Tag Archive for Reviews

Rogue One – The Architects of the Galactic Civil War

–MAJOR ROGUE ONE SPOILERS AHEAD–

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Rogue One is a movie about many things, but one of the most obvious things is that it’s a movie about the Death Star plans, the building of the Rebellion, and the start of the Galactic Civil War that we otherwise call the Star Wars original trilogy. The main villain is the architect of the Death Star, the heroine starts as the daughter of the Death Star’s designer and ends the film as the designer of the Rebellion itself. But there’s more to the movie than that. Rogue One, though ostensibly a war film, ends up being a very political film about the people who built the two sides of the war, and the people who fight it.

The actors involved are political, with the Rebellion led by senators and the Empire led by a politician-turned-monarch. Rogue One gives us fascinating glimpses into how both organizations work, and how they were built by people whose conditions, circumstances, and goals end up changing the face of galactic politics. It’s not just a story about war, but it’s a story about politics, and ultimately, how it’s people that shape both.

Let’s start with the Empire. Orson Krennic is a different type of Imperial villain — he’s alternatively described as an apparatchik and a man of science, a man of the working class who’s not of the well-spoken Coruscanti élite we’re used to (but neither is Tarkin, fine accent and manners or not). What are his goals? Well, he wants to build the Death Star and earn the favor of the Emperor. He’s pretty transparent on that end. But it’s more than that – his entire story in this film is political, as his actions are dictated by his rivalries and intrigues with Tarkin and Vader. There’s almost nothing military about his objectives at all, beyond the surface-level needs to secure the Death Star plans. Yet the conflicts that he, Tarkin, and Vader create in jockeying for power create the circumstances for the galaxy to blaze into warfare.

As for the Rebellion? Goodness, they’ve just formed and already they are fracturing at the seams. Not only are there profound disagreements as to how – or even whether – to engage the Empire, but there are schemes within schemes inside the Alliance command structure. Everyone is convinced that they have to do what’s necessary to save the Alliance, even if it means misleading the other leaders and even if it means doing terrible things. The Alliance is much more like the Empire than it’s willing to admit, as Jyn points out. On the micro scale, the Rogue One crew are as riven by disagreements and as attached to their pasts as the rest of the Alliance – but they find a common purpose.

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Rogue One: Trailers, Tie-Ins and Fleet Junkies – Oh My!

–MAJOR ROGUE ONE SPOILERS AHEAD–

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I saw this early Thursday night, 2D tickets bought easily, only a handful of people in the cinema too. And then, over the course of just over two hours, I got my head kicked in, metaphorically speaking. Oh and one hell of a buzz. Why? Well, in a word: Everything.

Rogue One is far from a perfect film, it has flaws, it is a bit jumpy at the start, it does have to establish itself apart from the main films, but it gets right far more than it gets wrong. And those things it gets right? It gets gloriously right. This film lives up to being the first real Star Wars movie that shows us the war. It shows us those fighting it and it is not afraid to make a distinction between the two sides while also embracing moral complexity.

Yet, for those of us who watched the trailers, it is also a strange finished product. On the one hand the macro elements are all present – the ground battles, the worlds, the characters, but the changes in the micro aspects indicate the substantive reshoots. There are entire lines present in the earlier trailers that never appear in the film, there are shots that never turn up. It makes for a somewhat disconcerting viewing. What might have been the road not taken? Given the portraits of the Rebellion and Jyn in the trailers, I suspect it may have been a harsher picture. A more cynical and colder Jyn, a more battle-hardened Rebellion, which likely gave rise to the fear, not unwarranted, that viewers may not back both. » Read more..

The Audacity of Rogue One: Gray Alliance, Black Empire

HEAVY SPOILERS: ABANDON ALL HOPE YE WHO ENTER HERE

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Light and darkness

When Disney bought Lucasfilm and brought Star Wars back from the obscurity of tie-in media and into the 21st century of cinema through The Force Awakens, one of the most commonly heard complaints was that the movie was too safe. Unlike the prequels, that for all their failings had tried to explore new narrative territory, the first movie in the sequel trilogy seemed happy to give us three fantastic new characters and then drop them in the middle of common places, well-worn storylines, and a neverending series of cameos and winks to the past.

