Brad’s April Escape - Part 11
April 17 - Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Each weekday this month, I’ll screen a film from The Bearded Trio Cinematic Universe and list 10 random scenes, characters, musical cues or performances that I particularly enjoy and look forward to upon every viewing. I’d love to hear similar little things you enjoy about these films, and hope you join me in this escape from the present-day world.
Next up is a film that I feel is the most well-crafted and skillfully made of any Disney-era Star Wars films, Rogue One: A Sta Wars Story (2016).
Rogue One - An Introduction
Over the past couple years, I have really enjoyed watching the three Chicago shows on NBC - Chicago Med, Chicago Fire and Chicago P.D. I particularly enjoy the inter-connectivity of the shows, where characters from one randomly pop up in another. The crossover events are particularly fun for me.
Each show has a unique blend of characters, that fit the tone of each show appropriately. But my favorite of the three is Chicago P.D., easily the most consistently intense of the three shows.
Rogue One is the Chicago P.D. of Star Wars.
This film is unapologetically a war movie. It was also a bold step by Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm, stepping outside of the Skywalker saga to release stand-alone films that existed within the time frame of Episodes I-VI.
Rogue One sits atop many fans' list of their favorite of the five Disney-era films, and it's easy to see why. It is perhaps the grittiest Star Wars film with weighty scenes and consequences throughout, not just for the characters but for the greater story it is a part of. Rogue One has an awful lot going for it, so please, read on to see some of my favorite moments from this intense film.
10 Things I Like - Rogue One
1. Our first stop is the planet Lah'Mu, and what a striking setting it is. It was filmed in Reynisfjara, Iceland, and easily qualifies as one of the most alien-looking environments in the Star Wars saga. One of my favorite aspects of Empire Strikes Back is that it looked the least like it was filmed on planet Earth of any of the Star Wars films. This opening sequence fits right into that category.
2. I wanted to write more about Bail Organa/Jimmy Smits in my prequel movie posts. But I knew I'd get to him here.
I was delighted that he was going to appear in this film. His appearance here, along with the music of the scene, brings a smile to my face every time.
Similar to Obi-Wan's first appearance in A New Hope, it's so good to see Bail here, 19 years after the (in-universe) events of Revenge of the Sith. We see he has survived. A little bit older, weary of Imperial Senate politics, surely. But instead of Coruscant, his place is here on Yavin 4, helping the Rebel Alliance. His presence here provides a crucial link to the prequel films and gives a small hint at the appearance of his daughter later on.
I have followed Jimmy Smits' career since my dad and I would stay up late on Thursday nights watching L.A. Law. His casting in this role was an inspired choice by George Lucas for Attack of the Clones, and he carries all the intelligence and dignity I had ever hoped for from this character I had read much about, but never met until then. Bail also pops up in a handful of Clone Wars episodes. I'd be all for more Bail content in future Star Wars projects. One of the saga's most underrated characters.
3.I am full of unpopular opinions. One of those is this: the CGI work ILM did on Tarkin was superior to that of Leia.
There's a musical whisper, perfectly done by composer Michael Giacchino, when Tarkin turns around to face Director Krennic in this tense scene. In my many viewings of this film, I have looked closely at Tarkin, searching for flaws, or ways in which the CGI work was inferior, especially when compared to Leia, as the Internet assured me it was in late 2016. I just don't see it. If you had teleported the great Peter Cushing from 1976 to 2015, I honestly wouldn't know the difference, based on the character's appearance in Rogue One. And Tarkin is every bit as menacing as I saw him to be, and imagined him to be based on his appearance in ANH. He provides a really good foil to Krennic, but more on that in a bit.
4. The hologram scene between Galen and Jyn is one of the best-edited sequences of the film.
I first met Mads Mikkelsen in his memorable role in Casino Royale. He played a villain that was not difficult to hate. Here, he plays someone of the opposite nature. A man paralyzed by his work, suffering the unimaginable loss of his wife to Death Troopers, and his daughter to Saw Garerra's band of mercenaries. His life is filled with regret and shame, and it comes across so well here. This scene is another musical highlight in Giacchino's score.
My three favorite novels of the Disney-Star Wars era are Queen's Shadow, Master and Apprentice and Catalyst, the latter of which was meant to be a lead-in to Rogue One. Catalyst delivers a powerful backstory for Galen, and it comes with my highest recommendation. The Galen-Krennic dynamic is explored in a deep way, and give these characters context that makes the film-watching experience better.
5. Let's talk about everyone's favorite white-clad Imperial bureaucrat, Director Orson Krennic.
This exact shot is my favorite of him in the film. I felt a great deal of empathy for Krennic here, on his shuttle as he's en route to Eadu to confront Galen about his leaks to the Rebellion.
Krennic looks determined. Under pressure to deliver for unsympathetic bosses. Who among us hasn't felt in their jobs what Krennic is feeling here? I relate to him here in a similar way I related to Anakin in AOTC in the fireplace scene with Padme. "Yep, that's me. I know that place. Been there" was my thought.
Coming into this film, Tarkin was a known entity to the audience. We know how steely he is. But he lands opposite of Krennic for most of this film, and that helps direct my (and the audience's) sympathies harder in the direction of Krennic. While he's pitted against our heroes Cassian and Jyn at the film's climax on Scarif, I hated to see a character the quality and complexity of Krennic meet his fate. He's the most likable Imperial in the saga.
