Rogue One prequel tv series

First of all, yes I know, it’s been ages since I posted anything on here. Life stuff.

Anyway this is moderately exciting news out of the blue. Disney have announced they are going to make a Rogue One prequel TV series featuring the Cassian Andor character as played by Diego Luna.

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Actually this is very exciting. Rogue One remains my favourite of the four Disney Star Wars movies to date and any return to that era and type of gritty storytelling will be very welcome.

Both this series plus The Mandaloran will be on the new steaming service called Disney+ along with some Marvel TV shows I believe.

It’s probably not likely that the other Rogue One team members will appear, seeing as Cassian only met Jyn, Baze, Chirut and Bodi during the course of that movie. Maybe K-2SO is a posability, but I don’t know that the makers want to include an expensive cgi droid in every episode.

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But I’d be happy if we even saw Genevieve O’Reilly’s Mon Mothma turn up every now and again to give Cassian his new mission. Kind of like M and Bond.

Hey, I’ve just realised that makes Mon Mothma MM…

Solo movie review

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So now some of my initial thoughts on seeing Solo. I’ll avoid any major spoilers.

To be honest I find myself in the position of looking forward to these spin off movies more than the “episodes”.

Episode 7 was “fine”. Well, to start with anyway, but as it went on I got more frustrated with its inability to do anything original.

Rogue One on the other hand I loved. I ended up seeing that in the cinema three times, something I’ve not done since I was a kid.

Then episode 8, again “fine”. Yes I’m damming with faint praise, but at least it tried to do something different.

But really I’m treating the sequel trilogy as glorified fan fiction where I’m not particularly thrilled with the new characters and the direction it’s going in. And I find I’m not particularly looking forward to Episode 9.

So here we are with the Solo spin off, with its very troubled production history and shouts of “no one wanted this movie” and “you can’t recast Harrison Ford” and “I’m boycotting it because The Last Jedi sucked.” Seriously.

Well I liked Solo perfectly fine. It’s nothing Earth-shattering but I found it fun. It’s a very different movie from the other instalments. All of the others to date have been about the “Star War” if you will. Including Rogue One as that’s inextricably linked to the original Episode IV. Solo is the first movie to be set in the Star Wars universe and not really have anything to do with the War. I find this quite welcome.

The early scenes are set on Han’s home planet Corellia where the teenage Han (Alden Ehrenreich) and Qi’ra (Emilia Clarke) are teenagers pressed into working for an alien crime boss lady. Han wants nothing more than to escape with Qi’ra off Corellia and they flee to a spaceport where they try to get on a ship. I found those scenes very effective with Han being chased by both the criminals and also trying to avoid running afoul of the Imperial Stormtroopers.

Things don’t go to plan and Han finds himself enlisting in the Empire with the intention of becoming a pilot. Some folk online have not liked the origins of Han’s surname here via the recruiting officer but I liked it fine. I always thought the name Solo might have originated because of something like this. Incidentally I liked the recruitment office’s use of the Imperial March in universe

Flash-forward three years and Han is not the pilot he dreamed of being but is stuck as infantry in a ground war on the muddy planet Mimban. Here we have a very World War 1 kind of vibe complete with trenches, going over the top and a new type of Stormtrooper with a gas mask. It is on Mimban that Han first encounters Tobias Becket (Woody Harrelson) and sees a chance to get away from the Empire.

(I don’t believe that the name Mimban is used in the movie. It previously appeared in the first Star Wars spin-off novel Splinter of the Mind’s Eye by Alan Dean Foster, published exactly forty years ago in 1978.)

There are certain boxes that need to be ticked in a Han Solo origin movie. How he met Chewie. How he met Lando. How he got his hands on the Millennium Falcon. Oh, and maybe about how the Millennium Falcon made the Kessel run in less than twelve parsecs.

And it is great fun and very satisfying to see Han and Chewie meeting for the first time and quickly becoming inseparable.

