Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I’m a member of the generation for whom the original Star Wars films are foundational. They are what science fiction epic blockbusters are supposed to be. I’m also a guy who thinks Star Wars is a lot of fun, but the films aren’t going on any of my top ten lists. I also thought the first and third prequels were bad, and the second was pretty good. Also, The Force Awakens is my favorite Star Wars film, by a pretty dramatic margin.

roaswsRogue One is an odd bird, then. It’s not a “saga” film, and so it’s supposed to feel a little different. No opening crawl. No Williams score. And the Skywalker clan are reduced to cameos. I was okay with that. In fact, I kind of wish it was more different. But I’ll get to that.

First, the good. Good performances, particularly from Felicity Jones as Jyn, Diego Luna as Cassian, Ben Mendelsohn as Krennic and Alan Tudyk as K-2SO. (K-2SO is possibly my favorite droid now. Sorry, BB-8.) Everyone else is also fine, but not quite as amazing. Great effects. It’s the most beautiful Star Wars film, I think. Great story. I won’t delve into spoilers, but it does an admirable job of organically retconning more than one of the oddities of A New Hope. I liked seeing a ton of new planets. I loved seeing the darker side of the Rebellion. I even loved that one actor reprising his role from the prequels.

The problem is, I don’t know exactly. I mean, yeah, I got sick and tired of the references to A New Hope. Two or three would have been fine, but it was kind of overkill. Did we really need two digital recreations of actors? No, not really. (Only one of which was actually good, by the way.) And out of 8 Star Wars films, 6 of them specifically reference the Death Star. I know, the Death Star is critical to this film’s entire story, but that just underlines the sameness of the films.

But the main problem I had is that I just didn’t care very much. About anyone. Will Jyn be reunited with her father (Mads Mikkelsen)? Didn’t care. Will Cassian and Jyn come to terms? Whatever. Will the team manage to get the Death Star plans to the Rebellion? Well, yeah. They will. But how will they do it? However they’ll do it, I guess. I didn’t even much care about any character deaths. (I won’t spoil who dies.)

So, there’s certainly nothing to be embarrassed about in the film. It’s a fine addition to the franchise. But it just doesn’t connect with me on an emotional level.

Doctor Strange

dsI didn’t hate Green Lantern. I’ll get that out of the way first. “Wait a minute, Russell,” you say. “Isn’t this a Doctor Strange review?” Oh, yeah, it is. But the point I’m making is that even though I thought Green Lantern was some trippy fun, I didn’t see it as enough of a classic that it would make anyone really angry that they remade it this quickly.

Doctor Strange isn’t a remake of Green Lantern!” you shout with fanboy rage.

Oh, isn’t it?

Let’s see. A super arrogant dude is at the top of his game (brain surgeon/fighter pilot). He has a “strong” female “colleague” with whom he has a romantic history (Rachel McAdams/Blake Lively). I put “strong” and “colleague” in quotes because the woman in question is in the same profession as the hero, but is clearly just there as scenery. Shame. So, there’s an accident (car wreck/plane crash) after which it seems that the hero will not be able to do the one thing that makes his life worth living.

Meanwhile, a guy (played by an actor with a Scandinavian name) starts messing with powers beyond his control, and he turns pretty evil, which is represented on screen by horrifying physical changes (Mads Mikkelsen/Peter Sarsgaard).

Our hero, seemingly because of FATE, becomes a recruit of a secret organization of protectors that do hand-wavy things and make glowing stuff out of thin air that they use to hit each other. He’s also gifted with a ring that’s crucial to his powers. After an attack throws the protectors into disarray, the hero, his powers barely understood and not really under control, is tasked with saving the Earth from a planet-eating cloud with a face. He has to use his smarts and come up with something clever, or else humanity is destroyed.

Is that not enough? Really? Watch the post-credits teasers for the two films and tell me they aren’t exactly the same.

Now, I don’t have a problem with any of that. I know there’s cross-pollination in films. And since there’s also cross-pollination in comic books, then this is the result of a double dose of that.

This film looks amazing, and does a pretty good job introducing magic to the MCU, not to mention also adding a new arrogant, quippy dude (played by Benedict Cumberbatch, in case you didn’t know). Thankfully, he doesn’t feel like a Tony Stark knock-off. He has a different kind of arrogance, I guess. The origin stuff is a little long-winded, but the action sequences that follow very easily make up for that. The connections to the rest of the MCU films are handled deftly (and in a couple of cases, subtly).

This doesn’t rise to the level of any of the Captain America films, but it’s definitely a worthy entry.