REVIEW: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

REVIEW: ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY

Warning:  There will be lots of spoilers.

When I reviewed “Star Wars: The Force Awakens”, it may have seemed to some that I did it with a gleeful cynicism and happy animosity that probably annoyed and angered a lot of fans of the space opera.  It was a scathing review, to be sure, but in my opinion, the film deserved every word of vituperative criticism I gave it.  I literally came home from the theater enraged that I should have wasted a matinée ticket price for something that I thought was put together so sloppily, and felt compelled to write the review straight off.  That so many people were saying the film was great only added fuel to the fire.  How could the generous portion of plot holes and defects JJ Abrams served up for consumption go unnoticed by so many when the box office called them to dinner?

One should remember that I am a Star Wars fan, and part of the emotional response to “Force” was that Abrams’s treatment of the continuing saga seemed so disrespectful to what had come before it in my opinion.  Then and now, my feelings about Star Wars in general remain the same:  I want the Star Wars universe to continue to exist, and I want it to expand… but only if what’s newly-birthed is not going to be dead on arrival.

Now comes “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story”, and as I write this, I am debating what to say about it.  That I saw it on New Year’s Eve afforded me a few moments away from the film afterwards as my wife (who also so the film) and I, took some time to set off some fireworks and have some popcorn before I sat down to write.  I had hoped that with the small degree of separation from the movie I would come to like “Rogue One” a little more fondly, but regrettably, I cannot say that it was a perfect film, certainly not a great film, and possibly not even a good film.  And as with “Force,” the reasons for my lack of festivity with regard to “Rogue’s” arrival are due to what I see as plot holes, continuity flaws, clichés, tropes, weak characterization, and reserved use of important and favorite characters.  Yet, setting these problems aside, the film does have redeeming qualities enough to prevent me from berating it as harshly as I did “Force.”

In defense of the film itself, it has one strike against it that is not its fault, and that is that it is telling the story of what happened before “A New Hope”, and whenever a prequel is done after the originals, there will be limitations.  There is a possibility that books thought to be canon also tell part of the story of “Rogue,” but I could care less about these books.  I have the first three Star Wars comic books ever issued, and event these are not 100% loyal to “A New Hope.” But despite the limitations that may or may not bind the basic plot, I feel what’s lacking the most is George Lucas’s influence.  Though the film legitimately aspires to attain the same level of interest, intrigue, and enjoyability of “A New Hope,” “The Empire Strikes Back”, and “Return of the Jedi”, it falls short in terms of the kind of originality Lucas brought to those films.  Then again, it’s been said that Lucas’ hands were too ham-fisted in the three prequels which tell the story of Darth Vader’s ascendance to power, and this may have been what caused those films to be seen as too political for some.  So perhaps I am wrong about wishing for Lucas to have some say in “Rogue’s” plot and execution.

My hopes for the franchise overall are increased, however, by director Gareth Edwards’ efforts.  I believe he comes closer than Abrams did to providing the “feel” that is associated with, and conveyed, in the original three films. This happens from the first frame of action.  Gone is the grittiness that we see in “Force.”  I can believe that the various worlds we see in the back stories for what will become the main characters of this film belong in the Star Wars universe, and so I can more easily step into the film with the characters… at first.

However, the problems with the movie do start the moment the previews of coming attractions end.  The film begins with a weak sound score by Michael Giacchino, and no rolling narrative explaining what’s happened up to this point in the saga.  Instead, the film falls into a familiar pitfall that happens whenever the “show, don’t tell” rule backfires.  The writers (Kathleen Kennedy, Allison Shearmur, Simon Emanuel) and director have us learn the history of the plot and characters we are being introduced to by watching what happens.

As a result –and my wife felt this also- there is a bit of confusion at the beginning as to where the film is headed despite fans of the movie knowing where it will end.  Ironically, I believe the cause of this may be the writers’ desire to stay faithful to the Star Wars trope that it is fate and destiny which brings us all together, and that sometimes destiny is accomplished only when all vectors converge in exactly the right alignment to make the outcome the favorable one for all.

Still, the manner in which these back stories are fleshed out is somewhat rushed and confusing.  In the original Doctor Who, there is an episode called “The Five Doctors” in which the first five doctors and their companions are all brought together to face old enemies.  The way in which this happens was somewhat mysterious, but not puzzling, yet done quickly, in maybe ten minutes or so, with the remainder of the hour and a half long program devoted to the action.  In “Rogue One”, we are still trying to figure out who these people are and what significance they have in the story as the story moves on regardless.  This is discouraging, and a bad omen for anyone who has never seen the rest of the Star Wars films.  If they see this movie, they may be put off from seeing any other, because it might worry them that they’ll have to try and make sense of a kind of slipshod mythology that precedes each movie.

I suppose my gripe is that, given that just about all of these characters die in the end, is there any point in learning where they came from?  If the idea was to increase the pathos we feel when these characters die, I can understand this ploy.  It’s been done before by many writers and directors in many movies, but as with Han Solo’s death in “Force,” which almost seems offhanded in its happening, I find myself caring only for the loss of two characters and one ‘drioid at the end of the movie.