There are a number of big action sequences, the most notable being a train heist and later on another heist in the Spice Mines of Kessel. As well as that Kessel Run

The droid character L3 seems to be divining opinion. A lot of people seem upset by that character but I found her quite amusing. She delivered one of my favourite lines in the movie plus there’s a lovely bit of business to explain why the Millennium Falcon’s computer gave C-3PO such headaches in The Empire Strikes Back.

Special mention to Paul Bethany who played the principal villain, crime lord Dryden Vos with such impressively casual insincerity. Donald Glover is also clearly having fun playing the smooth cape-loving Lando.

The movie exhibits a bit of a Western vibe in places. The train heist sequence and the confrontation with the marauders near the end come to mind. Also the marauder leader Enfys Nest turned out to be a more interesting character than I expected.

So what about the casting of Alden as Han Solo? I have to say I liked him perfectly fine. I think he played the more youthful Han very well. There is enough of Han’s trademark attitude and swagger there. One of my favourite moments is when Beckett tells Han not to make eye contact with the guests of Dryden Vos and Han casually mingles with eyes downcast. But Alden also portrays younger Han as having a little more youthful optimism and idealism. He tries to convince Qi’ra that he’s a bad guy but she calls him out on it. She and the audience know Han is anything but.

The end of the movie keeps things very open for a sequel. Who knows if that will happen? Apparently Solo has been underperforming at the box office. If we don’t get another instalment it would be a shame.

So in summary Rogue One remains my favourite of the new movies but I liked Solo much more than either of the “episodes”.

Star Wars The Last Jedi review

7EBA0DD7-9938-4BAB-A15D-ECF614F45AD3The following review includes lots of spoilers and assumes you’ve seen The Last Jedi.

Overall I enjoyed the movie. While I don’t think it’s a masterpiece and I think it’s flawed in parts I don’t quite understand the hate it’s getting.

To start this off I think I have to explain how I’m approaching the sequel trilogy movies. When I first saw The Force Awakens in the cinema I was entertained, although I did have reservations, especially about the use of the Starkiller base weapon and the introduction of the new elements to the universe without any context, such as the First Order and Snoke. Where did they come from? It was just a bit too convenient to have these ready-made adversaries there without knowing their origins. But never mind.

After enjoying Rogue One much more that The Force Awakens I realised that the sequels are probably not going to please me as much as the spin-offs. So I thought I’d just take The Last Jedi as I found it.

Over all I liked it. I certainly like it a bit more than The Force Awakens as there a little more meat on the bones of the story and while it does lift elements from Empire and Jedi it’s not a complete remake like The Force Awakens was of A New Hope.

That being said there were a few things I didn’t like about it so I’ll deal with those first.

The humour, especially the Poe-Hux comedy routine right at the start of the movie. It actually felt like something that should be in a parody movie like Spaceballs. It was very bad judgement to include something so comedic, especially right at the start of the movie. Plus they turned Hux into a comedy straight man throughout the rest of the movie.

The constant “we have a bigger ship” routine. This started with the Dreadnaught ship appearing which was much bigger than the already large Star Destroyers. We are expected to believe that Poe in his small fighter can single-handedly rid it of the defence cannons. Then Snoke’s ship appears which is supposedly 60 km wide. And on the planet at the end they have a gigantic battering ram cannon (much larger than the supersized AT-ATs) just to knock a tiny hole in a door. It just feels like overkill and again like self-parody.

The use of the Luke character. I really don’t think Luke has been well used in these movies. The Force Awakens reduced him to a cameo without dialog. This one has him hiding on a distant planet pretty much being very grumpy and refusing to help Rey. I do find it hard to believe that the Luke of the original trilogy just gave up and hid himself away. And then he goes and dies at the end. Indidently Mark Hamill is apparently on record as sayin he doesmt recognise this version of Luke.

The Mary Poppins scene. Or if you like the scene where Leia was blasted into space but used Jedi powers to “fly” back into the ship. Heavy sigh. It was one of those moments where I sat in the cinema asking myself “just what the hell am I looking at here?”