6. Wait, was I just talking about likable Imperials? Oh, hi Darth Vader.
I went into this film knowing very little. Less than I had about any Star Wars film since the Original Trilogy. I had absolutely no idea we'd be seeing Vader and Mustafar. But we went there, so pardon me while I fanboy out about Vader.
The filmmakers purposely withheld labeling Mustafar, as they had the other planets, to hang on to the element of surprise as long as possible. But as soon as the camera pans across the Mustafar surface, and shows that lava river, I knew exactly where we were.
Gareth Edwards handled his introduction perfectly. It came in stages. He's in the batca tank, and call me crazy, but I legitimately see Hayden Christensen when the tank begins to drain of water.
And of course we need steam when Vader walks in. Lots of steam. And that music! Slow, deliberate, perfectly intimidating. I can't help but grin throughout this entire Mustafar sequence.
7. One area I remember Edwards getting credit for was the effective way he "played with his toys." The battle in the skies above Scarif was a chance to see the X-Wing vs. TIE Fighter battle we have all seen in our minds, but without the limitations of the analog technology ILM had to work with in the Original Trilogy era. This isn't a criticism of ILM. When Ken Ralston, Dennis Muren, Richard Edlund and their crew had to work with back then, in relation to what was put on screen, was nothing short of genius. But the tools have evolved in the decades since then, and Edwards seamlessly worked those tools to the max in this sequence.
While the X-Wings and other Rebel frigates are familiar, Edwards also smartly uses older designs throughout the battle, including the previously rejected Bill George (ILM modelmaker) ship. The hammerhead corvettes, first seen in Rebels, turn the tide of the battle.
The TIE Striker is introduced on the Imperial side, and perfectly fits the aesthetic of the era.
8. I'll go ahead and start the rumor here...a working title of this film was Rogue One: Everyone Dies.
OK, so maybe I made that up.
Every character in our core group - Jyn, Cassian, Bohdi, Chirrut, Baze, K2 - meet their end here. And maybe those are necessary deaths in the greater narrative. Every death was a gut punch, again speaking to the boldness of Edwards's direction.
It will be especially interesting, once the Cassian Andor television series is out, to evaluate whether his character could, or should have survived beyond Rogue One. He pops up, along with K2, in the Star Wars Virtual Reality experience, Secrets of the Empire, at Disney Springs. Diego Luna does an outstanding job in this part, and I am so happy for him that his decades of film and TV work was rewarded, not just with this role, but to star in the upcoming Disney + series. Well-deserved.
9. Oh yes, THIS scene. Some people called it fan service. I don't care. You don't show Darth Vader midway through the movie without bringing him back near the end. The Michael Giacchino music for this sequence, entitled "Hope" lasts just 97 seconds on the official soundtrack, and that extends to include Leia's appearance on the Tantive IV. Doesn't the Vader part of this sequence seem to last far longer than that?
Much like how "Battle of the Heroes" is a strong musical evolution from "Duel of the Fates," I feel "Hope" represents the next step on the scale from "Battle of the Heroes." This time, the instruments are a bit more de-emphasized, and we just get the chorus, calling out in a pained way, over and over again,
I wrote earlier about how I feel the chorus in Star Wars films is the Force at work. Same principle applies here. Only the Force is tormented. Crying out for help in a way a scream is an inarticulate way of speaking words. Another chill-inducing moment.
10. This film had been out for around 10 days when Carrie Fisher was taken from us. I mentioned earlier about the many death scenes in this film, but I don't think any of those compared to the heart-wrenching loss we all experienced with Carrie Fisher's passing on December 27, 2016. We would see her in two more Star Wars films after this, but the timing of Rogue One's release, with when we lost Carrie, makes this a most poignant scene in the saga.
Brad’s Escapism Moment in Rogue One
I had the chance to briefly chat with Lucasfilm's John Knoll at Celebration II back in 2002. I recognized him from bonus feature material on the Episode I DVD. He was friendly and engaging, even in that crazy setting. I have wished for nothing but success for him and his career ever since. So I was super excited to hear he conceptualized the story and was producer of Rogue One. This film was incredibly successful, and I hope John reaped many fruits of that success.
A word here too, for the directorial skills of Gareth Edwards. Leading up to this film, the talk of "OMG da reshoots!1!11!!" was spilled all over the Internet. I shrugged. So what? The end result was a gripping, serious film that was of the exact fabric of Star Wars that caused all of us to fall in love with the franchise in the first place. It was an A+ job, and I am excited about Edwards's forthcoming sci-fi project. I'll see it, sight unseen.
Rogue One occupies a very unique space in the Star Wars saga, one I am thankful for. We saw Leia for 10 seconds. None of Han or Luke. R2-D2 and C-3PO were seen for 3 seconds. Darth Vader showed up in three scenes, total. And yet, one could argue this was the most "Star Wars" Star Wars thing we've gotten since the end of the prequel era.
This film doesn't possess the same element of escapism some of its siblings do. But it's damn fine filmmaking, one that enhances everything about that galaxy far, far away we all wish we could escape to.
Coming next: A.I.
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