I’m not going to get into the back stories except to point out significant flaws in one of them, because as I have stated, the back stories seem irrelevant in importance once the plot starts up and gets rolling in earnest.  But, in the beginning, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), a scientist, is hiding from the Empire.   He’s the scientist who has invented the energy weapon housed within the Death Star, and has somehow escaped when work on the project is not quite complete.  Now, he is posing as a farmer on the planet Lah’mu.

This in itself is silly.  Every moment you sow, plant, reap, and sell, you are exposing yourself to the outside world.  While I appreciate that he and his family need an income to sustain themselves, surely there is a better alternative for a profession.  Another thing that irks the viewer is that he, like Uncle Owen in “A New Hope”, is now a farmer on a remote planet.  So already we get the idea that this movie has been, like a line of cars, built off of one chassis, and rolled off an assembly line, and we hope that this won’t be the way it is with the whole movie.

When representatives from the Empire come for Erso, he, his wife, and his daughter split up according to a prearranged plan. His daughter, Jyn (as an adult played by Felicity Jones), is very young, and being a parent myself, I’d have to say that in order to train a child to go into hiding in response to a situation like this, it would take a lot of drilling.  Extrapolating from this, the three family members would have to work in unison to ensure that everything would go right should there be a need to actually use this plan.  While we can believe that the young girl will fudge a little, it’s harder to believe that Galen’s wife Lyra (Valene Kane) would deviate from the plan and attempt –with a single blaster, on the spur of the moment- to rescue her husband from more than a dozen armed military personnel.  Prior to her killing, and just afterwards, there is a tense moment when we almost believe that Galen will pull off some kind of intricate defensive ploy, but it never happens.

Jyn sees her mother killed and Galen taken away, and this becomes her motivation for everything she does later on with regard to the Empire.

And here, so early in the movie, was where I began to lose patience, because what we are witnessing is no different from Luke Skywalker coming across his dead Uncle Owen and Aunt Beru and using that as his reason to fight against the Empire.  Further to the point –as the film progresses- I found myself –as with “Force”- feeling that Annikan Skywalker’s life was not tragic enough for him to turn to the Dark Side when compared with Luke’s or Jyn’s motivations.

Thus this prequel, which seems to be a sinking ship, in some ways, torpedoes the other movies in the series.

Let us remember that the only thing that absolutely needs to happen in this movie is for the plans to the Death Star to be stolen.  Other than that, the movie can do anything it wants.  But rather than be inventive, we’re stuck with a story we’ve already seen before, and one that seems to disrespect many of the other movies.

At any rate, time passes, things not worth mentioning happen, and just before everyone comes together, a grown-up Jyn, and a character named Cassian (Diego Luna) are wandering around the capital city on Jedha, trying to find the rebels there.  They have left a turncoat Imperial droid -K-2SO- back at their ship as they search for the rebels.  Before they reach Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), the leader of the rebel unit on this planet, and coincidentally, the same person who saved Jyn when she was a child, they face a few skirmishes with some Storm Troopers.

In watching these battles, where we see what looks like an Imperial battle tank, my mind drew comparisons from this scene to the last few scenes in Saving Private Ryan, where Tom Hanks and the remainders of his unit hook up with another group of soldiers to try and stave off the Germans, whose goal is to take and hold a bridge in the city where the Americans are holed up.  But we don’t see such an epic and honorable battle here.  Instead, we see Storm Troopers shot up and shot down with ease, and when K-2SO abandons the ship and steps into the fray, things get worse.  This ‘droid is able to knock down the Storm Troopers like bowling pins.  My feeling is that for those who had never seen any of the other Star War movies, they would come away from “Rogue” –if they left at this point, anyway- with no reason to fear Storm Troopers -or the Empire- in any other movie, because Storm Troopers as depicted here are little more than comic relief, and if they are representative of the Empire’s military forces, then the Empire is not a power to be feared.

When Jyn meets up with Gerrera, she gets to view a hologram of her father, Galen.  This hologram was brought to the rebels by someone from the Empire who defected.  The hologram explains that for the past decade or so, Galen has been working with the Empire to develop the main weapon aboard the Death Star, delaying its progress as much as possible in the hopes that the Empire, or at least the project, could be vanquished or sabotaged in the meantime.  Did Galen bother to send the plans with the hologram?  Of course not.  Perhaps he didn’t do it because it would have been too dangerous to copy and send the plans. Perhaps he didn’t do it because he didn’t have the time to copy the plans in the first place.  Perhaps he didn’t do it because it was too logical for him to consider doing it.  Perhaps he didn’t do it because it would have shortened the movie.  We don’t know.

Now, in my review of “Force,” I wrote “But the first thing that comes to mind is a question:  Why does The First Order even exist? With the members of the rebellion having blown up the last Death Star in ‘Return of the Jedi’, did they not go after the remnants of the Empire and get rid of them? And since this movie happens 30 years after ‘Return’, one wonders what the resistance has been doing all this time if they haven’t been doing that. This question arises a second time later on when we discover that an even bigger weapon than anything we’ve seen before exists, a whole planet that houses a canon capable of destroying multiple planets at once. Didn’t the resistance think it might be advantageous to destroy this weapon before it became operational? Apparently not.”

