Rogue One (2016)

Rogue_One,_A_Star_Wars_Story_poster.pngFor so many, there is a deep connection to Star Wars that started at an early age. As I have alluded to on numerous occasions, I am no different. And if I feel that way about even the prequels, it’s exponentially greater for the original trilogy, as I can imagine it is for legions of others. Thus, when I watch Rogue One I do not linger on its shortcomings, though they most certainly exist, instead, I’m fixated on that very same suspension of disbelief that overtakes me every time I enter that world, a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away.

If Rogue One had been an unredeemable, thoroughly bad film I would have been the first to say so. Perhaps it sounds crazy (or to fans maybe not so much) but I am deeply protective of Star Wars. I only want fanservice if it’s logical, fits the parameters of the world, and so on. I’m not a voracious fact checker of every Star Wars Wookieepedia page known to man and yet I might as well be. I was one of those who was deeply defensive when Disney looked to shake up George Lucas’s original canon. Though I digress…

But even as it stands as a mediocre story with vague contours at times, Gareth Edward’s Rogue One is propelled by fun characters, space opera entertainment, and, of course, A New Hope nostalgia. For those very reasons, it’s invariably easy to lend a heavy dose of grace to this standalone entry. And that’s what I will do.

We are introduced to Jyn Erso at an early age which gives context to her later exploits. In fact, when the story flashes forward after traumatic beginnings she (Felicity Jones) is a prisoner — not on behalf of the Rebel cause — and she has no plan to help the Rebels anytime soon. But in this way, she becomes one of their unassuming champions receiving news from her father (Mads Mikkelson) that the Death Star must be destroyed and she must spread the word.

It leads her to join forces with Rebel scoundrel Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his sarcastic droid co-pilot K2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk). The bottom line is that all the various trips to planets and skirmishes with the Empire lead to a final showdown on the planet of Scariff where the ragtag group of Rebels lands a sneak attack on their unsuspecting enemy led by Imperial Director Krennic (Ben Mendelson). Meanwhile, a space battle erupts in the skies above and Jyn looks to transmit the vital plans to the Death Star before it is too late — so that hope might live on in the galaxy — and she does.

Not surprisingly, Rogue One has its share of callbacks involving the likes of Ponda Baba, Mon Mothma, and Bail Organa all returning to the Star Wars cinematic universe. And unused footage from the original film of Gold Leader exchanging callsigns is repurposed in the final offensive sequence as well. Although Grand Moth Tarkin and Princess Leia (the late Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher returning from 1976) somehow look like carbon copies of their prior selves, they nevertheless sound vaguely different, giving off this peculiar sensation that they are CGI constructions and not the real thing. Still, it’s a remarkably impressive piece of work.

Obviously, the main objective of Rogue One is simple from a narrative perspective. The Rebels must obtain the plans to the Empire’s Death Star because without those, A New Hope would not be possible. But in order to get there, there are other necessary outcomes that feel a touch more suspect. I can see the need for finding Jyn’s father since his work is so critical to the Rebellion’s objective. However, the idea of a main switch to open up communication, her father’s hologram, Jyn’s final push to broadcast the vital schematics by reaching an antenna, and yes, even Kyber crystals, all seem like easy fixes to explain away the need for certain plot outcomes. I am, however, still trying to come up with an explanation how that is any different than the Force, aside from the very fact that its balance is crucial to the entire galaxy. I’ll get back to you on that one…

Furthermore, the idea of hope comes center stage in Rogue One. In fact,  even despite the influences of eastern monism, Star Wars’ mythology reminds me of the Biblical text that reads like so, “We rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not put us to shame.” The same could be said of the Rebels. And people might scoff but in its resolution, the film even takes a page out of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. That’s what makes this idea of hope so important because there could very easily be none at all with so much death and destruction.

My loyalty towards the franchise (more so than DC or Marvel or Star Trek) makes me also fear the continued mechanization of this world into a continuing box office cash cow. With film after film, story after story, it’s indubitable that Star Wars too will lose its allure. It will be run into the ground or become besmirched by some egregious plot hole, discontinuity, or for some far worse fates like the return of another Jar Jar Binks.

That is my major concern with Rogue One because with the absence of an opening crawl, what it really did was signal a changing of the times, a new seed has been planted as the extended Star Wars universe continues to germinate and grow. Time will indicate if it flourishes or sucks all the nutrients out of the vibrant creations that were given so much vigor by the likes of George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, Harrison Ford, John Williams, and so many others. Only then will we see if this franchise is one with the force and the force is in it. Because with so many films, it’s difficult not to falter. Being both critical and an avid fan, I care all the more deeply about its fate. But for the time being, enjoy Rogue One and afterward slip in A New Hope again to be reminded exactly why Star Wars remains a cultural landmark.

4/5 Stars

Like Crazy (2011)

likecrazy7Like Crazy is the genesis, the passion, and the heartache of a romance all wrapped into 90 minutes of film. Our two subjects are filmed as individuals at first and the cinematographer opts for a handheld camera approach to capture their moments together. The loosely woven narrative is based on director Drake Doremus’s own experiences with a transatlantic romance. In the film Jacob (Anton Yelchin) is an American college student living and going to school in L.A. After her heartfelt confession of affection, Jacob begins a relationship with the British-born Anna (Felicity Jones), who is in country on a student visa.

The film slowly evolves into a montage of their time together as they grow closer and closer. It’s a beautiful picture of tentative and affectionate love coming into bloom. And with her visa about to expire Anna decides to forgo it all and stay with Jacob. But the Visa issues come back to bite her and continue to give the couple problems. Soon they are separated by an entire ocean dealing with the many challenges of long distance relationships.

For Jacob, there’s another girl (Jennifer Lawrence). For Anna a guy down the hall who asks to borrow her appliances. It’s so much easier having these people in close proximity, and it challenges their wills. Because airfare is expensive and talking through text message just simply isn’t the same. It works at first but it seemingly is not sustainable.

Marriage seems like the best option for them to hold what they have together as Anna’s Visa problems still loom overhead. But it’s hardly a quick fix and over time there’s a breakdown in what they have. Even when they are together they have trouble connecting, not shouting, and not getting annoyed. Because, more often than not, they are apart now. The best they can do is wistfully remember the intimacy they had before and try and go forward from there.

Likelikecrazy4 Crazy generally stays away from the constricting effects and inflexibility of your typical plot line. The script was more of an outline and the dialogue was essentially the two leads ad-libbing most of their interactions. But this lends an organic quality to this, dare I say, trendy indie love story. There’s vast distance juxtaposed with intimate close-ups. Emotions embodied by images become paramount over words. In a sense, we see their nakedness and not literally, but we see that vulnerability in those most intimate times in a relationship, sharing bits of bliss together. Whether they are in Santa Monica or London, the scenery is only a place in which the two of them are having moments. The type of times they remember in the shower or while they sit in the bar with their friends, or when they sit doodling at their desk. It’s those times that make them want to make this thing work despite the distance. It’s a difficult trade-off and I’m doubtful anyone has found the precise answer for it. Because all the countless advances in technology cannot give us intimacy only imperfect substitutes that will never fully replace the real thing.

likecrazy6It is a great joy watching Felicity Jones and Anton Yelchin play off of each other because aside from one occasion, their performances are quite subtle and refreshing. We even get an appearance from Jennifer Lawrence. For this reason, it’s fun to watch a film like this and see where the talents have gone in only a couple of years. The Theory of Everything, Star Trek, The Hunger Games. But there’s always a necessary niche for smaller films like this. I look forward to more takes on love from Drake Doremus and Felicity Jones has gained one new fan today.

3.5/5 Stars