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by Nathaniel Reed,  9/2005 | 12/2016

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:: A trilogy of fan-fic set after Episode VI Return of the Jedi, and inspired by George Lucas' historical draft concepts ::
December 2016
Rogue One storms into view ; Carrie Fisher dies
31st December 2016
Rogue One A Star Wars Story burst into cinemas in mid December with much acclaim ! A bold exciting original piece pretty much loved universally by fans (and reportedly George Lucas too !) it describes the opening crawl of Episode IV A New Hope in illustrating the (now canonical) mission to locate and steal the plans to the first Death Star, and in so doing clarifies how and why that particular exhaust port is a fatal weakeness in its design.

I thought Felicity Jones played Jyn Erso with such range, vulnerably emotional for an 'orphan', hard-as-nails for a survivalist loner. Diego Luna cleverly played Cassian Andor's morally grey rebel well, someone not only taking orders for difficult tasks or being brutally self-reliant and resilient, but also who's own character arc briefly but subtly shifts to empathising with Jyn's point of view. The new droid sidekick K2-SO was great fun, whose comic 'flippancy' was quite a surprise within this universe ; and again, somehow hooking us when he/it 'died'. I had a little difficulty with Cassian and Krennic's accented diction, and of the latter he carried the villain - who became politically out-manouevred - really well, though I kind of wish there might have been a bit more backstory (even passing verbal references), especially the presumed political power-play between him and Tarkin. I suppose it was a pity that much of the villain's presence was as a 'shouty villain', though the few scenes where he was speaking softly were just as menacing.

Of Tarkin (and Leia), I was bowled over by the success of their depiction. I had initially thought that it was simply great casting and make-up, but I'm now hearing that both were CG-augmented. Still amazing though ! Very brave of the film-makers, considering the screentime (and magnetic presence) of Tarkin ; akin, I suppose, to making Yoda work on TESB, where much of the film's success was riding on the believability of a puppet. Leia's casting, though much more briefly, was equally amazing. The story required both of these characters, and the film-makers were courageous to deliver. As regards the ethical or moral question of 'exploiting' the original actors, not only were they credited at the end, but the parts were so critically necessary to the story and the continuity that I don't think alternative casting (alone) would have succeeded - I think new faces would have jarred and distracted. Mon Mothma is a different point, since she's not only very much a secondary character, but the actress had portrayed her in ROTS. I accept that Leia's (CG) make-up may have been over-done, but it was a brief and necessary shot ; I don't know if it was bad CG execution or bad lighting (on the CG), but one could argue that the setting was brightly lit so the face would have been in high contrast and colour. I do feel that we needed to see Leia at some point, but to have her presumably waiting on board a host cruiser in her own ship (in the middle of a dangerous battle) was a bit odd.... unless the master plan was to have her in that relay capacity all along anyway ?! One wonders how different plotting (she may have been waiting on the edge of the battlefield, ready to receive the data signal) would have affected the pace of the story.

Vader. So glad the writers incorporated him - they didn't really need to - and wonderful that we had that initial 'backstory' scene on Mustafar in the Ralph McQuarrie castle : a scene and location that was totally unnecessary, but was therefore all the better for its inclusion, giving an insight into 'domestic Vader' and finally (!) harking to that old artwork ! I have no qualms about seeing Vader-with-lightsabre on the rampage, it's what we didn't see in ROTS, and I think fans deserve to see something, even if it might be a bit over-the-top and video-gamey !! It was great fun, and needed to show why he is ultimately the second topmost villain in the timeframe. My only gripe was that to my ear James Earl Jones' voice did sound old ; the first scene can be forgiven for being in a large echoey chamber, but the second scene seemed more pronounced in raspiness. Surely the older voice could have been digitally tweaked somehow to make it softer and younger ??