In “Rogue,” the question comes up yet again.  We know the Death Star is in development before Galen is taken away by the Empire to resume work on the weapon, and for as many as ten years the Death Star is under construction, and the rebels do nothing to destroy it, instead waiting until the Death Star is finished and with a shield around it before commencing their assault.  To be sure, in a later scene, an attempt to provide an explanation for this missed opportunity arises.  When all the rebel factions convene and vote on whether or not to steal the plans for the Death Star, the vote turns out to be negative.  It’s too risky, they say.  But what have they been doing for all these years up until now?  One would have thought that from the moment anything was discovered about the Death Star, there would have been some convention about what to do.  But all this time, nothing has happened.

Back on Jedha, and long before that vote happens, Jyn and Gerrera have a brief let’s get re-acquainted session.  [I should say at this point that Forest Whitaker is one of my favorite actors, but the directors or writers elected to make him a bit crazed, perhaps using his ptosis to enhance his inexplicable and randomly portrayed madness.]  Then the Empire uses the Death Star to destroy Jedha’s capital city, but in a dumb way.  Rather than hitting the city directly, they opt to project their giant laser blast in the nearby dessert and cause an explosion there, which travels toward the city swiftly, but not swift enough for Cassian and Jyn to escape with K-2SO in their spacecraft.

They escape specifically by switching to hyperdrive while still in the planet’s atmosphere as the debris from the explosion is about to overwhelm their craft.  [REMEMBER THIS LITTLE FACT FOR LATER.]

Now, I’m going to step away from the plot for a minute to compliment one aspect of this movie.

As with most of the other films, there is a lot of jumping between what’s going on on the rebels’ side and what’s happening on the Empire’s side.  Up until this point, we’ve been seeing a lot of scenes on the Empire’s side with Grand Moff Tarkin in them that I haven’t been mentioning.  In “A New Hope” Tarkin was played by Peter Cushing, who died in 1994.  Yet here in “Rogue” we see Peter Cushing standing before us in so many scenes, looking like himself, moving like himself, acting like himself, and sounding like himself –except it wasn’t Cushing.

At first I thought it was footage from “A New Hope” that had been left on the cutting room floor which had been digitally re-mastered and integrated into “Rogue One.”  But as the movie went on, I thought “That’s a lot of footage that was cut.”  And soon it became apparent that it could not possibly all be leftovers from the other film.  I understand now that none of it was.  Evidently, Cushing’s estate gave permission for the makers of the film to put a likeness of his face on the body of an actor (Guy Henry).  I must say that to date, I have never seen such good CGI, and later in the movie, similar CGI happens again with another character.

There were other familiar faces in “Rogue” who had made appearances in other chapters of the saga, the most notable being Darth Vader (Spencer Wilding and Daniel Naprous).

Vader’s role and impact was paradoxical.  James Earl Jones’ voice is every bit as frightening as it always was, and I couldn’t help but feel delight as he threatened and destroyed various members of the cast.  However, I could not get petulant Annakin’s petty motivations out of my head, and found it had to believe that Annakin should have matured into Vader.  In my mind, I almost see Vader as a separate person entirely.  I also could not help comparing the feeling of sheer terror Vader evoked in his minions with Kylo Ren’s pathetic attempt at leadership in “Force.”  One gets the idea that Ren is playing it being in charge.  He’s just a tantrummy wimp.

Another problem is that I felt the movie up until the point could have benefited from Vader’s presence throughout it.  I understand the need for characters to cut their own gouge into the saga’s history, but seeing as the majority of the ones in this movie die at the end, couldn’t this film have been as much a continuation of Vader’s story as a telling of the other characters’?

But getting back on track here, Vader is upset.  Apparently the majority of the carnage to Jedha was caused by a mining accident, not the Death Star, and he wants development of the Death Star put back on track immediately.

From this point onward, there is very little that needs telling until almost the very end.

Apparently, the secret plans to the Death Star –along with all kinds of files of supreme importance to the Empire- are kept in a building on the planet Scarif, which is, of course, protected by a shield, and also by a paltry number of Star Destroyers.  You’d think, given the importance of the installation, that the planet would be more heavily guarded, and you’d think, after the Empire’s defeat in the battle that ensues, that they would provide heavier security on Endor in “Return of the Jedi,” but whatever.

And so, again, we as movie-goers are resigned to sit through a rehash of what we have seen already in so many other Star Wars movies.  A big battle where a shield has to be lowered so that something big can get blown up.  The only thing of interest at in this particular experience is seeing what it is going to get blown up and how they are going to do it, and once you find that out, you might as well leave the theater.

I say this because in so many different ways, the closing scenes of “Rogue” are botched, thanks to a lack of imagination from the writers, and thanks to poor script editing.

As in “Return of the Jedi”, a small group of rebels sneaks onto the planet via an Imperial shuttle which has the necessary codes that will cause the Empire not to be suspicious of them.  Upon arrival, Jyn and Cassian and K-2SO sneak into the building were the files are kept to steal the Death Star plans.  The other rebels who have come with them cause disturbances near the building to deceive the Imperials from the real reason for the mission, and to draw, and divert, distract the Imperial troops from where the mission is going to go down in earnest.

