Top 10 Favorite Books Read for the First Time in 2016

Top 10 Favorite Books Read for the First Time in 2016

Top 10 Favorite Books Read for the First Time in 2016

***Spoiler Warning

  1. Star Wars Volume 2: Showdown on the Smuggler’s Moon by Jason Aaron, Stuart Immonen, Simone Bianchi

This addition to the Star Wars canon is mainly valuable because of the beginning which provides insight into Obi-Wan Kenobi’s twenty years spent on Tatooine. What he did for nearly two decades has always been one of the Star Wars mysteries I found most compelling, a mystery that this addition to the Star Wars canon begins to answer . . .

  1. Beyond the Wall: Exploring George R. R. Martin’s A Song of Ice and Fire edited by James Lowder

I miss reading thought-provoking academic essays for college classes. Thus, it was a really enjoyable experience to read thought-provoking essays in an academic style focused on one of my all-time favorite book series. From Romanticism to the portrayal of PTSD, this book features an array of intriguing essays which challenge and further the ways in which one reads A Song of Ice and Fire.

  1. Wolverine: Old Man Logan by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

As a fan of the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), I’ve wanted to read comics focused on these superheroes and super villains for a while now. But with such a sprawling, extensive history, I never knew where to begin. Wolverine: Old Man Logan provided the perfect opportunity to read a Marvel comic as it’s mostly a standalone story. The concept is thrilling and frightening, the artwork beautiful and haunting. I also really enjoyed seeing characters from the X-MEN and MCU franchises interact, something that can’t happen in the films because of the rights issues between Marvel and Fox. It’s a story worth telling, particularly for Wolverine, the consummate survivor. I can’t wait to see the story adapted via the film Logan in 2017 with Charles Xavier replacing Hawkeye’s role.

  1. New Sudden Fiction: Short-Short Stories from America and Beyond edited by Robert Shapard and James Thomas

It’s incredible how these authors communicate so much through so few words in their flash fiction pieces. The stories in this collection are very hit or miss, but the ones that hit resonate through really clever, powerful writing. I particularly recommend the following stories from this collection:

  • “Stolen Chocolates” by Ursula Hegi
  • “Escort” by Chuck Palahniuk
  • “Nap Time” by Tom Franklin
  • “The Rememberer” by Aimee Bender
  • “Reply All” by Robin Hemley
  • “Mud” by Geoffrey Forsyth
  • “Rosa Blanca” by Barry Gifford
  1. Star Wars Volume 1: Skywalker Strikes by Jason Aaron, John Cassaday, Laura Martin

“No, Luke, I am your father.”

It’s one of the most iconic lines in Star Wars, pop culture and cinematic history. But when did Darth Vader learn that Luke Skywalker was his son? The Emperor led him to believe Padme died on Mustafar which would mean she wasn’t able to give birth, but when the Emperor and Vader talk about “the son of Skywalker” in The Empire Strikes Back Vader doesn’t seem at all confused or surprised about Luke’s identity.

This is the story that answers this crucial question. Vader’s discovery emerges as he hunts the pilot responsible for destroying the Death Star, not realizing that the pilot is his son. It’s a fascinating tale that adds essential backstory to the Star Wars films.

  1. Career of Evil by Robert Galbraith (J.K. Rowling)

While the mystery case is not as strong as its predecessors in the Cormoran Strike series, the character development and writing excel. The story is not as strong for me because it’s immediately narrowed down to four suspects. One is eliminated very quickly, and Strike’s stepfather seems way too obvious to be the real culprit. That leaves only two viable suspects as opposed to the wider range of suspects in the previous books which lent more paranoia and mystery to the plot.

Regardless, Rowling’s writing is wondrous as ever. Adding in chapters from the killer’s perspective without knowing the killer’s identity until the end was also a brilliant move. Thanks to further backstory and character development, the Strike-Robin relationship and their individual identities feel more authentic than ever before. As much as I want the sequel to Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I also really want the next book in this series!

  1. The Magician King by Lev Grossman

The Magician King begins more like a traditional fantasy novel and less like its predecessor The Magicians, an existential fantasy that heavily manipulates the genre’s conventions. Fortunately this changes when Quentin and Julia are torn away from Fillory and trapped on Earth. Here they struggle not just with returning to Fillory, but with how to reconcile their identities and complicated pasts with reality.