The side mission to the casino planet. Again with the inappropriate humour, especially an inebriated patron putting coins into BB8 mistaking him for a slot machine. This allows BB8 to later fire the coins like a machine gun. Face palm. They also got in a very unsubtle “be nice to animals” message.

BB8 driving a scout walker. Puts head in hands.

There was however much that I liked.

The opening bomber raid on the Dreadnaught was something a little bit different and was quite gripping. The bombardier on the last remaining bomber is unable to press the all important “drop the bombs” button so it’s up to gunner Paige to retrieve said button and drop the bombs without a thought for her own survival. A very tense and eff3ctive opening.

(It occurs to me that I’d like to see a Star Wars movie about that, a single bomber crew on a specific mission with the odds against them.)

Some of the stuff with Rey on Luke’s planet was good. I liked the bit where she has a Jedi vision of herself multiplied. There was some good visually interesting stuff going on.

There was a lovely little moment where R2D2 shows luke the old hologram of Leia asking Obi-Wan for help.

(But that reminds me, R2 was hardly in the movie. That’s two movies in a row he’s hardly used. Why are they so reluctant to do stuff with R2?)

The lightsabre battle with Rey and Kylo having to team up against the Praetorian guards was pretty impressive and was probably one of the strongest sequences in the movie.

The DJ character was interesting. Of course it’s Benicio Del Toro. Respect. But besides that it opened up the universe a little. I liked the scene where DJ shows Finn the holograms of what weapons the arms dealer supplies. There’s the Tie Fighters that the Empire used, and then unexpectedly there’s an X-Wing.

There’s some interesting commentary here on arms dealing in the Star Wars universe that perhaps touches on explaining how the First Order could come about, that war is good for business. But it’s not developed. (That’s another movie I’d like to see.) In the end DJ isn’t really used much.

As a side note some time ago when I heard they were going to a casino planet and would meet Benicio Del Toro I did think “well, Lando betrayed Han, I guess Benicio Del Toro will do the same…”

And I really liked the bit where the Laura Dern character turned her ship and went into hyperspace pointing at Snoke’s ship and basically cuts it in two. The use of silence for that sequence was impressive.

Another highlight was when Luke appeared on the planet at the end to face off against the walkers and Kylo, especially the moment where he brushes the dust off his shoulder.

In general looking back on it I like just how dark things get for the Rebels. They lose their base, they gradually lose their fleet and then their escape shuttles are picked off one by one. There isn’t the expected last minute rescue for the majority of the Rebels. There’s really only a handful of personnel left to continue the fight.

But I’m not sure how I feel about the basic plot, i.e. the Rebels are chased by the First Order at sunlight speeds. For the whole movie. The First Order can’t catch up but the Rebels can’t get outrun them either. It just feels a little limited. I almost wish they had lifted the asteroid sequence from Empire to spice things up a bit. Maybe the Rebel ship could hide in an asteroid and have to wait out the bombardment. But then I’d be complaining that something else was copied from Empire.

What I really find perplexing is that they are making up these movies as they go. George Lucas always had an idea of where each trilogy was heading as he made the earlier movies. I had assumed that Lucasfilm would have done the same for the sequel trilogy. But apparently JJ Abrams just created the story for The Force Awakens, setting up all those mysteries, principally who is Snoke, and who are Rey’s parents.

Only now Writer-Director Rian Johnson has shown that he doesn’t particularly care to answer them so he just killed off Snoke and decided that Rey’s parents were some random people we never met.

Not that I mind Snoke being killed off. He was never that interesting to me and it was a nice surprise that they chose to do it in the middle of the trilogy, replacing him with Kylo.

Unfortunately JJ Abrams Is back to do episode 9. We can anticipate more pointless CGI creature chases. I can’t pretend I’m looking forward to it.

Again this reinforces my thoughts on the sequel trilogy. If you’re going to do a trilogy then you should plot it all out in advance, not make it up as you go. Otherwise why bother making a trilogy at all?

Also the main saga is sometimes referred to as the Skywalker saga. Fine, only now you’ve killed off Luke Skywalker.