In the battle that ensues, we see some of the most memorable and dumbest battle scenes in the movie.  I very much enjoyed seeing the Imperial walkers in action on what is in essence a giant beach, complete with palm trees, but I could not suspend my disbelief as the X-wings took them out with ease.  In “The Empire Strikes Back”, didn’t Luke and his buddies have to resort to using harpoons and tow cables to trip the walkers because the X-wings’ energy weapons had no effect on the walkers?

I could not suspend my disbelief again as a rebel ship rams an Imperial Star Destroyer and pushes it into another Star Destroyer that’s sitting next to it.  Accomplishing this feat takes a few minutes during which the Star Destroyer that’s about to get hit takes evasive action and tries to move out of the way.  But let’s remember that this ship is already in outer orbit and can simply go into hyperspace as Jyn’s ship did back on Jehda.  Instead, the one ship is pushed into the other, and both ships are destroyed, and we have no explanation for why the hyperspace escape isn’t thought of or used.

The remnants of one of those two ships plunges into the “doorway” in the protective shield (just like a Star Destroyer smashes into the Death Star in “Return,”) thereby shutting the shield down, enabling Jyn to transmit the Death Star plans to the rebel fleet.

What’s worse is that the Star Destroyers did nothing during the space portion of the battle, and neither did the major ships in the rebel fleet up until the ramming of one vessel into the other.  Rather, the battle was executed like a gang fight, with everyone pulling into a parking lot in their cars, with one gang parking on one side of the parking lot, and the other gang parking on the other, and everyone pouring out of the cars to enter the fray.  Except that in the movie, it was X-wing fighters against TIE-fighters.  Heck, in real wars, there are tank battles.  I’ve never heard of tanks pulling up to face each other, and the tank crews getting out of the tanks to fire at one another with rifles.

Now if all that action sounds exciting, I can say that it certainly looked exciting, but the unbelievability of the plot screwed things up for me as already stated, and multiple other times.  Here are other points that had me shaking my head:

  • While the main action is going on, different groups of rebels are in communication with one another, telling everyone what to do and where to go, and somehow –as in all the other movies- the Empire is unable to intercept any of these transmissions.
  • Jyn was realigning a dish on top of the tower in order to send the plans via transmission to the rebel fleet. But does anyone on the entire base think to blow up the dish before she succeeds? After the plans are transmitted, Jyn, having no idea whether or not the plans are received, or whether the rebel fleet will survive the battle that is taking place, leaves the disk with the plans in the transmission module.
  • And when Jyn encounters Krennic, (Ben Mendelsohn), who is in charge of Advanced Weapons Research for the Imperial Military, she tells him that her father, Galen, has built a flaw into the Death Star’s systems which will enable the rebels to destroy it. She even tells him what and where this flaw is, knowing that all he needs to do is kill her, and then fix the flaw in the system, thereby denying the rebels their victory.

During this battle, three characters that I actually care about die.  K-2SO, Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Jiang Wen (Baze Malbus).  Why have I not mentioned the latter two characters up until this point?  Because though they command a strong screen presence, the writers, or maybe the director, use(s) them only in a weak secondary capacity.  They are foils for other characters, and one wishes they would have been used more.

The movie wraps up with Vader wreaking havoc on Princess Leia’s ship, and we get a brief glimpse of the CGI’d Leia before the credits roll.

I gave “Force” two and a half stars, and in looking back on it in comparison with this movie, my rating was generous, because “Rogue One” probably deserves three stars max.  I do afford it the credit it deserves for the CGI.  I believe the absence of Jar Jar Binks humor was pleasant.  There were some good action scenes.  But setting these aspects of the movie aside, it’s still shoddily put together plot-wise, has a number of continuity flaws (e.g. the inexplicable invincibility of the X-wings against the walkers in this movie and the invincibility of the walkers against the X-wings in “Empire”), and takes more away from the overarching space opera than it gives for all the reasons cited in this review.  As a standalone movie, I’d also consider it a disappointment, the convoluted beginning being confusing for those few people who had never seen a Star Wars movie, and Vader’s appearance being under-utilized, thus making him almost a secondary villain to other Imperial characters.

Thomas D. Taylor

REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

REVIEW: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

Seldom do I feel compelled to review anything, and this is the first time in my memory when I have actually written a review about a movie. Yes, there will be spoilers.

Today, my wife and I decided to go out and see “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.” We thought it would be a good idea to be able to say we saw it on opening weekend like so many others. Boy were we wrong!

What we saw brings to mind “The Royal Nonesuch” in Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain. That’s where the King and the Duke put on a show and rook everyone in the audience, and that audience, which comprises half the town, decides that having been “sold” they will try to get the other half to pay to see the show, so that on the third day, the whole town can bring in tomatoes and throw them at the performers. Except that on the third day, the performers abscond with the price of admission without putting on the show and have the last laugh.