The story is structured well, alternating between the present viewed through Quentin’s perspective, and the past viewed through Julia’s perspective. Julia’s path to becoming a powerful magician and queen of Fillory mirrors Quentin’s path to becoming a powerful magician and king of Fillory in numerous and fascinating ways.  I love how the two stories parallel each other . . . until Julia’s rape which I have a major problem with. While Grossman’s intent seems like it’s largely to empower a survivor of sexual assault, the reader receives a very mixed message as her empowerment is somewhat rooted in the fact that she’s raped by a god. Ultimately it’s really problematic to convey that a survivor’s empowerment is attached to the identity of the rapist.

However, the book’s ending is smartly executed as it aligns so well with the tone of The Magicians. Quentin becomes a more confident, in control, badass magician and leader in this book. The tragic and needless death of Benedict and Quentin’s banishment from Fillory convey the steep prices that come with being more of a hero and leader. Quentin sacrificing his ability to travel to the Far Side so Julia can go instead is the most powerful of his actions. Quentin is partly to blame for Julia’s many struggles. His decision to stay behind in order for Julia to travel to the Far Side demonstrates his character growth, specifically that he’s learning how to put the needs of others before his own needs, and how to take responsibility for past wrongdoings. Yet, he’s still banished from Fillory. Despite all the sacrifices he’s made for Fillory, Quentin is the character forced to figure out life without Fillory. That’s the kind of injustice and disappointment I expect and relish based on the tone of The Magicians at the end of The Voyage of the Dawn Treader-esque adventure. Of course, Fillory does find Quentin again . . .

  1. The Magician’s Land by Lev Grossman

Before reading the final installment of The Magicians trilogy, I wrote down nine loose ends/expectations I had for the book. Grossman succeeded at answering every single loose end and expectation. Part of me loves this as the author deftly addresses what I believe to be the most important lingering elements. It’s a satisfying conclusion that anticipates my desires as a reader. On the other hand, the ending seems almost too perfect. So much of this series is about the disappointing and tragic nature of life. Odd as it may sound, for this reason I thought a disappointing end would work best. I suppose Grossman reconciles these clashing ideas by expressing in the end that while life will inevitably be disappointing and tragic, it also provides many opportunities for self-discovery and finding one’s purpose. Quentin and Alice lost so much but ultimately they are able to create a new magical land that serves as a bridge between Fillory and Earth. This is a beautiful way of exemplifying that life is not about missed opportunities and the endless parades of disappointment and tragedy. Life is about figuring out and creating the things that are meaningful to you. Nice as that sounds, it’s still a bit too much of a perfect, neat, happy ending for my taste and considering the overall tone of the series.

Regardless, The Magician’s Land does a great job bringing Quentin’s story and character development full-circle, even revealing and incorporating his previously undetermined magical Discipline into teaching at Brakebills and more importantly saving Fillory. Some of the loose ends I most enjoyed seeing tied up were delivered via Rupert Chatwin’s diary where readers get a much better understanding of the Chatwins’ experiences in Fillory, what each Chatwin was really like, their relationships with Christopher Plover, and the first real insight we have into Umber.

  1. Star Wars: Bloodline by Claudia Gray

I love Star Wars: The Force Awakens but one of its flaws is the unclear political situation that led to the rise of the First Order, the necessity of the Resistance, and the vulnerability of the New Republic. Star Wars: Bloodline addresses this flaw by establishing the political context lacking in The Force Awakens, mirroring real-world, present day political situations in fascinating and disturbing ways. Most importantly, Star Wars: Bloodline puts readers into the mind of Leia Organa, written in a way that serves as a faithful and beautiful testament to Carrie Fisher’s dynamic and multi-faceted portrayal of Leia.

Further understanding where Leia is at emotionally, personally and professionally at this point in the Star Wars timeline enhances the way audiences view her character in The Force Awakens. I also like how much time in the book is devoted to reflecting on the tragedy of Alderaan’s destruction. This amends one flaw of the original film trilogy which is that Leia never really gets the time or space to fully grieve the death of her father and the destruction of her home world.