No Geonosians ??! I was hoping for some glimpse, or a passing reference ; though of course the contextual timeframe is such that their design work was completed by the time of Order 66. Great to glimpse Coruscant ; also Dr Evazan and Ponda Babba from the ANH cantina ! Nice to see Bail - played once again by Jimmy Smits - and his cryptic reference to his friend and his daughter. In the aame manner, it was lovely to see Genevieve O'Reilly reprise her role (from the Prequels timeframe) as Mon Mothma. The droid duo was probably unnecessary, but as a fan I'm glad they were added, though I wish we had seen them in passing on the Tantive at the end (instead of on Yavin 4).

The mind-reading squid creature thing - Bogellert ?? - was interesting, but felt it was a bit redundant : Bodhi proved that he was telling the truth, he was reminded of 'Galen Erso', and he then got his memory back and didn't seem overly affected afterwards ; he could have had a disabling flashback at a later crucial moment, for example, I certainly would have !!! He could have been interrogated and thrown into the cell ahead of his release ; as a (Star Wars) fan-fiction author, I felt the squid did very little to the story.

I (as yet) know very little about Saw Gerrera, so the 'importance' of his character fell a bit flat for me. I think more could have been done to have promoted why he was such a dangerous and unstable rebel ally.

I wanted to learn more about the Kyber crystals and Jedha and the Temple and the Jedi and the Force. I know it was a tight timeframe in the film, but *that* was the opportunity to 'anchor' back to the Jedi in a film that had very little reference to a key 'signature' of Star Wars. Still, it was an interesting revelation, and the scenes reminded me of Mos Eisley and the stormtroopers running for Bay 94.

Hardware & ships : I'm getting wary of all these big BIG guns that people are lugging around ; again it's getting a bit too Sc-Fi, and I'd always want to ensure that someone can physically carry and use a weapon of that size : long rifles with extra accoutrements for example, when blasters or conventional rifles would do and had done. There's the risk of introducing new hardware and ships in a pre-OT timeframe when we potentially don't see them again - should the film-makers have stayed with the OT materiel only, or perhaps had certain new soldiers / ships as 'special forces' or prototypes ? Having said that, I thought the U-Wing was great fun, clever (necessary !!), and a neat amalgamation of design styles we had seen before. However, the new TIE-Striker seemed a bit redundant ; I even spotted TWO TIE X-1s in escort [Darth Vader's TIE from ANH] when lore had indicated that it was a prototype and for Vader alone. Krennic's new 'Death Trooper' type of stormtrooper again appeared a bit unnecessary, but was a good opportunity to introduce a new soldier, though, as per OT 'style' rules, the conventional stormtrooper seemed sufficient in an escort / bodyguard role ; perhaps we needed to see the 'Death Trooper' do something a little more than we expect from a stormtrooper to make him 'stand-out' and justify his role ?

The space battle above Scarifwas great fun and thrilling, and finally clarified the 'Shield Gate' that was teased at in the trailers, though I worried that it was a bit too good - audaciously bulldozing star destroyers ?! - and surpassing the Battle of Endor which had been perceived to be the big reveal of the rebel fleet. It was amazing to see the use of ANH footage for the pilots, and made perfect sense that some of the ANH crew would likely to have been present above Scarif. Though it begs the question if there were to have been any survivors over Scarif, who might have gone on to report on the DS1, and how aware of the DS1 the rebels were pre-ANH. I suppose any reports of the DS1 could have been dismissed, or simply the rebels know the threat is out there somewhere but currently can't do anything about it.

I noticed that many cuts from the trailers were not carried through into the final movie : as far as I recall, unlike the trailer, we did not see the fallen Jedi statue from above ; we don't hear Gerrera talk about "what will you become if they catch you" ; we don't see a TIE fighter appear above Jyn on the tower gantry.