That is what “The Force Awakens” is like in a way. It’s a big disappointment. It seems like just as J.J. Abrams screwed up the Star Trek franchise, he has now done the same for the Star Wars franchise. Plus, the fact that Disney is now wrapped up in this whole thing means extra added problems for the never ending space opera.  There are very few heart-rending moments, for example, and what the audience is getting force-fed (to use a pun) is light fare that is bland in taste and not very filling.

From the moment the movie begins, it’s flawed.

We are told via the flying synopsis of yellow letters that kick off Episode VII that a new threat has emerged which is in essence another version of the Empire called The First Order (and so we know there will be allusions to the Nazi Third Reich later on). Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) is looking to find Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) to help fight this menace.

Sounds like quite a lead up, right?

But the first thing that comes to mind is a question:  Why does The First Order even exist? With the members of the rebellion having blown up the last Death Star in “Return of the Jedi”, did they not go after the remnants of the Empire and get rid of them? And since this movie happens 30 years after “Return”, one wonders what the resistance has been doing all this time if they haven’t been doing that. This question arises a second time later on when we discover that an even bigger weapon than anything we’ve seen before exists, a whole planet that houses a canon capable of destroying multiple planets at once. Didn’t the resistance think it might be advantageous to destroy this weapon before it became operational? Apparently not.

[As an aside, there have been similar stories about flying planets that can do nasty things in Doctor Who, but I’ll just skip talking about that, because it’s neither here nor there. Lots of science fiction stories copy stuff from other science fiction stories, so we will let that go. But as a fan of the classic Doctor Who series, when I heard about the flying planet weapon in Star Wars, my first thought was “Been there! Done that! Yawn!”]

There is also a bit of disappointment with the movie from the get-go in another respect, too. “What the hell, Abrams?” we want to say. “You mean Luke, Leia, and Han Solo (Harrison Ford) aren’t together? Does this mean that we’re going to waste half a movie as we try to gather everyone up together again?”

The answer to both questions is yes.

At any rate, the flying words tell us that Luke Skywalker has gone missing and a search is out for him. Why? We don’t know precisely. But this torpedoes my respect for Skywalker. What kind of leader cuts and runs when he’s needed the most?

Abrams inserts the usual amount of grittiness into this movie via scenery, just like he did in others he’s worked on, and so the magical universe of Star Wars feels like it’s become a cheap trashy dump, and that’s not dissimilar to the general setting: A desert planet a la Tatooine, except with a different name (Jakku), and this time, the desert is littered with crashed Star Destroyers and other junk left over from the battles of yesteryear. Among this wealth of elements, compounds, and computers are scavengers, who crawl over these ships and other metallic crap like ants.  They take bits and pieces and sell them for food, but despite the enormous amount of valuable trash, they still cannot seem to make ends meet.

As in “Star Wars: A New Hope”, the bad guy (this time a slight, waif of a figure in a laughable mask and gown) named Kylo Ren ( Adam Driver) lands with a bunch of storm troopers to try and find a ‘droid that is carrying the missing piece of a map that tells Luke Skywalker’s location. Before more than a few moments have passed, we see that Ren uses the Force, and since he is with The First Order, we infer he has pledged his allegiance to The Dark Side.

One can guess at what the writers were thinking when they penned this scene. We’re supposed to wonder who Kylo Ren is. Is it Luke Skywalker gone bad? Is it someone else like Lando Calrissian (Billy Dee Williams)? Maybe it’s even Han Solo? But this poorly contrived bit causes us not to care for two reasons: 1) Ren looks to be such a wimp that we figure he’ll get killed off soon… so he must be a minor character, and 2) We know we’ll find out eventually anyway, either before the end of this latest series of films, or at the ending of this film, and it will probably be somewhere near the end of this one, otherwise the fans would get really pissed.

Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac) tries to smuggle the ‘droid off the planet, but winds up getting captured, even as the ‘droid makes a getaway.

A storm trooper gone good, Finn (John Boyega), witnesses this assault and decides he’s going to defect, but rather than run while he is on the planet, Finn decides he is going to do so when he is on the ship where Poe Dameron winds up being held. Through a series of run of the mill adventures, they escape fairly easily. The TIE fighter they steal crashes back on Jakku, and with Poe apparently dead, Finn sets off on his own, and we all hope the real adventure will begin soon, because thus far, we are moderately bored, and the cast of characters is not very impressive.

There is nothing about Poe physically speaking that would endear him to too many women, and his personality is without any depth, and with him dead so early on in the movie, one wonders why they even cast the character with such a prominent role in the first place. [Later he shows up alive, however, and then we know it’s so that Abrams can tug at our emotions, except we don’t care anyway because Abrams bungles the reunion.] Finn has to tremble now and then to remind viewers that he’s scared of The First Order finding him, making us all wonder what kind of sheep comprise The First Order and also making us wonder again why the resistance hasn’t wiped them out.  And as I have already indicated, Kylo Ren is a joke, although later on, when his mask is removed, we see that he looks a little like Professor Snape (Alan Rickman) from Harry Potter.  I’m guessing the likeness is deliberate.  If you’re a kid, you might not know who Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher are, but you can relate to Professor Snape!

