When I wrote about Rogue One, the first of the Star Wars anthology films, one of my main takeaways about the picture was how much it broke from the previous movies in the Star Wars universe. It was thematically dense in a way we had never seen in a Star Wars movie, and it only tangentially relied on callbacks to the earlier films to connect us to the series. Much of the credit for that innovative feel was probably due to The Walt Disney Company (which now owns and produces all things Star Wars) introducing fresh blood into the franchise. Neither director Gareth Edwards nor writers Chris Weitz or Tony Gilroy had ever been involved with any Star Wars project prior to Rogue One. The new anthology entry, Solo: A Star Wars Story, is like the anti-Rogue One, but I don’t mean that in the strictly pejorative sense that you’re probably expecting.
Viewing entries in
Rarely have the first 15 minutes of a movie given me more conflicting emotions than those at the start of Star Wars Episode VIII: The Last Jedi. My reservation during the opening crawl gave way to the thrill of a taut, explosive opening action sequence. The source of my initial unease stemmed from a sense of déjà vu.
The exposition contained in the iconic floating paragraphs for writer/director Rian Johnson’s first Star Wars adventure is a little too similar to that of Episode VII: The Force Awakens. The fascistic First Order, under the control of evil Supreme Leader Snoke, is ruthless in its pursuit of the Resistance, lead by General Leia Organa. The First Order is attempting to crush this rebellion so it can solidify its power and rule the galaxy unchallenged.
The opening crawl is missing. The opening crawl is missing! Those famous paragraphs that follow “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away…” in every Star Wars movie – one of the most iconic things about the series – are absent in Rogue One. I don’t know if that set off shrieks of rage around the internet. I purposefully avoid that sort of thing, but it’s not hard to imagine the internet outrage machine losing their collective minds about this when the mere mention that the next James Bond might be portrayed by a black man nearly broke the internet forever.
Director Gareth Edwards took the opportunity of ditching this de rigueur element as a way to set his entry in the Star Wars franchise apart, while also including a sly nod to it, if you’re paying attention. The opening action is set on a planet like Saturn, complimented with a series of rings. Edwards’ camera drifts in space, looking at the planet, and tilting up to reveal the majestic rings above. In an ingenious touch, the special effects department gave a funny quality to those rings. In a way, they look just like blurry, upside down, and backwards text. We, and the film, Edwards is intimating, are just underneath the events of the official “Episodes” that make up the main story arc of the Star Wars universe. This movie doesn’t have an Episode number, after all. Its full title is Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
The biggest complaint from critics about J.J. Abrams’ 2011 sci-fi thriller Super 8 was that instead of being an homage to one of his heroes – Steven Spielberg, who produced the movie – it slipped into the territory of pastiche. Super 8 was so slavishly devoted to the house style of Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment that it simply became an imitation of it. Thinking about that movie now, it feels like it was the perfect test to make sure the most successful franchise in film history would be safe in Abrams’ hands. George Lucas, creator of the Star Wars universe, and Spielberg worked together on the Indiana Jones series after all, and both men came out of the same “film school brat” scene of the 1970s. Abrams’ reboot of the Star Trek series also proved he was capable of working on the galactic scale required for Star Wars.
Abrams’ The Force Awakens, the first Star Wars film without Lucas’ guiding hand as either director or producer, is a mixed bag when it comes to that question of homage vs. pastiche. The Force Awakens feels very much like a J.J. Abrams movie. His signature brand of sarcastic humor and penchant for diversionary sequences of action for action’s sake are both present. At the same time, it seems like Abrams was very aware that he was making A STAR WARS MOVIE. There are points when the movie is close to being crushed under the weight of wanting to live up to its predecessors. As a consequence, the story is overstuffed with plot. A large number of story elements borrow directly from Episodes IV and VI of the series. But ultimately Abrams made an exciting installment that included touches harkening back to the earlier films, putting a smile on this Star Wars fan’s face throughout the movie.