While JJ is getting his people to design some new CGI creatures Rian Johnson is going to develop a new Star Wars trilogy. My bet is that it will be about the kid with the broom at the end.

So overall I liked the movie but am aware of its many flaws.

Star Wars Rogue One review

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Well without any hyperbole 2016 has certainly been the worst year of my life. So I take whatever small pleasures where I can.

Rogue One is certainly a pleasure.

I will try to avoid any major spoilers but I will allude to things shown in the trailers.

So to start with here is the most basic of backgrounds. The Empire is completing the Death Star. The Rebels find out and recruit Jyn Erso (played by Felicity Jones) to contact someone who has vital information. Why her specifically? Because her father Galen Erso (played by Mads Mikklesen) has reluctantly helped the Empire build the thing. So begins the adventure and along the way Jyn and rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) gather a “Dirty Dozen”-style group to go on the mission.

It being an immediate prequel to Star Wars the movie does include a few familiar faces in the ranks of the Rebels and Imperials. For example (I’m mentioning this one because it’s in the trailer) we get the reappearance of Mon Mothma, she of the Rebel briefing in Return of the Jedi. Genevieve O’Reilly had played Mon Mothma in Revenge of the Sith, but her scenes were cut. So it’s finally nice to see her appear outside of deleted scenes on a DVD.

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And the trailer allows a glimpse of Darth Vader so no spoiler there. But I can’t say much about who else appears, but it’s great fun to see the unexpected faces who pop up. One face in particular was very unexpected and… Well I really don’t want to spoil that surprise.

Felicity Jones is brilliant as Jyn. I have to admit I’ve been a fan of Felicity since seeing her in an ITV adaptation of Northanger Abbey. It seems like it was five minutes ago but that was early 2007! It doesn’t seem possible that it’s almost ten years. Anyway Felicity sells Jyn. There’s a couple of scenes where she had to give speeches to convince people to fight. With any other actor it might have sounded a bit cheesy but Felicity’s earnestness had me wanting to sign up.

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One of the standouts in the team is the reprogrammed imperial Droid K-2SO which I believe was a CGI creation. He’s played by Alan Tudyk who did similar duties with the main robot Sonny in the Will Smith movie I Robot. K2 kind of steals any scene that he’s in with his habit of blurting out whatever he happens to be thinking at the time.

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On the opposing side is Director Krennic played by Ben Mendelsohn. He’s someone who may have started off as a bureaucrat who oversaw the construction of the Death Star but over time has become a power-hungry imperial officer. Mendelsohn glowers enjoyably through his scenes and gives Krennic a bit of three dimensionality to what could have been a standard one dimensional villain.

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The movie does the usual Star Wars thing of setting down on various disparate planets across the galaxy. One of the most interesting ones was Jedah which seems to be some ancient planet of the Jedi. But that’s just background detail in a move which is very much set in the present. Well with one exception… Unusually for a Star Wars movie we get a kind of a flash-back scene of Jyn as a young girl on the day the Empire came for her father.

And I want to mention something that happens on Jedah. But I can’t. Because… Spoilers… But it’s brilliantly done.

A quick word on the visuals. There are a couple of shots of the Death Star seen from the surface of planets that are among the best shots in any Star Wars movie.

There’s a lot of action throughout the movie but things gradually ratchet up until we come to the the last chunk of the movie which portrays an extended battle scene on the ground and in space. And for once the grunts in the line of fire are the main characters and not the background extras.

There is something about the grittiness of the battle scenes and the overall tone of Rogue One that gives the movie a surprising weight and heft. Yes, it’s set in the fantasy Star Wars universe but it feels like it’s happening. It feels real. I can’t help but contrast it with last year’s The Force Awakens. Overall that was an entertaining enough concoction but in comparison to Rogue One it feels like a greatest hits remix of the original trilogy, a box-ticking exercise in what is expected to set up a new trilogy. In hindsight The Force Awakens all feels a bit cartoony.