The ‘droid is cute, and thus far is the cutest member of the cast. He sounds like the WALL-E from the film of the same name.  However, it cannot carry the film. Fortunately, Rey (Daisy Ridley), a scavenger who can’t make ends meet despite plundering downed Star Destroyers with the rest of the planet’s inhabitants, meets up with this ‘droid and eventually Finn. She’s kind of cute too.

The First Order figures out where Rey, Finn, and the ‘droid are, and the three steal the already stolen Milennium Falcon (I won’t bother to explain this part of the story) and leave Jakku. The Falcon has been aged and run down and weathered, and it’s disappointing to see that Abrams has turned our favorite spaceship into a shit heap, but this seems par for the course for him. He seems to destroy much of what we love about our favorite franchises. And what the hell? “The Force Awakens” is only a movie anyway, and an easily forgettable one at that, so we can forget the ugly Falcon eventually.

Enter an unbelievable statistical improbability masquerading as a clever plot twist where we’re all supposed to say “Wow!” This new crew is flying the Falcon through space and gets hit by a tractor beam, and the ship that pulls it in is piloted by none other than Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mahew). When we see how old Han looks, we’re immediately pissed off at George Lucas for putting out Episodes I, II, and III, before selling the franchise so that VII can grace our movie screens. Han is old. We’re happy to see him, but crud, what has happened since we last saw him, and what is he capable of doing now that he’s so wrinkled? I mean, what the hell? Harrison Ford is 73 now, and wasn’t much younger when this movie started production!

“Chewie, we’re home,” says Ford as he and our favorite furry friend step aboard the Falcon, and as people in the audience try to stifle giggles at the silly line.

Questions plague the viewers and prevent them from focusing on the movie at this point. Why is Solo not with Princess Leia who is now a general for the resistance? You mean that Han fell back to his old scoundrel self? Whose freighter is this that he’s piloting and why did he give up the Falcon?

We get an answer as far as the Falcon is concerned, but not much else, and while it seems that Han has mellowed a little with age, he’s still pretty much the same wise-cracking, shallow kind of guy that made you want to smack him in the first three movies he appeared in.

What a disappointment! The viewer guesses that we’re in for the kind of two dimensional Han that Ford wanted to kill off at the end of “Return of the Jedi.”

Adding to the disappointment is the fact that J.J. Abrams doesn’t give him much of a role, and the dialogue seems…scripted…besides. Just like Leonard Nimoy’s modicum of work in the Star Trek movie, we’re supposed to sit awestruck as we watch our hero from times past in action again, except he really doesn’t do that much, except walk in Obi Wan’s (Alec Guinness) footsteps, albeit without the lightsaber and without the Force.

Han explains that Luke ran off after one of the Jedi he was training (Ren) turned to the Dark Side and here the viewer has to ask why Luke is so highly sought after when he turns tail and runs away after a setback similar to that of Anakin/Vader that Yoda and Kenobi handled just fine. How weak does the resistance have to be to put their faith in this quitter?

The cast makes their way to another planet and enter a bar scene similar to the one on Tatooine, but this time, the creatures therein look less Star Wars-y and more like foam rubber creatures a la “Labyrinth”. We expect David Bowie to walk into the room any second, but he doesn’t.  We must accept that residents of different planets and different star systems will look different than previous creatures we have seen in other Star Wars movies, but still, they are so different that they are a little distracting.

Soon Rey walks off and sees visions which give us thirty years of confusing backstory in less than thirty seconds. She also finds Luke’s lightsaber, and no real explanation is given for how it got there. We just have to accept that Abrams put it there to make the plot work.

The First Order shows up in short order [sorry, I couldn’t resist] to collect the ‘droid.

The resistance comes to the rescue, and as they arrive, one wishes that Abrams would have done the scene differently. They come in like the cavalry to save the day, and that’s terrific, but the problem is, the viewer is never more aware that they are out of the action than at that time in the movie. One wishes to be with the resistance, not to watch as they come to the rescue.  It’s also the type of trick Abrams has used in Star Trek, so that further diffuses our excitement at seeing the X-Wings come into the fray.

After the battle is over, Ren walks off to his ship carrying the unconscious body of Rey, and Ren’s ship takes off.  Meanwhile, Leia exits one of the resistance’s ships to meet Han.

Scant unconvincing dialogue takes place between Han and Leia, and this is where we learn that Ren is their mutual child.  (Not that this revelation matters or surprises.  It had already been revealed earlier in the movie that Ren was Solo’s son.  We just didn’t know who the mommy was.) I saved both revelations until now to show the impact that could have happened had Abrams done the same thing.

Do we care?

Only as movie ticket holders. You see, it was already explained earlier that Luke ran off after one of the Jedi he was training (Ren) turned to the Dark Side. And we’ve seen something like this before when Anakin Skywalker ran away from Obi Wan Kenobi to become Darth Vader, and so with the revelation that Leia and Solo’s son has turned to the Dark Side, we realize we’re seeing the same plot a second time.

What a rip off!

But at least we were spared an iteration of the “Luke!  I am your father!” thing.