The two political parties so entrenched in their beliefs that they’re unwilling to see the other side’s point of view and thus no compromises or progress is made is all too familiar to our real-world, present-day political situation. Another echo of disturbing real-world dynamics are those in the New Republic who argue that the Empire wasn’t all that bad, and with a few adjustments could’ve been a quality system of government. These individuals paint the Empire as a misunderstood governing system with positive intentions that went awry even though it’s only been 24 years since the fall of the Empire and many of them lived through the Empire’s tyranny. This eerily reminds me of those who deny the Holocaust ever happened, or those who say similar things about Hitler and the Nazis. Seeing these eerie real-world dynamics mirrored so accurately in the Star Wars universe makes the unlikely, but fruitful relationship between Leia and Ransolm Casterfo quite refreshing. It’s those kinds of relationships that are necessary to overcoming the disturbing real-world dynamics presented in Claudia Gray’s extraordinary novel.

Very little is revealed about Luke Skywalker and Kylo Ren/Ben Solo. Leia and Han provide a few glimpses into the turbulent relationship with their son and how they’ve coped with it. But at this point all Leia and Han know for sure is that their son is training with Luke, and they rarely hear from either character. The galaxy-wide reveal that Darth Vader is the father of Luke and Leia does challenge many individuals’ perspectives of Luke and Leia’s legacies, and the fact this secret was withheld from Ben Solo does create further insight into the events that pushed him to the Dark Side and serving Supreme Leader Snoke. The more substantive answers to these mysteries will reveal themselves in Star Wars: Episode VIII and Star Wars: Episode IX.

Star Wars: Bloodline is the best non-movie addition to the Star Wars canon I’ve experienced since Disney bought Lucasfilm in 2012.

  1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child by J.K. Rowling, Jack Thorne, John Tiffany

The story probably could’ve been all about Harry and his kids eating breakfast and it would still be #1. That’s how much I love Harry Potter and rejoiced at the arrival of a new Harry Potter book. But in all seriousness, check out my 2 part blog post review of the play to understand why it takes the #1 spot.

Part 1 review: https://matthewrudoyblogfun.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-review-part-1/

Part 2 review: https://matthewrudoyblogfun.wordpress.com/2016/08/08/harry-potter-and-the-cursed-child-review-part-2/

 

Top 10 Favorite Movies Seen for the First Time in 2016 (in and out of theaters)

Top 10 Favorite Movies Seen for the First Time in 2016 (in and out of theaters)

Top 10 Favorite Movies Seen for the First Time in 2016 (in and out of theaters)

***Spoiler Warning

  1. Labyrinth

I had the unique experience of seeing this movie for the first time at a Times Square movie theater that showed the film as part of a 30th anniversary celebration. The atmosphere was electric, the cheering escalating when David Bowie first appeared onscreen. George Lucas, Jim Henson, Jennifer Connelly, and David Bowie and so many others create a highly imaginative and bizarre film. It’s the kind of movie you’re not sure what to make of when you first see it, but will keep you thinking weeks after you’ve seen it. Labyrinth is even more fascinating and some of the particularly odd scenes make more sense with my friend Timbray’s interpretation that the movie is a metaphor for Sarah’s sexual awakening. Certain scenes are a bit too cheesy for my taste, but overall it’s the epitome of weird and brilliant art.

  1. The Intern

What I love about The Intern is that it challenges typical depictions of older adults in film. Robert de Niro’s performance is both refreshing and important on an individual level and in terms of his chemistry with others characters, particularly with Anne Hathaway’s character Jules. While the storyline of Jules’s husband cheating on her seemed like a weak attempt to add more drama into the story, the character-driven movie overall leaves you feeling good based on the positive portrayal of older adults, their relationships with younger individuals, and the wise insights and knowledge they possess.

  1. The Butler

The Butler succeeds at telling a highly personal, intimate story while also conveying so much essential history. This balance is especially fascinating considering the personal story is based on true events, led by Forrest Whitaker’s shining performance.

