Rogue One - Anthologies on the big screen

I finally got a chance to see Rogue One this week and I had some thoughts about it, the good the bad the indifferent. As usual on Titan Vs. Titan we take any analysis of films or TV through the context of comic books, novels and graphic novels. Rogue One is a curious phenomenon in that it is a further deepening by Disney to merge it's comic book and novelization material with big budget franchises as a connected universe. This, of course, is nothing new Marvel has now been doing this since the first Iron Man film. Even though this is the first spin-off Star Wars movie this is not the first time Lucasfilm and Star Wars has branched off into other Anthologies within the larger Universe. In fact it could be said that the Star Wars craze didn't miss a beat between Return of the Jedi and the Phantom Menace because of all of those ancillary story lines in the form of novels, comics, video games and toys. Think about it The Return of the Jedi debuted on May 25, 1983. The Phantom Menace didn't come out until May 19, 1999. That was a whole sixteen years later. Now I fully understand the power and popularity of Star Wars but I'm sorry there is no way that can sustain itself in a vacuum for sixteen years. Something has to keep the fire lit for all of that time. Even George Lucas acknowledged the power of what is called the "Expanded Universe." For over 20 years, up until the Force Awakens, this was the public future of Star Wars. It has now been relegated to non-canon or what they call "Legend" status so Lucasfilm/Disney can create unencumbered from writers like Timothy Zahn, Michael Stackpole or Kathy Tyers. One of my favorite stories from that period was Shadows of the Empire by Steve Perry that takes place between The Empire Strikes Back and The Return of the Jedi about how our heroes end up where they are at the beginning of Jedi. It is full of political intrigue action and it shows why it took so damn long to get Han Solo back. It is this story that blew up the market place for a time with figures, comics and video games that is a direct example of how the flame has been lit. It was also not an accident it was created, planned, plotted and executed by Lucasfilm and the bearded one himself. No surprise. It is also the same format in storytelling as Rogue One.  I would be surprised if they didn't look to this story and it's marketing to craft what eventually became Rogue One. BE WARNED SPOILERS BELOW......

Now that we've established the type of story that Rogue One is how does it stack up as a stand alone movie and how does it fare within the larger Star Wars universe. As a Star Wars movie I thought it was great. It was a closed loop story. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is a rough and tumble fighter who has been stuck between the Rebels and the Empire her whole life. In the film she's forced to make a stand, risk her life and defy the Empire and their Doomsday weapon, created by her father (Mads Mikkelsen), or keep running until there are no more worlds left. She's teamed with a Dirty Dozen rag tag bunch of rebels led by Captain Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a no-nonsense loyal warrior for the Rebellion who will not hesitate to do what is necessary for the cause. For the first time in a Star Wars movie they show the stakes and the cost of fighting. I'm sure it's not an accident they are calling this film the "Dirty Dozen Star Wars edition". It's true that overall there isn't much character development for many if not all of the characters. The two master-less Samurai archtypes Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and his blind bad ass compatriot Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) are interesting, especially their occupation as Jedi Temple protectors. The only thing is there is no real explanation as to why they are doing what they are doing once they come along with the team and it definitely takes away from some of the film. There is also a rogue Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and my favorite of the group a re-programmed Imperial droid named K-2SO (Alan Tudyk). They all have their moments to shine but they are working against the clock as yet another problem with this story is inevitability. If you are familiar with Star Wars especially a New Hope then you know exactly what happens, you just don't know how. As a story it fits perfectly into the canon and ties everything up with a Princess Leia bow at the end. If you are looking for what they advertised as a stand alone Star Wars story that can hold it own, this is not the tale you've been looking for. 

As a Star Wars fan however it does a great job of deepening the meaning and the structural integrity of a New Hope. When you re-watch the film now from the opening crawl you will take much more meaning to the first two paragraphs which say: 

It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, The Death Star, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

It does suck that all the main protagonists in the film don't make it. It would be interesting to see where they might go from here but that was not the purpose of this film. In a way you can make the complaint that it fits a little too nicely into the Star Wars puzzle but honestly it doesn't try to be anything else so if you were thinking something on a grander scale then clearly you weren't paying attention to the trailers. This was a war movie within the Star Wars universe that gave you a glimpse behind the curtain of the Rebellion and the Empire and the deep political rot in both. It's not as clear as previous Star Wars movies where this is the good guy and this is the bad guy. Yes there are clearly awful people here but some of the white hats are not so clean either. This too was interesting to see in a Star Wars movie.