We’re also spared the lengthy drama about how Solo’s son turned, and I think this is probably the one move Abrams deserves credit for. After watching episodes I, II, and III, I really felt that Anakin was a weakling.  There are people in real life who have suffered far more than Anakin has who have stayed good without even thinking of acting bad. But after seeing how Anakin chose to go after power rather than enjoy the value in his relationship with Padmé and delight in his ranking among the Jedi, Anakin, and by proxy, Vader, seemed weak to me.  In fact, it shattered any fear I had previously felt for Vader in episodes IV, V, and VI.  Perhaps this was why Lucas chose to do episodes IV, V and VI first?

Well, without the story of how Solo’s son turned, we can make up any story we want that fits our fancy, but the trouble is, Ren doesn’t inspire fear in anyone.  He comes across as an angry little boy, and this is never more apparent than when he is throwing tantrums and wrecking things with his lightsaber when he’s frustrated.

But the other thing that happens is, we wonder how it is that a former Princess could have raised such scum. We can believe that Han would make a crappy father. But Princess Leia a mother that would raise a son who would turn to the Dark Side? Come on!

Then again, if she could step out of her status and slum with Solo, maybe it’s possible, but still…

At any rate, Abrams gives us no significant details as to what happened. Impressed upon the audience is that they are not supposed to be thinking about such things anyway. We’re supposed to be wowed by the appearance of Leia and marveling at how much Carrie Fisher has aged, and how her voice box sounds like it’s been dragged over a cheese grater. No! Wait a minute! I’m sorry. We’re supposed to be wondering if we’re going to see Leia and Han go off to find Luke together, because remember, Luke told Leia in “Return” that she was strong in the Force just as Vader was, and this is “The Force Awakens” right?

Here again the viewer removes himself or herself from the movie in order to reflect that if Leia was strong in the Force, why wasn’t she trained up to be a Jedi?  And whether she was or wasn’t trained, why isn’t she out there doing the stuff that she wants Luke to do?  Was Luke wrong about his belief that Leia possessed the Force?  Or was she weak in the Force?

Well, never mind.  Abrams is going to set things straight and explain everything.  Right?  So far, we’ve been sleeping throughout this movie and it’s about time we wake up!

But instead, Leia packs Han off to find their son, and she goes back to generalling the resistance, which is going to destroy the latest enemy zowie weapon: The Starkiller [a weapon with a name that sounds less foreboding than Star Destroyer (a ship) or Death Star]. Even though Admiral Ackbar from “Return” could do the job of managing the resistance just as well -he’s here in this movie- Leia -for whatever reason- stays there with the resistance.

Just a note on the dumb “Starkiller” weapon: When the plans are brought up in holographic form and set beside the plans of the destroyed Death Star from “Return”, Abrams has a chance to impress the audience. But just as we’re about to say to ourselves that the weapon is huge, Han does it for us with a “who cares” attitude, thereby throwing down any amazement we had and dancing on it.  The line was probably one of Abrams’s attempts to get a cheap laugh out of the audience, but it fell flat.

Fast-forwarding a little, the resistance mounts one of its raids -said raid essentially differing from the ones we saw in “A New Hope” and “Return” by not much at all, and Han tracks down Ren.

Solo calls out to him: “Ben!” and we cringe. Solo has named his kid after Ben “Obi Wan” Kenobi, except that the Ben of this movie has gone over to the Dark Side. Oh the [contrived cheap-shot] irony!

But anyway, just as Luke had told Leia that there was good in Vader, Leia has told Han that there is good in Ren, and so Han tries to win his son over.

His son runs him through with a lightsaber, however, proving that even in matters pertaining to her own son, the Force appears to have eluded Leia.  And Harrison Ford is out of the series forever (one assumes) just like he wanted to be at the end of “Return.”

The odd thing is, I felt no sense of loss when Solo dies, probably because Abrams mostly used him as eye candy. One can’t feel much passion for a cardboard cutout that moves. Leia obviously doesn’t feel much of a sense of loss either, because she doesn’t even shed a tear when she hears the news, even though she has admitted earlier in the movie that she still has feelings for Solo.

But the dumbest part of the movie is yet to come, not surprisingly enough, and that’s when Rey, having escaped confinement, and who has just discovered that she is possessed by the Force, engages Ren in a lightsaber battle that ends in a draw. How she has become as powerful as Ren, who has trained extensively with Skywalker, and who has presumably done well on his own up until now, is not explained.  But it certainly does not speak well of Skywalker’s training methods.

Finn plays a small role in the battle (using the lightsaber) and gets hurt. We’re all supposed to worry about him, but by this time, we’re more worried about the movie ending before we see anything of Luke Skywalker.  And we’re also thinking that if Finn, who doesn’t possess the Force, can do battle with Ren, surely Leia could have done the same.

But as to Luke, where the fuck is he? With the Starkiller powering up to destroy the resistance and an upstart Jedi and ex-stormtrooper being all that stands between Ren and the destruction of all that is good, won’t Luke show up now?

But he doesn’t.

Instead, Rey leaves the maimed Ren behind without bothering to kill him off, and goes off with Chewie to the resistance’s planet to celebrate, because by this time, the Starkiller has begun to collapse.