Yet, the presidential portrayals are inconsistent. Some excel while others have voices, appearances or mannerisms so unlike the historical individuals they’re playing that it proves distracting. However, this pales in comparison to the other triumphs achieved in this important film.

  1. Hot Fuzz

Satirical dark humor is my cup of tea. Hot Fuzz drowns audiences in the scalding substance through witty writing and a stellar cast. The slow-forming jokes are worth the wait, as are the satirical twists on the seemingly idyllic small town and the climactic final shootout.

  1. Finding Dory

Finding Nemo is a Pixar movie I’ve always enjoyed, but never loved. Thus, I was interested but not super excited about Finding Dory. My feelings changed when I actually saw the movie. At a time in my life when I feel my personality and identity and my way of doing things are wrong and unacceptable according to the standards of society and the standards of my job, Finding Dory is a refreshing and comforting movie. The movie’s message about accepting your identity and personality and doing things your own, often peculiar way was exactly what I needed and what I still need at this point in my life. Thank you, Pixar, and thank you Finding Dory.

  1. Stardust

Stardust masters the feat of challenging and parodying many conventions of the fantasy genre while also adhering to many of the conventions. The end result is a highly exciting and funny movie. It’s also worth noting that Robert de Niro’s performance in Stardust is incredibly different from The Intern, but equally as impressive.

  1. X-Men: Apocalypse

X-Men: Apocalypse may be one of the weaker and less creative installments within the long-standing franchise, but it serves up a few special elements that allow it to capitalize on the coveted #4 spot. The first element is seeing Magneto/Erik Lehnsherr as a father, husband, and factory worker. We see a compassionate, pragmatic, even tender nature from him that the franchise has never showcased before. The deaths of his wife and daughter (the daughter is revealed to be a mutant!!!) are easily the most emotional and intriguing parts of the movie. I wish these elements were further explored.

The second element is the delightful Quicksilver and the scene where he saves everyone within the mansion.

The third element is that overall it’s a satisfying ending to the X-Men prequel trilogy, even though X-Men: First Class and X-Men: Days of Future Past were superior films. The character development and relationships of the prequel trilogy’s four core characters (Charles Xavier, Magneto, Mystique, and Beast) reach satisfying conclusions. These conclusions are also enhanced by the likes of Quicksilver and a young Jean Grey portrayed by Sophie Turner. I like how young Jean Grey unleashing her power is the key to destroying Apocalypse and saving the day as a contrast to how what Jean’s use of ultimate power led to in X-Men: The Last Stand.

  1. Captain America: Civil War

Stories that challenge the conventions of their respective genres are usually the stories I like best. Captain America: Civil War engages in this pursuit by pitting heroes against heroes more so than heroes against villains. While I love the MCU (Marvel Cinematic Universe), their movies sometimes get formulaic and I was excited to see the formula challenged.

Overall the pursuit is successful. The movie organically builds off the events and relationships from past MCU films and doesn’t paint either side of the conflict being totally right or wrong. Tom Holland shines in the MCU’s introduction of Spider-Man/Peter Parker (The Empire Strikes Back reference will forever endear me to his character). The mystery behind the deaths of Tony Stark’s parents is even tied in via meaningful and shocking means.

  1. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Harry Potter and Star Wars are my greatest fictional loves. I can’t choose between these excellent cinematic additions to both universes. Both maintain the spirit of their respective franchises while creating newly imaginative and meaningful connections. Rogue One delivers a dark, gritty story that still retains the humor and sense of adventure that defines Star Wars and even enhances elements of the original trilogy. Fantastic Beasts possesses intriguing connections and quirky charm both familiar and new within the Harry Potter universe. See my blog post reviews of both films for more in-depth thoughts.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them review: https://matthewrudoyblogfun.wordpress.com/2016/11/22/fantastic-beasts-and-where-to-find-them-review/

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review: https://matthewrudoyblogfun.wordpress.com/2016/12/18/rogue-one-a-star-wars-story-review/

8 Movies to Look Forward to in 2017

8 Movies to Look Forward to in 2017

2017 promises many terrific films, some being long anticipated sequels in their respective franchises. Let’s take a look at the 8 movies I’m most looking forward to in 2017:

8. Wonder Woman

With the exception of Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy I’m definitely more of a Marvel than DC fan. However, it’s about damn time one of these superhero cinematic universes had a movie whose title character is a woman. The trailer showcases what a badass Wonder Woman/Diana Prince is and it’s nice to actually experience her character’s dynamic personality, something we didn’t get much of in Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice. I’m also intrigued by the contrast of Amazonian culture in the World War II time period.  Moreover, it’ll be refreshing to experience a superhero origin story many are unfamiliar with as opposed to seeing the origin stories of individuals like Superman, Batman or Spider-Man for the umpteenth time. After lukewarm or severely negative reactions to Man of Steel, Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, this may finally be the enticing movie that saves the DCEU (DC Extended Universe).

7. Spider-Man: Homecoming

Part of me thinks it’s ridiculous that the Spider-Man character is being rebooted for a third time. Another part of me is stoked based on Tom Holland’s performance in Captain America: Civil War and all the potential connections to the rest of the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). Holland captures the nerdy, high school, wisecracking nature of Peter Parker sometimes lacking in previous Spider-Man films. Skipping the origin story and moving full speed into his adventures as Spider-Man with Tony Stark/Iron Man appearing to be heavily involved creates so much potential for the MCU.

6. Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2

The excitement continues with the quirkiest group of characters within the MCU. This group’s chemistry is eccentric and electric. That alone is enough excitement for a sequel. Add in the bonuses of Baby Groot, Mantis, and Peter Quill’s father being Ego the living planet. You don’t need to convince me that this movie is worth seeing.

5. War for the Planet of the Apes

The prequel trilogy to the legendary Planet of the Apes has been a pleasant surprise. They’ve created a multi-faceted, morally complex conflict that has audiences rooting for individuals rather than purely the apes or humans. Caesar’s character development has been a fascinating evolution to witness for which Andy Serkis deserves a lot of credit. I’m thrilled at the prospect of seeing how the prequel trilogy comes full-circle with the original film. My only concern is that the new film seems to lack any kind of empathetic human character, except perhaps . Caesar’s relationship with empathetic human characters played an essential role in creating the multi-faceted, moral complexity of the previous films.

Update: Based on the trailers and information we’ve had since this post was published, I no longer have this concern due to the character of Nova.

4. Beauty and the Beast

One of my favorite Disney films receives the live-action remake treatment with the incredibly talented likes of Ian McKellen, Ewan McGregor, and Emma Watson. The cinematography in the trailer is beautiful and I hope to see some clever, thought-provoking twists with this classic fairy tale.

3. Thor: Ragnarok

I’ve always enjoyed the Thor movies for delivering a more fantastical story within the MCU. Furthermore, they feature Loki.

Thor: Ragnarok promises to be even more exciting with the inclusion of the Hulk/Bruce Banner. It’s time to finally understand Thor’s vision from Avengers: Age of Ultron and how this connects to Thanos and the Infinity Stones, and what Loki has been up to since faking his death and masquerading as Odin.

2. Logan

Hugh Jackman’s last time playing the iconic Wolverine is enough to create mass appeal for this film. The story is adapted from the bold and brilliant graphic novel Wolverine: Old Man Logan, and with Charles Xavier replacing Hawkeye’s role from the source material. The desolate setting where most of the mutants are dead, the physical danger and exhaustion catching up to Logan and Charles but contrasted with the hope of this mysterious young mutant girl and the heart that emanates from the relationships between these three characters . . . This is the movie X-MEN fans deserve.

1. Star Wars: Episode VIII

Star Wars: The Force Awakens ended on more of a cliffhanger than any other Star Wars film. I’m among the legions of fans clamoring for the answer of what will happen following the meeting between Rey and Luke Skywalker. The questions and possibilities this film can explore are endless and promising. Beyond the mysteries and character development surrounding Rey and Luke, I’m particularly interested in seeing how the stories of Leia, Finn, Kylo Ren/Ben Solo, and Snoke progress. The bottom line is it’s a new Star Wars film and only needs to adhere to what has happened, not what will happen. The Force Awakens and Rogue One are fantastic and I expect the same from Star Wars: Episode VIII. More to say about this film in future blog posts . . .

