial” is a good word to describe this movie.  EVERY Star Wars movie since A New Hope has been controversial to some degree; the internet, however, has amplified it for this one.  Director Rian Johnson has stated in the past that his idea of a great movie is one that is so polarising, both its critics and its defenders point to the exact same things – one side that these things ruin the film, the other that these things make it great.  Which is literally the case with his Episode VIII – whether it be in the direction, the surprises, the character treatment, themes, the characters themselves; all of these are either considered what makes it great, or what tears it down, depending on who you ask.  I myself am on the “they make it great” side.

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Just after the events of The Force Awakens, General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads the Resistance evacuation of the planet D’Qar.  When a First Order fleet arrives, Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) defies Leia’s orders and leads a counterattack that destroys a dreadnought, but at great cost.  The Resistance make the jump into hyperspace – however, the First Order have developed a new tracking system that allows them to track the Resistance through hyperspace, and they follow him; Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis) himself joins the offensive.  The Resistance’s fuel begins to run out, and they find themselves in a galactic game of cat and mouse – one they seem doomed to lose.

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Meanwhile, on the planet Ahch-To, Rey (Daisy Ridley) has found Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), and tries to convince him to help the Resistance.  However, Luke refuses to leave his self-imposed exile, believing that the Jedi order should come to an end.  After some encouraging by R2D2, Luke reluctantly agrees to train Rey in the ways of the Force.  However, Snoke and Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) are up to more than just playing cat.

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One of the first things I noticed about The Last Jedi – and one of the first things I enjoyed (aside from being swept away the moment the Star Wars logo appeared on the screen) – is that it’s a much more original tale than its predecessor.  Don’t get me wrong, The Force Awakens is a great movie (I rewatched it last night, in fact), and I’m not really bothered by the plot similarities to A New Hope, and I love its nostalgic feel; however, it was refreshing to tread new ground, go in a new direction. (Yes, The Last Jedi definitely bears some similarities in several scenes to The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, but it can hardly be described as a remake of these movies; especially since it often goes the exact opposite way to them.)  It takes many of the traditional Star Wars tropes, and turns them on their head.

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And Johnson does take it in a new direction, and quite arguably a bold one.  One away from bloodlines, and Jedi, and Sith, and black-and-white characters.  Rather, the Force truly is for everyone, and the man-made religious systems of the past – such as the Jedi and the Sith – are unnecessary inhibitions, and there are innumerable shades of grey.  (OK, I should’ve found a better way to word that.)  Additionally, there are themes abundant about failure, letting go of the past, etc, etc.  Many hated this new direction, and that’s fine; it’s certainly a shock to the system as we’ve always imagined it in Star Wars.  However, I really liked the new direction and themes, and believe them to be a significant step in the right direction; after 8 main movies (plus 6 others), a change in direction is necessary, rather than simply rehashing the same stories.  Episode VIII intentionally sets out to massively subvert expectations, and does so admirably.

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In particular, I found the religious themes very compelling and resonating – surprisingly so, not just for a big sci-fi blockbuster, but even for Star Wars.  It’s a very deep and thought-provoking film – Return of the Jedi (and to a lesser degree, The Empire Strikes Back) focused on light vs dark, and the temptation of the dark side; The Last Jedi deals with faith itself, doubt, and with restrictive manmade religious systems – and hope in the face of persecution.  All very relevant today.  It’s easily the most “Christian” (or rather adaptably Christian) of the Star Wars movies.  Some articles on the subject (well worth a read):

https://thinkchristian.reframemedia.com/star-wars-the-last-jedi-and-keeping-the-faith

http://ramblingeveron.com/2017/12/20/why-the-last-jedi-is-the-most-christian-star-wars-movie-yet/

https://www.christianpost.com/voice/3-reasons-a-christian-can-relate-to-star-wars-the-last-jedi.html

https://livingchurch.org/covenant/2018/01/30/the-last-jedi-and-the-christian-story/

https://christiananswers.net/spotlight/movies/2017/starwars2017.html

Episode VIII is slower and broodier than its predecessors; that said, it doesn’t bore, or fail to entertain (or to provoke thought).  It’s focuses on its themes as much as (or more than) its action, but the payoff is still great, as is the action we get.  Especially the climax – the infamous Holdo Maneuver is one of the single greatest moments in Star Wars history.  And then there’s the final confrontation between Luke and Kylo (epic!).  Many think the Canto Bight subplot boring or unnecessary; that’s not actually the case.  (Be warned: the following may contains poilers.)

https://www.reddit.com/r/StarWars/comments/938q3y/in_defense_of_canto_bight_an_essay/

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As usual, for Star Wars, the visuals are fantastic.  I especially liked the design of Snoke’s throne room, and loved the fight there.

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Mark Hamill gives his best performance yet as Luke Skywalker, this time presenting an old, disgruntled, disillusioned man who struggles with his past mistakes.  Very realistic, very human.  His character arc is handled particularly well.

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Daisy Ridley gives another solid performance as Rey, who is still struggling to let go of her past, and must learn quite a bit.  And who is also a bit naive and hotheaded.

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Adam Driver delivers an even better performance as Ben Solo, aka Kylo Ren, Luke’s conflicted nephew, and the second-in-command of the First Order, who struggles between his dark allegiance, and the pull of the light.

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Carrie Fisher is solid as Princess Leia; sadly, the actress passed away a year before the movie was released.

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And of course there’s the surprise visit from a certain green alien, once again perfectly voiced by Frank Oz, who appears as a PUPPET, rather than CGI.

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Also, the music score from John Williams was incredible!  It’s pretty much the same as normal for a Star Wars movie, yet it feels like it has more emotional weight in this one, and perfectly fits the tone.  I also rather liked the sense of humour, which offset the dark and serious tone of the film.  Rian Johnson has delivered an incredible, thought-provoking, fun and visually stunning blockbuster that rivals Rogue One for the position of second-best Star Wars movie.

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The trailers:

For Rogue One:

 

 

 

 

 

 

For The Last Jedi:

 

 

 

 

The clips:

For Rogue One:

 

 

For The Last Jedi:

 

[What do you think of these films?  Be sure to let me know in the comments!  Also, send me your review for any movie, and I’ll post it on Blockbusters Reviewed.]

Index of films

http://www.cepher.net/?af=59

17 thoughts on “Rogue One and the Last Jedi

  1. Hi, Phill Lytle from Rambling Ever On. Thanks for the link to our review of The Last Jedi. My brother wrote that. I read your thoughts as well – good stuff!

    Liked by 1 person

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