We don’t know what’s become of Ren, but Finn (alive or dead, we’re not quite sure) is brought back to the resistance’s planet and left there. Then, the map to Skywalker is put together and Rey makes a lightning quick hyperdrive trip to Skywalker. Once there, she gives him his lightsaber.

At this point, we wonder why. The Starkiller is destroyed, Ren is probably dead. One assumes the resistance can mop up the rest of The First Order. What the hell do we need Luke for?

The sequels, of course.

But as we see Skywalker, we know the real reason Abrams has saved him for last. Hamill appears to look rather ugly now that he is older, and especially with a beard. One cannot imagine spending a whole movie along side of him without cringing.

Overall, I’d give this movie two stars… Obi Wan, and Yoda… but they’re both dead, and we don’t see them here. But in terms of rating the movie, I’d say that the special effects are pretty good. In many places, you have a hard time telling the difference between CGI and real stuff. The script was poor, and the dialogue hackneyed. So overall (in terms of a rating) I’d say this movie is worth two and a half stars, and that’s not quite as complimentary as it sounds. Despite the fact that I could not relate to any of the characters in episodes I, II, and III, I enjoyed the political intrigue, and believed those movies fell in the three star range. Episodes IV and VI I’d give five stars, and episode V I’d give four and a half.

So this one is the worst of the lot in my opinion, and I’d attribute much of the fault for this to Abrams, although composer John Williams deserves a kick in the pants for devising such a halfhearted and forgettable sound score. Then again, I’m sure Williams wasn’t given a free license to write such crap. He was directed to, by you-know-who.

Let’s hope for the next part of this series that Disney shows Abrams the door. He’s over-rated. And something needs to be done about the cast he put together, too. Rey and Finn are not enough to carry it forward, Chewie is not as enjoyable with Han dead, and unless Leia is going to show us some of that Force she supposedly possesses, there is no point in having her in future films.

In closing, I just thought I would bring up one little point, and that was one that was made by my wife as we drove back from the theater: It could be that Rey is Luke Skywalker’s daughter. If that’s the case, remember to say “Wow!” when that revelation is made, and then ask yourself why Leia (Luke’s sister) and Rey showed no recognition when they meet up on the resistance’s planet.

Thomas D. Taylor

My Connection to Doctor Who

For those of you who are interested in my earlier forays into publishing, I’m putting up a couple of scans I have of a rejection letter from John Nathan Turner, former Producer of BBC Television’s “Doctor Who.”

Here was how the letter arrived. I have blotted out my old address…

BBC Reject letter #1a

This is Producer John Nathan Turner giving me the thumbs down, but I am told that he did not have a secretary at the time, and so he typed the letter as well as the sheet that follows.

The signature is legit, also.

BBC Reject letter #2a

The story idea/script I submitted was done just before Doctor Who was cancelled/put on hiatus during the Colin Baker years. This sheet will show you what Turner originally had planned for that season, which would have begun in January of 1986.

BBC Reject letter #3

Little did BBC Producer John Nathan Turner know I would grow up to be an author – and write science fiction.

Go HERE to see what I’ve written.

I may provide an elaboration of the project I submitted to Doctor Who in a future blog post, and give you some details about HOW I submitted it.  For now, though…

Thanks for reading!

Thomas

Autlantia is here!

Autlantia has been published!

Autlantia Final

“A global organization of exceptionally brilliant, high-functioning autistic people has reached the culmination of its struggle to create Autlantia, an underground utopia that not even the world’s governments know about.

“Before the group’s members can start to enjoy the fruits of their labor, an opposing group of autistics attacks and overthrows Earth’s governing bodies and brings the majority of humanity to its knees.

“It becomes clear that these “Others” intend to legalize every heinous crime known to man, so that they can engage in their deviant and repugnant proclivities to the most vile extremes.

“The Autlantians may have to risk everything they have created and achieved to save the planet from this wicked and destructive evil, but can they do it before The Others use their ultimate deadly weapon?

Go HERE to purchase in paperback, and HERE to purchase on Kindle.

104,000 words.

Rose Glen Literary Festival

Thanks to all of those that saw me at the Rose Glen Literary Festival on February 28th.  It was a pleasure to meet you, and I enjoyed signing your books.

Publicity 2

Author Thomas D. Taylor Working On New Project!

The latest news for Author Thomas D. Taylor is that he is working on a new literary project that he intends to publish in the coming months.

“Well, I have a lot of projects in the works, but this one seems to want to be published first.  I’ve just passed the 50,000 word mark on it, which represents a milestone for me whenever I am writing fiction.  If I pass that mark, it means that I am probably going to bring it to completion,” says Taylor.

What is it?

“I’m only offering limited details at this time.  I can say that it is science fiction/fantasy, set in the present day.  It will either be a novella or novel that joins a group of people at the culmination of their efforts to create an underground utopia. Before they can begin to enjoy the fruits of their labor, however, they may find themselves having to sacrifice everything they have created and achieved to save the Earth from people bent on destroying it.  It’s broad in scope in terms of its implications, and I believe for reasons I will not discuss here that it will turn out to be quite controversial.”

Look for further updates on this blog in the near future.