 

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story review

What’s one of the most amazing ways to celebrate one’s birthday? Seeing Rogue One: A Star War Story the night it comes out with your girlfriend and friends/roommates in Times Square is the correct answer. That night I reveled in the thrilling experience. Now that I’ve had a few days to further process the film, it’s time for a review. I could write forever about this movie, but I’ll try to keep it to a few overarching points.

***Beware of the Dark Side . . . I mean spoilers!

  1. Awesome Characters

Whether it’s characters we know or new characters introduced, the characters in this movie are awesome. Let’s start with some of the new characters: The first scene of the movie is smartly executed. It provides emotional investment in Jyn Erso and Galen Erso, hatred for Director Orson Krennic, and presents enough backstory for the Jyn-Galen, Krennic-Galen, and Galen-Saw Gerrera relationships to build a strong foundation moving forward.  The portrayal of Saw Gerrera’s character was a fascinating adaptation of the character introduced in Star Wars: The Clone Wars. His radical, revolutionary spirit remains, but is now mixed with sad wisdom and exhaustion.

Now for some of the Rogue One crew itself: K-2S0’s dry sarcasm makes audiences genuinely laugh. Moreover, he provides some much needed pragmatism, the droid companionship and resources necessary to the protagonists in any Star Wars story, and most importantly the heart that is the essence of the Star Wars spirit.

Star Wars often relies on rich character duos (Luke and Leia, Leia and Han, Han and Chewbacca, C-3P0 and R2-D2, Rey and Finn . . . and many more). Rogue One delivers another rich duo: Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus. It’s a classic example of the idealist and pragmatist. They drive each other crazy but there’s such deep love and compassion between them. When shit hits the fan, they do whatever is necessary to help each other and the causes they believe in. I’m particularly interested in Chirrut as he’s one of the first people in the films we see who so strongly believes in the Force yet is no Jedi or Sith. The new canon continues providing more characters that don’t strictly fall into the Jedi or Sith dichotomy. But even characters who aren’t technically Jedi or Sith serve or fight alongside one of those sides (I’m particularly thinking of Ahsoka Tano and the Inquisitors in Star Wars Rebels). Not only is this exciting, but it makes sense to see why some individuals still say “May the Force be with you/us” twenty years after almost all the Jedi are dead. Believers like Chirrut keep belief in the Force alive, which in itself is an act of rebellion against the Empire.

Now for characters we know: The CGI use of Peter Cushing’s face is a complicated issue, and one that probably deserves a blog post of its own. That aside, I love how the film incorporates Grand Moff Tarkin. Considering Tarkin’s role in A New Hope and at that point he is in control of the Death Star, it wouldn’t make any sense for him to be absent from the movie that tells the story of the stolen Death Star plans. His cunning ability to wrestle control of the Death Star from Krennic perfectly embodies the Tarkin we know. This provides him with a meaningful storyline that aligns well with his character rather than just randomly popping up at the end to do damage control after Krennic’s blunders.

On the other side, morally ambiguous or not, it wouldn’t be the Rebel Alliance without leaders like Mon Mothma, General Dodonna (performed by Ian McElhinny who played Barristan Selmy on Game of Thrones), and Bail Organa. I’m so happy that Jimmy Smits plays Bail Organa and that Genevieve O’Reilly (despite having her scenes cut from Revenge of the Sith) plays Mon Mothma. The prequel trilogy has many flaws, but they’re still a crucial part of Star Wars canon which is why I’m glad to see actors from those movies reprising their roles for Rogue One. While only in the movie for a few scenes, the roles of these characters are essential, particularly the conversation between Mon Mothma and Bail Organa establishing the plan involving Leia and Obi-Wan Kenobi. And let’s not forget the inclusion of C-3P0 and R2-D2, continuing the streak of them being the only characters to appear in all 8 Star Wars films. Seeing pilots from the Battle of Yavin 4 engaged in the Battle of Scarif, so many scenes on Yavin 4 itself, and a few connections to Star Wars Rebels (my favorite being the call for General Syndulla) also completed the Rebel Alliance we needed to see.

