My take on Rogue One: A StarWars Story

SPOILERS! I highly recommend you see the movie before reading this. This isn’t meant to tell you whether or not to see it, it is commentary you might appreciate after you’ve seen it and know what we’re talking about.

I’ll admit I didn’t have very high expectations when going to see Rogue One. That is due in large part to how far short The Force Awakens fell. But, there wasn’t much in the trailers to convince me to abandon my cautious skepticism (I did get a little excited seeing that scene in the teaser with a classic star destroyer emerging from the shadow cast by the Death Star’s super-laser dish being installed.)

So, seeing the movie I was not disappointed by 80% of it 🙂 There was even a good 15 to 30% that I really, really enjoyed.

Lets go ahead and discuss what I didn’t like. I noted both major and minor faults with the movie. The minor ones are bound to show up in any movie and don’t seriously detract, but it doesn’t mean you don’t notice them.

MINOR AND and in some instances maybe nerdy nitpicky FAULTS:

Use of hyperspace travel: Like The Force Awakens, Rogue one suffered from ITS (instant travel syndrome). You might recall in A New Hope when Luke, Obi Wan, and the gang have arranged travel with Han and Chewy to Alderaan it has a sort of road-trippy feel. You see luke training with his lightsaber, the droids playing claymation chess with Chewbacca etc. It gives the impression that we are glimpsing a few moments of what is likely a minimum of a few hours of travel. Yet in Rogue One people seem to be able to arrive pretty much instantaneously. P.S. How  did they make the jump to hyperspace within Jedha’s atmosphere and gravity well?

shoretroopers-main_a5fff2a7

New (or old) trooper and tie fighter designs: It didn’t bother me much, but it does make you wonder why we never saw any of these trooper classes or tie fighters in the original trilogy which is supposed to take place directly following Rogue One. Yes, I did hear the troopers on Scarif mentioning that something or other had been declared obsolete and maybe the explanation is that the alternate trooper armor and vehicles are being phased out. That doesn’t really seem to jive with how it appears to be the more elite forces using the alternate designs, though.

Captain Andor coming back from falling 30 feet and conking his body and head on a bunch of beams on the way down so that he can save Jyn from  director Krennic at the last minute. It was kind of cliche and interrupts the feel of inevitable sacrifice that makes the Scarif battle so good.

Throwback(or forward) cameos: Ok there was a little too much fan service in this film. Maybe not as bad as TFA, but just as obvious. My friend pegged it well when he pointed out that the camera wouldn’t linger on a couple of droids conversing at the Rebel base if it wasn’t supposed to excite some kid who would go “hey look there is R2 and 3P0, so this is definitely a good Star Wars movie”.  Same goes for our cantina buddies who miraculously escaped the destruction of Jedha. I actually liked seeing some of the Rebel leaders and pilots, though I’m not sure Mon Montha would have been at the rebel base, or Bail Organa either. They were both heavily involved in politics and served as senators. It would make sense that their involvement in the rebel movement would have to be secret until after the dissolution of the Imperial Senate, which is the obvious explanation for why Mon Montha was not seen with the rebels in ANH, but was in ROTJ.

These were the minor issues though, and didn’t really detract that much from the movie. All movies are going to have a few things that weren’t perfect—like why did So-and-so not get shot after his friend was blasted by tons of storm troopers seconds earlier in the same spot when there was no force-guided plot-important reason for him to still be alive? Or why are they using moisture vaporators to farm on an already incredibly moist planet? Or why would experienced rebel pilots even bother to attempt to punch through the shield gate by hitting the actual shield with individual gun or bomb runs. I mean come on, a planetary shield system wouldn’t be much good if a couple of X and Y wings have a chance of disabling it. Why didn’t they coordinate volley’s, target the gate controlling structure, or pound it with sustained fire from the turbo lasers on their capital ships? Ok ok, I’m done.

rogue-one-gallery34_49839bf5

MAJOR FAULTS:

CGI Tarkin: Why oh why… I understand that Grand Moff Tarkin is an important baddie who is closely associated with the first Death Star. So, having him in the movie makes sense. But, why would you put a CG character on the screen for so long and right next to real people. Every time Tarkin was on screen I was just distracted by his fakeness. The sad thing is it would have been really easy to keep your plot, keep your dialogue and not have had the distracting Tarkin problem. If they didn’t want to make-up a look-alike actor, they could have just had Tarkin communicate with Krennic via hologram for most of the movie. He is a high ranking official who would have plenty of reason to be at other locations. Then when it comes time for him to take command of the Death Star we could see him talk to Krennic in the reflection of the glass, like when he was introduced, and maybe turn and we see him for a split second. It makes sense in the Star Wars Universe and in the plot. It would not only have saved money and time, but it might have saved certain scenes in the movie.

The Leia hand-off: This was the thing that irked me most, which is saying something when you have CGI Tarkin running around for half the movie. No, I’m not going to criticize  how Leia looked. I’m really let down by how Gareth Edwards, who claims to have watched the original Star Wars 300 times as a kid, would finish his movie off in a way that doesn’t seem to jive with the original Star Wars at all. Lets review the first meeting on screen meeting between Princess Leia and Darth Vader. This occurs very close to the beginning of ANH, after the Star Destroyer has overtaken Tantive IV and Vader and his troopers have boarded the ship and Leia is captured. This is basically one of the first Star Wars scenes ever…

Leia: “Darth Vader, only you could be so bold. The Imperial Senate will not sit still for this. When they hear you’ve attacked a diplomatic…”

Vader: “Don’t act so surprised Your Highness. You weren’t on any mercy mission this time. Several transmissions were beamed to this ship by  rebel spies. I want to know what happened to the plans they sent you.”

Leia: “I don’t know what you’re talking about, I’m a member of the Imperial Senate on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan.”

Vader: “You are part of the Rebel Alliance and a traitor, taker her away!”

Imperial officer (Daine Jir): “Holding her is dangerous. If word of this gets out, it could generate sympathy for the rebellion in the Senate.”

Vader: “I have traced the Rebel spies to her. Now she is my only link to finding their secret base.”

Officer: “She’ll die before she’ll tell you anything.”

Vader: “Leave that to me. Send a distress signal, and inform the Senate that all on board were killed.

vader-leia

Ok, now think about this exchange from the Original Star Wars in context of the end of Rogue One. We are supposed to believe that Leia was at a battle over the imperial archive at Scarif. That she was on board a rebel ship sitting in the hold of the rebel flag ship (which would be a pretty dumb place to keep a whole corvette during a battle, why wasn’t it out fighting?) That the plans were transmitted to the flagship, then loaded onto a disc and carried by rebel troops who are attacked by Vader himself, who’s had time to board the ship. That Vader Kills most of them but is slowed down enough by a door and some guys getting in the way of his lightsaber that another guy with the plans makes it on board the corvette, which escapes. Vader literally sees the disc with the plans go aboard her vessel. There are thousands of imperial witnesses that the corvette Tantive IV was at the battle. A battle where two Star Destroyers with thousands of men on board were destroyed by the rebels. Where the archive itself was besieged and probably hundreds more troops killed on the ground. After that, we are expected to believe that when captured, Leia would try to pretend she was just on a diplomatic mission and the Imperial officer would be concerned about how it would look to keep her in custody. That Vader would also apparently be worried enough to order that they fake a distress call and pretend that everyone was killed. Let’s be clear, like Mon Montha and Bail Organa, I don’t even think Leia would have been with the rebel fleet (which means nor would R2 and 3P0… why were they at the base again?). But if she was, she definitely wouldn’t be dumb enough to think she can just pretend like she is on a diplomatic mission when Lord Vader who watched the plans walk (not transmit) onto her ship, catches her. Again, you wouldn’t have had to change much to save your continuity. Rather than Vader chasing the plans onto a ship while other guys try to defend them. They could have had a guy uploading the plans to transmit to Leia’s corvette which could be hanging out at a nearby system because her dad told her to be ready. Vader could still cut some guys down in a cool scene. It could still be urgent and get the plans away at the last second. You could still see princess Leia at the end receiving the plans. And, we wouldn’t have to ask whether the director Gareth Edwards had bothered to watch Star Wars again as an adult, since seeing it “300” times as a kid apparently wasn’t’ enough. I’ll forgive him for not jiving with the Expanded Universe because his Imperial, I mean Disney, overlords dissolved its validity. But when you don’t jive with the Original Trilogy…

