Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Review)

Ah, Star Wars.  One of two iconic sci-fi properties to ever grace our cultural mind.  Regardless of how you view the Prequels or the changes made to originals, you can’t deny that Star Wars, as a phenomenon, is here to say.  And now with the return of Star Wars last year with Episode VII: The Force Awakens, it seems we are going to be getting more and more Star Wars in the years to come.  This year, we got Rogue One, the first of the Anthology series of Star Wars films, covering side stories and the backgrounds of famous characters.

Rogue One is the story of Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a career criminal who is taken and forced to join the Rebel Alliance to find her father, the unwilling architect for the Death Star.  She is forced to accompany career Rebel Alliance Soldier Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and repurposed Imperial droid, K-2SO.  Along their journey, they are joined by recently defected Imperial Pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), blind warrior and believer in the Force, Chirrut Imwe, (Donnie Yen) and his partner, Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

The first thing I have to give props for is the diversity of the cast.  Not just diverse in the sense of their racial background (I’m still very happy about their casting choices), but also in how different the characters are.  Although I was not able to remember their names (not because they were unmemorable but because they were in no ways as easy to remember as Han, Luke or Leia, this being set in a galaxy far, far away), I could instantly recognize each character.  When the camera flashed to a shot of one of the characters, there was no way I was going to confuse who it was.  I knew exactly who it was.

This just makes it even more of a shame that character development really took a back seat to the plot.  There is a lot of pathos going on for these characters that doesn’t really seem to go anywhere.  Things do come to a head in the film between two characters, but it never really feels resolved.  It just happens and then you’re off to the next set piece.  This happens to Forest Whitaker as Saw Gerrera, an extremist who has been broken by the war.  His whole character appears to be to show just what a war can do to a person but in the end, we can’t spend too much time on this without sacrificing the rest of the movie so what we’re left with is a character with a weird rasping voice.

Speaking of, there are quite a lot of references to previous films.  Either characters that appeared in previous films (like Grand Moff Tarkin in a CGI role that is a little hard to get used to for the first few minutes), or places that are revisited (one location actually made me go “oh, hey, we’re back here again” in the theater).  There are so many references that I started to wonder if any of them were actually necessary.  Where do you draw the line between a reference that is there because it would make sense story-wise for them to be there, and a reference that is there just for the sake of a reference?

One thing that I will appreciate is that this film is by far the darkest Star Wars film of the franchise, because this is absolutely a war film.  People die, sometimes not for victory but for the chance of victory.  This is not the time frame of A New Hope because in this time frame, hope doesn’t exist yet.  This is the edgier side of Star Wars that hasn’t really been seen in a while, and I appreciate that.  It makes the franchise feel more alive.

I truly enjoyed the film.  From start to finish, I really did enjoy it.  With that said, I can’t help the more I think about it, the more problems I find.  The characters aren’t as developed as I would have liked, though this is a much larger cast than in previous films.  Everything just moves from set piece to next set piece.  Having said all of that, at the end of the day, it was truly a story worth telling and I’m still glad I went to see it.  Plus, the final scene with Darth Vader (it’s not a spoiler to know that Darth Vader is in this movie, the trailers showed that he was) was well worth the price of admission.

Moana (Review)

Moana (Review)

Directed by Disney duo Ron Clements and Jon Musker (The Little Mermaid, Aladdin), Moana follows the titular Moana (Auli’i Cravalho), the daughter of the chief of a Polynesian tribe, who is chosen by the ocean itself to reunite a mystical relic with a goddess.  She sets sail in search of the demigod Maui (Dwayne Johnson) as she hopes to save her people.

I was really excited for this movie, mainly because the Polynesian culture is a culture that is very rarely seen in films.  And the film did not disappoint. Right from the start, the film immerses you in Polynesian culture, to the point that I am still humming and listening to “We Know the Way” even days after watching it.  Though, I guess I could say that of every song in the film as each song is catchy and powerful, and the soundtrack as a whole is more focused and thematically linked than Frozen, which suffered from a soundtrack and sounded like it was written by fifteen different people.

Everything from the music to the design of the characters instantly makes the film stand out from other similarly animated films such as Frozen and Tangled.  I make those comparisons mainly because the animation style (or at least the style of the characters) reminds me a lot of them.  Though I guess it’s no surprise considering that they are all animated by the same team.  It’s by no means a problem nor is it a distraction, though I almost wish the art style was different in order to differentiate the movies from each other artistically.  I remember how Mulan was animated to almost appear like a Chinese painting and I wish Moana was more Polynesian in style as well as story.

That issue is just a minor one for me, however.  While I was watching I didn’t care about the style because I was wrapped up in the story, the characters and the music.  While the story suffers in certain places (the beginning sort of drags and meanders while a character’s return at the end feels abrupt), it is the characters that sell it.  Moana is strong-willed but also unsure of herself.  In fact, it is her internal struggle that ends up being more interesting than her external struggle and I will always love movies like that.  It gives the film it’s center, it’s heart and it’s how we latch on to a character.  I don’t care who you are, at some point in your life you struggled with the age old question of “who you are.”

This theme of identity also extends to Maui, who at first appears to a somewhat charming yet brutish and selfish warrior, changes towards the end as we explore where he came from and why he is the way it is.  His struggles never overshadows Moana’s struggles, however, and the focus always remains on Moana and her adventure.  I say ‘adventure’ and not ‘story’ because this film really is an adventure form start to finish.  The common sentiment with this film is that Moana is Disney’s first action princess and they are absolutely correct.  She knows what she needs to do and she rarely hesitates.

Moana was an absolute joy from start to finish.  It’s funny, it’s endearing and I found myself enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would.  You should absolutely watch this movie.