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Here there are no speeder bike chases. There are no force assisted jumps out of danger. The action for the most part is very grounded. And even when the action is in space there is a weight to it as the opposing ships slug it out. One moment of the space battle in particular was stunning.

The movie crept up on me. I mean I was enjoying it well enough to start with but in a slightly detached way. “Oh that bits good. Yes that’s good as well…” But gradually I was drawn in until I wasn’t so detached. I stopped thinking about it being a movie. Then towards the end there was a moment when I realised I was actually quite gripped in a sort of edge-of-my-seat way.

And the last moments of the movie… I can’t say what they are. But I obviously knew that the Rebels escaped with the Death Star plans because that’s how the original Star Wars starts. But even though I knew the outcome there is a desperation in those final scenes that I found almost unbearable to watch. That’s quite an accolade for director Gareth Edwards.

Taking a step back I think I like that Rogue One is standalone. There will be no sequels to Rogue One because the original Star Wars movie is already the sequel. Rogue One is constrained by being set during the days immediately preceding Episode IV and paradoxically that give the movie the freedom to expand on the already established details and characters. It’s not concerned with setting up other plot threads that will pay off later.

Whereas the sequel trilogy (i.e. Force Awakens onwards) which has the freedom of being open-ended is actually constrained by needing to construct the mythology of a new trilogy. The first movie isn’t allowed to have an ending. It can only try to raise some questions about the new characters that will I assume get answered somewhere down the line. And like I said earlier, it feels cartoony in comparison.

Where do I rank Rogue One? I’ll need to watch it a few more times. But certainly without doubt it is at least in the top four.

Star Wars The Force Awakens Review

Ah, I’ve been putting off doing my review for the new Star Wars movie. Well, here are some random thoughts about it.

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As its been two weeks since it came out I will discuss the big spoilers so be aware that the big spoilers do follow…

I repeat…

BIG SPOILERS FOLLOW

To be honest I had a very strong suspicion that the story of The Force Awakens was going to mirror episode 4 based on the imagery of the trailers. For example we see a girl on desert planet looking wistfully at spaceship taking off. Then we have Han Solo doing Ben Kenobi duty and telling Rey and Finn about the force. Later we see X-wings attacking an Imperial type installation. Etc, etc, etc…

So I knew that was coming. And pretty much that’s what we got, a retread/remake/homage to the first movie.

Then again I recall that George Lucas did the exact same thing with the climax of Return of the Jedi and produced another convenient Death Star for the Rebels to attack and blow up.

And arguably Episode 1 does the exact same thing with kid Anakin in a Naboo Starfighter attacking the Trade Federation droid control ship to halt the battle on Naboo.

So I was prepared for all that and I found I didn’t mind too much. I do think the makers have done that deliberately in order to ease people into the story arc of the new trilogy and I expect the next two episodes to do something a bit more original.

At least I hope they do…

There was a lot about the movie I did enjoy very much.

Daisy Ridley was wonderful as Rey. The new trilogy is surely going to be about her character. She is the Luke of the new trilogy I think. I do like how they have left some unanswered questions about her, mainly who abandoned her on that desert planet and why. The most obvious explanation is that she is Luke’s daughter and it has something to do with his Jedi academy getting destroyed by former student Ren. Certainly her abilities with the Force add weight to that theory.

I did read some comments online that expressed annoyance that Rey developed her Jedi abilities so quickly. However I actually really liked that aspect of it. Otherwise the makers of the movie would be setting her up to be a Jedi and the audience would be two steps ahead of the story. I liked that her force abilities “awakened” and she was able to do all the Jedi stuff. And the Jedi Mind Trick scene with the Stormtrooper (Daniel Craig?) was great.

At the start of the movie I liked how they introduced Finn. He’s this faceless stormtrooper who sees a fellow trooper die and he gets the bloody handprint on his helmet. What I liked in that scene was even though you could not see his face you could tell by his body language how shocked he was at what the First Order troopers were doing and how reluctant to take part he was. That was very nicely done.