I did enjoy seeing Peter Cushing come back from the dead for his Tarkin revival even if it was a bit unsettling to watch. The CGI is really good but knowing he's dead I swear I was looking for the flaws and found some of the stiffness of the performance due to the CGI. Princess Leia looked a little off even though it was a quick scene. Perhaps they spent most of the money on Tarkin. You can never go wrong listening to James Earl Jones reprise his Darth Vader, it was quick but sharp and felt in keeping with his previous forays in the role. So if you are listening Lucasfilm I'm down for a Vader solo movie. Overall it was a solid piece of Star Wars filmmaking and I plan on seeing it again and if you are one of the few people who haven't seen it, I suggest you do. You won't be disappointed.   

Star Wars: Rebels and Disney Finally Dip into Alt-Canon

For the first time since Disney bought LucasFilm and subsequently eradicated the expanded Star Wars Universe we might finally be seeing the slow thaw on that initial action. Many fans of Star Wars have been deeply disappointed that Disney made a decision to declare that over 20 years worth of Star Wars stories, that were originally canon, are now no better than fan-fiction. Clearly if you've seen Force Awakens it is extremely clear that they veered pretty far from what early Star Wars writers Timothy Zahn, Kevin J. Anderson, Michael Stackpole, Kathy Tyers and many others who basically held the Star Wars fandom together between Return of the Jedi in 1983 and the prequels starting in 1999. If you've read Timothy Zahn's Heir to the Empire trilogy then you know what I'm talking about. The books were fantastic, better than any novelization about Star Wars up to that point in 1991. It spawned a whole new era in Star Wars stories when we thought we would never get a sequel to Return of the Jedi. So yeah it kind of stings to see great characters like Talon Karrde, Mara Jade, Corran Horn and Grand Admiral Thrawn get thrown to the wayside.

Now if you've seen the newest trailer for Season 3 of Star Wars: Rebels you might have noticed a blue faced scary operator tasked as the big bad for the season to hunt and destroy Ezra, Kanan and the rest of the rag-tag Rebels crew. That's right none other than the main man himself Grand Admiral Thrawn. Maybe this means he might make an appearance in the new films, which would be a great choice as he is not a typical Empirical villain. This guy is smart, calm and calculated and he can wait you out till you make a mistake. If done right he will be quite the formidable foe for the crew and I can't wait to see how this unfolds. I'm hoping that they don't just stop with Thrawn and we maybe get to see some of the other really popular canon- non-canon characters in the future. Mara Jade your solo shot awaits you!

Season 3 aires on Disney XD this fall.

Chewbacca & Ben

When I saw this amazing page about Chewbacca I did a double take because it was the exact scene running through my head after Chewie shot Kylo Ren after the  um, terrible spoiler that happens to his oldest friend Han Solo. In a way you gotta believe Chewie had a hand in raising this kid too. The art is by Tyson Murphy, you can check out his very awesome prints if you click on his name there.  

Star Wars: The Force Awakens 5 things to takeaway

Ok, so I know there are about a billion and one reviews on the film and just as many theories floating around. I just walked out of my second viewing of the movie and I did have a few things to ponder, 5 questions really with some possible thoughts on the answers. Even though JJ Abrams and company decided to torpedo the canon books after Return of the Jedi I think a good chunk of those ideas are still here and I can't really tell if he's trying to pay some kind of uber fan service or if it's just destiny. I mean that is kind of how the force works anyway.  So here are my questions with some educated guesses on the answers there will be spoilers below so be warned:

Who is Rey and how is she able to do what she does without training? There are so many questions swirling around Rey and Director JJ Abrams doesn't make it any easier with his familial implications throughout the film.  Take into consideration her skill in machinery and knowledge of the Falcon just like Papa Solo. I mean she was finishing his sentences, it seemed pretty cut and dry to me.  Leia also seems to at least have an idea of who she is, she doesn't treat her like a complete stranger, but in the end if it were her child I can't imagine why at the end she wouldn't have just said so. They were all very clear about their bad boy son Kylo Ren so if Rey was their daughter we would and should already know that by now. There is also the rumor running around that she is Ben Kenobi's grandchild. Again people are grabbing at this because both Ewan McGregor and Alec Guinness have a few lines during her dream sequence with the lightsaber. But I don't think that's enough for her to be Ben's grandchild we never even established he might have had someone on the side all this time. It's clever but would require too much explanation.

Rey touches the lightsaber and has very clear force powers which Maz Kanata's character deeply implies she may be Luke's kid. She basically says to her that the Force is strong in Luke's family and it was Vader's lightsaber then Luke's and now it's hers. Not much of a stretch there. Also when Rey has her vision she is clearly tapping into her own memories of when she was left on Jakku and her short time at the Jedi Temple when Kylo Ren and his knights of Ren wrecked the place killing the new Jedi.  She's got some gaps in her memory and needs them to be filled. I personally think she has some Jedi training buried in there which allows her to do what she can do. Also I think going further on the thought that she is Luke's offspring I think the mother must also be a Jedi which makes her even more one with the force. In the former canon books Luke marries and has a child with another Jedi, Mara Jade. Could Mara still show up in this re-invented universe? I kind of hope so.

Is Kylo Ren truly evil?  Is he, as some Star Wars fans have theorized, a mole in the First Order playing the system to get to Leader Snoke? There will be spoilers especially here so don't say I didn't warn you! Kylo Ren, or Ben Solo, to those in the know seems to be struggling mightily with his ability to stay on a dark path. This is an interesting proposition given that in the past the series has made it pretty clear that going to the dark side was pretty easy if you let it. Being on the light side is much harder work. But in the movie Ben seems to be having a much harder time with this then Vader, Darth Maul and the Emperor ever did. Also he kills his father Han Solo which would imply that he might be over all of that. I tend to think that this is something he is going to be outwardly struggling with no matter how deep down the dark path he goes.  Which goes to the second part of my question.

There seems to be a lot of chatter about Kylo Ren being some kind of Snape (Harry Potter) type working the First Order from the inside to bring them down from within. Interesting theory and I thought about that a lot as I was watching it and honestly I just don't see it. We've seen his private moments we've seen his struggle, this is guy who idolizes his Grandfather in a pretty unhealthy way. Even Snoke knows his struggle as he recognizes it's hard for Kylo to face his family.  I admit his conversation with Han before he killed him makes that scene even more interesting especially if that's what Han wants him to do but in the end I think it's a pretty big leap.  Also this kid has some anger issues I would find it unlikely that someone with this many emotional problems could seriously keep his shit together long enough to fake being on the darkseid.  

Who is Snoke? So there has been some interesting chatter on this one on the web and I actually really like both of them. One of the supposes that Snoke is a character named Darth Plagueis who is referenced in the third pre-quel film the Revenge of the Sith. In that film the soon-to-be Emperor Palpatine tells Annakin (Darth Vader) about what we can assume was his former master, Darth Plaguies who is able to bring people back from the dead. Palpatine says the apprentice killed Plaguies in a bit of irony as Plaguies couldn't bring himself back to life, or did he? It would be very interesting but for one Andy Serkis who plays Snoke in the movie shot that down directly. He also says that Snoke is a new character to the series which kind of puts a kibbosh on any of these other theories that have Snoke as the Grand Inquisitor or possibly my favorite that Snoke is the evil force ghost of....Darth Vader.

Honestly I really love this one and hope that there is something to this theory. The thought is that Darth Vader's soul splits into two and his good side shows up to Luke as a force ghost but this supposes his dark side also has a force ghost that is pure evil. You gotta admit his head dent is similar and I like the idea that you have an evil force ghost, hadn't seen one of those before. Even if it isn't Snoke it would be interesting to see Annakin and Vader as force ghosts helping their respective sides on the light or dark. 