While it can certainly be argued that this nostalgic exercise was exactly what Star Wars needed to be a commercial powerhouse once again, Rogue One takes the opposite approach: it takes place in a very safe point in the timeline, one where X-Wings and stormtroopers and even Darth Vader are common place; it takes one of the most often told stories in Star Wars lore, that of the damned theft of the damned Death Star plans; and what it gives us is the most audacious Star Wars movie so far, one more than willing to alienate its typical family-friendly audience for the sake of telling the story it wants to tell.

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The Manipulation of Galen Erso – Catalyst: A Rogue One Story

catalyst1It’s a unique time in the life of Catalyst: A Rogue One Novel. The book is, as the name indicates, a direct tie-in to Rogue One, a movie which is not even out in theaters for another few weeks. We still do not know the extent of how the two works will tie in together, what from one will show up in the other or how much one work may lean on the other for support in character development or story. Thus, this will be an examination of the book on its own merits rather than as a tie-in.

Let’s start with overall impressions before we get into what might be considered spoiler territory. Catalyst is written by James Luceno in the grand tradition of Luceno Star Wars novels, in that it ties to the larger events of a film or other project while still telling its own story. Catalyst is very much a prequel, but it tells its own tale well enough to not need the help of the film to support it. It does, however, give context to larger events by taking us behind the scenes, as it were. In this case, we go behind the scenes of the creation of the Empire’s first superweapon.

Through the novel we follow three characters, Galen Erso and his wife Lyra, along with their “friend” and greatest supporter Orson Krennic. The relationship between the three is complicated and ever-evolving as the galaxy spins, events unfold and everything changes around them. We follow our dysfunctional trio from the midst of the Clone Wars through the end of the war to the midst of the Galactic Empire, but the true strength of the book isn’t in the myriad of references or hints at things yet to come; its strength is the leads and the choices they make, the characters themselves bearing the weight of the story.

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Star Wars Propaganda: Worldbuilding Through Art and Story

Star_Wars_Propaganda_New_Cover[1](Programming note: this piece is the first of three about Star Wars Propaganda. On Friday and next Monday, I’ll be posting a two-part interview with the author, Pablo Hidalgo.)

Like a lot of people, I’ve been looking forward to the Star Wars Propaganda book ever since it was announced. WWII-esque propaganda posters for the Empire and Rebellion have been a part of Star Wars merchandise (and fan creation) for a long time, because they just fit into the old-timey milieu of Star Wars. There’s a certain sense of familiarity to the Star Wars setting – that despite the space opera dressing, the galaxy far far away actually feels rather like ours. Star Wars echoes our history, myth, and fairy tales. And while fairy tales and myth may seem different from familiar history, it’s the myth-making of propaganda that makes the World Wars (or the nostalgic ad campaigns of the 1950s) seem like cultural touchstones as familiar to us as the stories we grew up with.

Star Wars Propaganda is written by Pablo Hidalgo, and is illustrated through the efforts of artists gathered by Becker & Mayer, and is published by Harper Design. But after the publishing pages, everything about the book treats it as if it’s an art history treatise written inside the Star Wars galaxy. See, the central conceit of the book is that it’s written in-universe and all the propaganda posters seen within it are actual pieces composed by actual in-universe artists (even the captions for the pictures refer only to these fictitious propagandists and/or sponsors). The book’s notional author, Janyor of Bith, is a propagandist whose career saw him through an era of patriotic Republic and Imperial paintings to protest paintings on behalf of the Rebel Alliance and the Resistance (it’s worth pointing out that Janyor was mentioned as an artistic inspiration for Star Wars Rebels’ artist-provocateur Sabine Wren in the episode “Idiot’s Array”). The in-universe storytelling is my favorite conceit of this book, because it allows Star Wars Propaganda to weave together the body text and art into a work of storytelling in its own right: telling the story of propaganda, galactic politics, and even of Janyor’s own personal journey in a way that’s more fun and compelling than out of universe narration might have been.

The book begins with an introduction by Janyor, where he states that propaganda is a true form of art, and that art and war are tied together in the same way that politics are tied with war. He’s discussing a fictitious universe, but the observations he makes ring true to life. The book’s about Star Wars propaganda, and the history is the history of that galaxy – but it echoes our own history and myth. The artwork illustrates that story in a literal sense, but it tells its own story through the evolving art styles and subject matter. Someone could get the whole story of the book focusing on the art alone or the text alone, should any such reader be inclined. The art and text help make the setting feel more genuine and lived in; it’s a verisimilitude that the films and television shows have which helps the world the characters inhabit feel more real.

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