rogue-one-gallery71_e2289066

Other than that, I liked the movie. I especially liked the battle on Scarif and the way the Rogue One crew slowly got picked off—the sense of doom for a small group, but hope for the galaxy was very nice. The battle also felt a lot more like a real Star Wars battle vs The Force Awakens where it seems like Poe Dameron is playing a video game rather than actually flying a complicated machine. I’m Glad Edwards was willing to commit to killing everyone, without (mostly) any Disney style “Oh wait, I’m actually ok” business.  So I guess I will have to wait for the special edition where they fix the Tarkin scenes and change the ending to match. Because that would actually be a great movie. (don’t get your hopes up)

(photos used under Fair Use as part of a film critique and review)

Advertisements

Star Wars: Can Disney See Past The $ Signs?

New Storm Troopers

This is probably a post I should have written way back when Disney first bought the Star Wars properties. But, I figure I’d better at least get it out into cyberspace before The Force Awakens is officially released. I’d consider myself a Star Wars fan. I remember watching return of the Jedi before I was old enough to be capable of sitting through a full length movie, or of understanding what was going on in it. I spent a lot of my youth reading Star Wars novels, playing Star Wars Video games and drawing Star Wars ships and vehicles. I was at just the right age when the Prequels were released to think pod racing and Darth Maul were pretty awesome, but have serious reservations about little Ani and various other aspects of the new additions to the franchise.

Well, I have some reservations about where Star Wars is going now as well. The first of which is J.J. Abrams. Though some of the material released about making The Force Awakens has admittedly eased my mind on this score, I still get nervous when I think about the latest Star Trek offerings, or…. Lost. I sometimes have nightmares that in a flurry of lens flares the Star Wars cast might wake up on a strange island…

I’ve also been irked by some of the redesign of costumes and ships we’ve been seeing in trailers and other material. Everybody jumped into the discussion of the trifoil lightsaber when we first caught a glimpse of it. But I was also asking myself if I am ok with new stormtrooper helmets and armor, white blaster rifles, or the color inverted TIE fighters. I know some of the new designs are based on original concept drawings from the OT, and that is kind of cool. But I don’t like it when I feel like something is being changed just to change it. It is like a concept artist somewhere wants to make sure it looks like he/she is working hard.

New Tie Fighter

Let’s just talk about the TIE fighters briefly. Why? They have the same silhouette, with only minor changes to the structure of the pylons and such—changes that average joe won’t even notice. So why change them? And most especially why invert the color scheme? It was widely accepted (though Disney may rewrite it…) that those are solar panels on a TIE-fighter’s “wings”. So somebody better explain to me why the panels are now white. Apparently with current earth technology, it is totally possible to make white solar panels. However, there seems to be only two reasons to do it. First: aesthetics. Second: to reduce heat absorption. Well…. neither of those seem to be good reasons in space, unless the Empire decided that their TIEs weren’t easy enough for enemy fighters to see. Ok, enough of that, my wife pointed out the other day that if I were making The Force Awakens everything would look exactly like it did in the OT.  which is probably true 🙂