Lastly is Darth Vader himself, voiced by James Earl Jones and menacing as ever. Revealing that he resided in a castle on Mustafar is an intriguing development that could have ramifications for future storylines in addition to having more disturbing psychological insight into Vader. I do find it amusing that the hooded figure kneeling in front of the Bacta tank many obsessed over in the trailers was just a servant alerting Vader that Krennic arrived. The scene between Vader and Krennic brilliantly captures the essence of both characters which culminates in Vader’s Force choke and delivering one of the movie’s best lines.

  1. Moral Ambiguity

The Rebel Alliance are the good guys and the Empire are the bad guys in the original trilogy, same thing with the Resistance and the First Order in The Force Awakens.

This is the simplistic dichotomy many take away from those four Star Wars movies. To a large extent, this isn’t wrong, but it’s too simplistic.

Rogue One challenges this dichotomy by painting vivid pictures of a Rebel Alliance rife with complicated moral ambiguity, most of which we really don’t see in the original trilogy.  The Rebel Alliance’s General Draven ordering Cassian Andor to assassinate Galen Erso, regardless of the deal struck with Jyn, is an excellent example of such moral ambiguity. Cassian’s ensuing internal struggle about this order furthers this issue. How often do you have a movie where a primary protagonist struggles with whether or not to kill the father of one of the other primary protagonists? It’s especially complicated because initially the relationship between Jyn and Cassian is built on the common interest of locating Galen Erso. Even though Cassian ultimately decides not to assassinate Galen, Jyn’s father still dies at the hands of the Rebel Alliance when their X-Wings conduct a bombing raid on Eadu. The Rebel Alliance is thus responsible in multiple ways for killing the father of the film’s main protagonist. Furthermore, this is also the man responsible for designing the flaw within the Death Star that allows it to later be destroyed AND who sends the message that reveals the existence of the Death Star plans in the first place.

The moral ambiguity continues with Saw Gerrera and his band of rebels on Jedha. The idea that a more extremist, militant group of rebels splintered off from the more strategic, organized movement sounds highly political and definitely messes with the previously described simplistic dichotomy. Driven by paranoia and fear, we first witness their extremist approach with the Imperial defector Bodhi Rook, the pilot carrying Galen Erso’s message. Brutally interrogating one of the film’s most likable characters is nothing like the rebels we think we know, but it makes a lot of sense for a group of people constantly battling against the Empire and their ubiquitous influence. Their attack on the Stormtroopers in the streets of Jedha went a step even further than their interrogation. They mercilessly attacked the enemy and took our protagonists hostage in the heart of civilian territory. Rebels whose attacks lead to civilian casualties, brutal interrogations, secretive orders to assassinate the father of an ally, bombing raids that kill that father who also happens to be the key to destroying the Death Star . . . these aren’t the rebels we thought we knew. But after nearly 20 years of the Empire’s totalitarian reign, how could the rebels’ actions not be influenced by such paranoia, fear and deception?

Such use of moral ambiguity enriches the constantly expanding Star Wars canon. It works perfectly in a film that showcases a darker, grittier story within this universe.

  1. Continuity and a Powerful Ending

A question that many fans grappled with heading into Rogue One was how the movie was going to explain why none of these new characters are in the original trilogy. The same question applied for other new additions such as Death Troopers (https://www.inverse.com/article/20689-rogue-one-retcon-continuity-death-troopers).

Rogue One answers these questions and presents a powerful ending through Tarkin’s command that the Death Star destroy Scarif. All the characters still alive at this point are on Scarif. Pretty much all the things referenced in the Inverse article above are also on Scarif. Thus, the destruction of Scarif gives the continuity necessary to answer why all these people and things are absent from the original trilogy.

But it’s not just a matter of continuity. The destruction of Scarif bluntly demonstrates Tarkin’s ruthlessness and his ultimate move in completely wrestling control of the Death Star from Krennic in time for A New Hope. Fitting with the darker, grittier tone of the film, there’s a palpable sense of loss and sacrifice at seeing all these characters we’ve grown attached to dying at the hands of the Death Star and the Empire. We have a whole new insight into the sacrifices and loss that occurred in order for the Rebel Alliance to retrieve the Death Star plans.