It’s a pity Max Von Sydow wasn’t in the movie for a bit longer. Because, hey, it’s Max Von Sydow. I always loved him in Dune and he was one of the best things in the first Judge Dredd movie. (The other being Diane Lane.) He can do the gravitas.

Early on there’s a shot of Rey sitting on the desert planet. She’s leaning against a big round metal object. Then we get a different higher angle and see it’s the foot of a toppled at-at. I loved that.

There’s a scene where Ray and Finn are running from attacking Tie fighters towards a ship they intend to steal. Finn suggests a ship we don’t see. “That ones garbage,” says Rey. When her first choice is destroyed they have to made do with the garbage. And I just knew it was going to be the Millennium Falcon. I’m sure I detected a little frisson of excitement in the cinema when the Falcon was revealed.

And while I’m on the Falcon, what about that targeting display on the Falcon turbo lasers! It looked exactly the same as it did in episode 4! Imagine if George Lucas was doing that now…

A word on supreme leader Snoke. At first I thought he was an actual giant guy and then of course it turned out to be a hologram. Some folk online are speculating it’s like the Wizard of Oz and he may actually look nothing like that. The rumour is that it’s either Palpatine or Darth Plagueis who I believe was Palpatine’s former master.

The movie had a lot of Han Solo. Clearly the makers wanted their money’s worth from Harrison Ford. And they got it. But the result of this is that the main characters in the movie are Han (and Chewie), Rey and Finn. Leia is hardly in it. And as for Luke…

A week or so before I saw the movie I had inadvertently read a rumoured spoiler that apparently Han Solo was going to die in this movie, more or less mirroring Ben Kenobi’s death in episode 4. That was slightly annoying but in hindsight it shouldn’t be a surprise to see Han exit. Remember, Harrison Ford apparently wanted Han to die in Return of the Jedi. Quite likely that plot development got him on board the movie.

I felt that the “Death of Han” sequence was well done because it’s got a bit of Greek tragedy going on. Earlier Leia asked Han to try to save their son. (Didn’t I mention, the evil Kylo Ren is actually Ben Solo?) So Han sees Ren in the Starkiller base. He could have escaped but instead he confronts Ren. Ren had been set up as a very conflicted character trying to follow the dark side but having doubts so there’s some nice double-meaning to the dialog spoken as he asks his father for help before killing him.

I do think that Chewie should had gone more berserk though. Like ripping some stormtroopers apart.

While I did enjoy the movie there were a number of things I didn’t like.

First of all I’m not thrilled at how the Starkiller base worked. So, do I have this right… It sucks energy from a star to charge up? Then fires laser beams across the galaxy (one assumes at faster than light speed) and destroys multiple planets? In moments? Huh?

So the first time they fired it at the New Republic worlds did the sun vanish as well? I don’t recall that happening. And then do they have to move the Starkiller base (i.e. planet) to a new star or can it fire to anywhere in the galaxy from the one spot?

No, I don’t like any of that. It’s just =spluttering noise= silly. I could just about accept the Death Star as it would have its own power source and it moves to the planet it is going to destroy.

(Actually I can feel myself about to get annoyed at the use of Warp Speed in the JJ Abrams Star Trek movies so I think I’d better stop now.)

It was also disappointing to only see a glimpse of Luke at the very end, especially as so much of the movie had been about the search for Luke Skywalker. But I think that will pay off with the next movie.

Also, what happened to John Williams? Yes, it was nice to get all the reprises from the Original Trilogy, but I don’t think there was a single new theme that has stuck in my mind. Certainly nothing like the Imperial March.

Surprisingly there are very few new ship designs. The First Order Tie Fighters are just updates of the old design. The same goes for the Resistance X-Wings. Apart from Rey’s Speeder and perhaps Ren’s Shuttle there are surprisingly few memorable designs.

Well, those are my random thoughts on the movie two weeks on. Overall I enjoyed it. It felt like an old-school Star Wars movie with real sets. And there was enough unanswered questions to provide a hook for Episode VIII.

And next up is Rogue One…