new tie pilot

Now on to my most important point. Disney’s Star Wars Canon. This part casts a shadow of gloom over the whole thing for me. For years and years novels, games and comics were being produced by great minds, licensed, approved and released into what was known as the Star Wars Expanded Universe. The Expanded Universe told everything from the earliest Jedi to threats against the Galaxy long after our Original Trilogy heroes were dead. I did not read every book or comic—probably not even a significant fraction of the material available. But I did read a bunch. I especially enjoyed the story from directly after ROTJ to 50ish years following. This was because the novels I read told the story of the continued rebellion and A New Republic with both new and familiar characters living in the galaxy that I loved. Isn’t that what Disney says they are trying to do with the Star Wars franchise, isn’t that what J.J. Abrams or Carrie Fischer say in interviews? Well, then why did Disney throw it all out the window? Disney’s only official Canon for Star Wars before the Force Awakens are the 6 films, and two cartoon series? I’m not saying that a cartoon show can’t tell a good story, but I’m not sure the stories cartoon writers are coming up with on a deadline really compare with the Expanded Universe—a monumental feat of continuity and additional depth. So why would Disney do this to us Star Wars fans? Because they like easy money. They don’t want to be tied down with stories other people wrote. You can see that evidenced in Disney’s Frozen (and most other Disney movies). The only thing Frozen has in common with the Hans Christian Andersen tale of the Snow Queen upon which it is supposedly based, is that they both involve a guy named Hans.

Well, easier definitely isn’t always better. It may be easier to hire people to write new stories that don’t need to fit into the continuity of the Expanded Universe. But, it is unlikely that the picture of a Galaxy created in the space of a film’s production time will be better than the one crafted over decades by dozens, if not hundreds, of writers working together.

To all you who want to tell me that it is ok, “all my favorite Star Wars stories still exist as ‘Legends‘”, I say, would you be ok if Disney acquired rights to all Tolkiens work and then issued a decree that the Silmarillion was just “Legends“—that if it wasn’t in a Peter Jackson movie or one of Disney’s upcoming Bongo the Hobbit adventures it wasn’t part of the official story? Well the unfortunate part is a lot of people would be ok with it, because they haven’t read it and don’t know what they are missing. That is why Disney can get away with the way they are Handling Star Wars.

So, to you Disney minions who now hold the reigns to the greatest scifi franchise in existence. Please at least read some Star Wars novels and consider the events and storytelling therein. The only way the Expanded universe becomes canon now, is if you guys reference it for future creations.

Thanks

(All images in this post are from StarWars.com ©Lucasfilm 2015. —Included here under fair use as a profitless commentary on the upcoming film)

May the Fourth: Star Wars Drawing

Yesterday was May the Fourth—Star Wars Day. I couldn’t let an opportunity like that pass my drawing table. So, I figured I’d draw and ink something starwarsy. Honestly, I spent a lot of my childhood drawing images inspired by Star Wars. A quick search through some old nicknacks turned up these two images:

7th grade Death Star Drawing

This one appears to be the surface of the Death Star. It is drawn on the back of a note card for a 7th grade research paper about what it takes to become a culinary worker. The next one is a tiny TIE Interceptor found on sheet of random doodles from the same era.

tie interceptor doodle

 

I didn’t find any examples in my quick search, but as a kid I always loved to draw a couple capitol ships pounding it out with the turbolasers while star-fighters zipped around them. So this year on Star Wars day, I figured I would do something along those lines. I started yesterday and wanted to finish yesterday, so I had to keep it relatively simple—this wasn’t going to be the full battle of Endor or anything.

I began by gathering reference. You’d think a quick google search for Star Destroyer would turn up plenty, but most of the nice detailed images were pretty recognizably the reference for every peice of fan art, Star Wars book cover and spoof meme you’ve ever seen. So I turned to my secret weapon—3d model libraries. If you want to see a vehicle from an angle that google can’t provide, you can be almost certain some other geek has already made a 3d model of it. Some sites, like the Sketchup warehouse, have a bunch of models downloadable for free (but you have to sift through all the wedges with cube on top created by twelve yr-olds and titled star destroyer) or there are other sites where a small fee will grant you access to some pretty professional models. I managed to track down some decent models, which I arranged and lit to use as reference. Once I had that it was just drawing, inking and coloring.

The coloring I did digitally and the image below showcases some of the different layers and elements used to make the final image.

Process and layers for starwars image by Jameson Gardner

As you can see, I had the original ink layer, the basic colors and shadows and a watercolor texture scan. Together:

Star Wars Battle by Jameson Gardner

The process results in what I hope is a nice comic-book sort of feel. Hope you enjoy and may the force be with you!