Rogue One doesn’t stop there. The loss and sacrifice continue when Darth Vader confronts the rebels attempting to escape with the Death Star plans. This truly chilling scene depicts Vader’s full power, uninhibited by any remnants clinging to his past as Anakin Skywalker or moving toward a future of redemption. I love seeing Vader purely evil and destructive, harnessing his skills with his lightsaber and the Force to slaughter those rebel soldiers. Even though I know the rebels end up with the plans, I felt a tangible sense of panic in that scene.

After so much tragedy, it’s a relief to see Leia’s familiar face. The events of the original trilogy come rushing back and you know in the end everything will be all right. The final line of the movie may be cheesy, but it provides some much needed hope after all the darkness.

Star Wars Rebels season 3 mid-season review

Star Wars Rebels season 3 mid-season review

Star Wars Rebels season 3 mid-season review

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is right around the corner, but first I want to share a mid-season review of Star Wars Rebels season 3. I will review the season with an overarching pro and an overarching con.

+ Numerous, meaningful ties to the original trilogy, the prequel trilogy and The Clone Wars

The best episodes this season exist not in isolation, but connect to other facets of the Star Wars universe in fascinating ways.  “The Last Battle” and the Maul-centric episodes “The Holocrons of Fate” and “Visions and Voices” have particularly excelled at this. “The Last Battle” in particular featured the original trilogy era and the prequel era literally clashing in such an incredibly imaginative, satisfying way. “The Holocrons of Fate” and “Visions and Voices” took a more philosophical approach, but the same effect was achieved. These three episodes have been the standouts in this sense, but others like “The Antilles Extraction” have made nice connections as well with presenting the backstory of Wedge Antilles in this new canon. I look forward to seeing more fascinating and meaningful connections emerge in the latter half of the season.

– Lack of consequences

Part of what made the season 2 finale “Twilight of the Apprentice” so riveting were the many consequences the episode delivered. These consequences included:

  • The Inquisitors eliminated
  • Kanan blinded
  • Ezra in possession of the Sith holocron and tempted by the Dark Side, his makeshift lightsaber destroyed
  • Maul on the loose
  • Everything related to Vader and Ahsoka . . .

The show had an amazing opportunity to capitalize on all these consequences in season 3. But Ezra’s temptation was extremely short-lived. Even more disappointing is that the consequences of the Vader-Ahsoka duel really hasn’t played much of a role this season.

Instead of capitalizing on those consequences, the show has decided to focus too much of the season on filler episodes like “The Wynkahthu Job” which reeked of Jar Jar Binks humor or “The Iron Squadron” which was just a completely pointless episode (except for learning that Grand Admiral Thrawn and Commander Sato have some kind of history together).

Speaking of Thrawn, there has definitely been a lack of consequences concerning his character. When he let the Ghost crew escape the first time, I was intrigued, eager to see how he would turn their victory against them and to his advantage. The intrigue crumbled as he pretty much let them escape twice more, once in “Hera’s Heroes” and again in “The Iron Squadron.” “An Inside Man” finally delivered consequences with Thrawn’s character as he manipulated the Lothal rebels into revealing the Imperial machines they’d tampered with, eliminating many of the rebels during that process. I hope to see Thrawn turning the rebels from Phoenix Squadron, specifically the Ghost crew, against each other as promised. The numerous times he let the Ghost crew slip away need to serve a purpose. There need to be consequences.

The Verdict:

Star Wars Rebels has made many fascinating connections to the Star Wars universe so far this season, but has largely failed to capitalize on past and present consequences. There are a lot of promising pieces at play, particularly:

  • The Ghost Crew and Maul separately searching for Obi-Wan Kenobi and the planet with “twins suns” (Tatooine)
  • Thrawn and the advanced TIE fighters he’s working on
  • Agent Kallus as Fulcrum, and whether or not Thrawn is aware that Kallus is a double agent
  • Sabine in possession of the Darksaber

Let’s hope the show takes advantage of these pieces and that the second half of season 3 is even better!

 

 

Image Credit: http://screenrant.com/star-wars-rebels-season-3-premiere-review/