What is in store for Luke now? If he wasn't all messed up about what happened when his nephew went all rogue to kill his school of Jedi I can't imagine what he's going to do when he finds out the same nephew killed his best friend/brother-in-law. Is he gonna run further this time? Will he stay and fight? That is probably the most frustrating part of the movie as he doesn't really say since all we were left with at the end of the film is Rey and Luke staring at each other with her hand outstretched holding his old lightsaber. Infuriating I know!

My personal favorite theory is that he didn't run at all he's been devising a plan in secret. Rather than run and hide with his tail between his legs like Yoda and Obi Wan only to resurface years later, I think he's been building up for a fight against Snoke and his nephew. I think when he found the secret temple he's been training a whole new batch of Jedi. If there is one thing I'm waiting to see in a full Star Wars movie, Jedi's fighting a bunch of Sith warriors. This would be epic and insane with this many force users going at it at once. This needs to happen Rian Johnson, make it so.

Is there more to Finn then we realize? There hasn't been as much chatter about Finn as there has been about some of the others but I'm going to go through and pretty much discount that he is Lando's kid. That just would be really stupid at this point. I personally like the idea that Finn may have some latent force powers but he may need a certain Jedi Master to coax them out. Not everybody with force powers has them in the start look at Luke himself. He doesn't really feel much of anything until the end of the first movie maybe when Finn fought Kylo Ren with the lightsaber they were starting to come through which would explain why he would be able to go toe to toe with him. 

Stormtrooper fight finn.jpg

I also like the idea that his former Storm Trooper team is gunning for him hard for his traitorous ways. Things have finally begun to trickle out about them. The one at the beginning of the film that gets blood on Finn is nicknamed Slip and he was supposedly Finn's friend and the shock of his death jarred his brain to override the conditioning the First Order grilled into him. Clearly it happens since later they ask if he needs to be re-conditioned after his superiors notice his difficulty in following orders. Then we meet what seems to be everyone's fan favorite TR-8R, he's the badass Stormtrooper with the stun baton that yells out traitor at Finn. It looks like that guy was cut short by Han Solo but it's possible ever so slightly that he's still around. He's gonna want some payback on Finn big time. Perhaps they put a bounty on his head. That would be an interesting problem for Finn to have to deal with on top of the First Order. 

Bonus: Remembering Han Solo may he rest in peace: His death was unfortunately very predictable but it is in keeping with the character. If you've seen the original trilogy enough times the irony of his predictable death was probably too good to pass up. Han thrives on being unpredictable and thinking on his feet. Think secret compartments in Star Wars, an Asteroid Field in Empire Strikes Back and last minute Trojan Horse idea to get inside an Imperial bunker in Return of the Jedi. The moment Han stepped onto the Death Star planet for the Star Killer base you knew he was a marked man he was going to confront his son and he was going to die. Not to mention the heavy foreshadowing with Leia right before he left. It was destiny so the double irony here is that Han Solo who claimed his entire life is not guided by some mysterious force is indeed brought down by that very thing. Heavy. But I'll leave you with some of his most memorable quotes:

- Greedo: "I've been looking forward to this for a long time." Han: "Yes, I bet you have." BLAST! Han: "Sorry about the mess."  - Star Wars: A New Hope

- "Traveling through hyperspace ain't like dusting crops boy! Without precise calculations we'd fly right through a star, or bounce to close to a supernova and that'd end your trip will quick, wouldn't it." - Star Wars: A New Hope

- "Laugh it up Fuzzball." - Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back

- "Never tell me the odds" - Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back

- "You Like me because I'm a scoundrel. There aren't enough scoundrels in your life." - Star Wars: Empire Strikes Back

- Han: "Chewie and me'll take care of this, you stay here." Luke: "Quietly, there may be more of them out there." Han: "Hey it's me!" - Star Wars: Return of the Jedi

- Finn: "We'll figure it out, we'll use the force!" Han: "That's not how the force works!" - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

- "Women always figure out the truth. Always" - Star Wars: The Force Awakens

- Rey: "What are you going to do?" Han: "Same thing I always do, talk myself out of it." - Star Wars: The Force Awakens