I read that it was such a great challenge aesthetically to find an identity pre-ANH but still within that immediate contextual timeframe and from the 70s. I think they carried that off brilliantly, with a lot of (updated) references to Ralph McQuarrie artwork, as well as some Joe Johnston too. It was 'refreshing' to see an imaginative range of varied locales, at times it felt less 'Star Warsy', but elements like the frontier kitchen (blue milk !) from the Lars farmstead, or Massassi-Rebel interiors, or ubiquitous DS/Imperial 'pill-lighting' interiors helped to translate across.

I still find the lack of a 'Star Wars' title disconcerting, though glad that we still 'arrive' with a ship in space ; the music crashes in at the beginning, which is also somewhat of a shock ; I can cope without the famous crawl, but I think it still needed the 'branding' of 'Star Wars' at the beginning. I've got used to the several planet title cards ; I was initially worried that that aspect made it too generically Sci-Fi (like, say, Star Trek), which I think it still does, but the titles certainly give clarity as the story rattles along. Again, it forces you to re-analyse exactly *how* the locales were identified (or not) in the other seven films. But it all adds to the deliberate break-away from the 'Saga' films, which I think, overall, is probably a good thing.

The music by Michael Giacchino was good, bombastic at times because of the nature of the story, some lovely themes particularly the softer melancholic ones ; I've listened to the cd many times now, so I can hear it without distraction, and the 'Jyn Erso' and 'Hope' themes are beautiful, and the latter tracks closing the film are gorgeous. Still, I would have preferred John Williams' hand in it I think. I missed the opening fanfare - I think it should have been retained as akin to the 'Star Wars' label - but was glad when it came in over the credits ; great to hear snippets of John Williams' material in there. There were moments in the score that, through instrument or note/tone/pitch, reminded me of the tone of the Prequel music, sweeping achingly romantic violins.

I've now received the 'Visual Guide' and the 'Art of R1' books so I'm looking forward to mining those for nuggets !

Overall, really really enjoyed it, it was bold, it's feeling like a 'new' Star Wars, but it's making me hope that there will be a further continuation of 'Skywalker Family Saga' films after Episode IX though, not just a break-out now into these. I know George Lucas had always wanted to 'look elsewhere' into the Galaxy, but I think the Skywalker Saga needs to be developed and explored. I think TFA was too cautiously derivative, and R1 is showing the way with bold original story-telling.
Just ahead of Christmas 2016, Carrie Fisher was returning home on a flight from London to Los Angeles when she suffered a heart attack shortly before landing. Sadly the 60 year old died two days later. Tragically, her mother (84), the star of Hollywood musicals, Debbie Reynolds, heart-broken, suffered a severe stroke and died the following day.

Although Carrie had a small number of film roles, the world knew her primarily as Princess Leia during the 'Original Trilogy' of 1977-1983. Her private life was famously coloured with broken relationships, alcohol, drugs, and bipolar mental disorder ; she was not shy in acknowledging these facets, and recorded them in several autobiographies, and later promoted mental health support charities. Her writing provided an outlet for her creativity - be it autobiographical, fictional, or movie scripting - until she returned to the cinema screens with Star Wars Episode VII : The Force Awakens, as well as some TV shows. She had completed filming for Episode VIII, but currently it's not known whether or not ADR (Additional Dialogue Recording) had taken place - and if it's not, what options there may be for re-recording her lines more clearly (can ILM work some magic ??) - or if there will need to be any script re-writes and re-shoots ; and equally to what extent Episode IX would have to be re-written. StarWars.com published some lines about Carrie, and heartfelt condolences from George Lucas, Mark Hamill, Kathleen Kennedy (LFL), and Bob Iger (Disney).

George said, "She was extremely smart; a talented actress, writer and comedienne with a very colorful personality that everyone loved ", while co-star Mark Hamill remarked, "She played such a crucial role in my professional and personal life, and both would have been far emptier without her. I am grateful for the laughter, the wisdom, the kindness, and even the bratty, self-indulgent crap my beloved space-twin gave me through the years ".

May the Force be with you, Carrie Fisher, "clear skies" !
Nathaniel Reed, 31st December 2016
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