Tuesday, January 10, 2017

2016: A Year of Movies in Review

     So in lieu of the fact that I don't always have the time or inspiration to write full reviews, I'm going to take inspiration from Dave Barry and do a year in review, but with movies-- at least the ones I saw this year. Since I can't remember when I saw these films, I'll go by order of theatrical release dates. So without further adieu, I give you:

2016: A Year of Movies in Review

January. A month synonymous with resolutions and new beginnings. Sadly, not for the movie industry, which continues to revel in an excess of sequels, such as...

 Kung Fu Panda 3. The original concept behind Kung Fu Panda was a classic underdog story featuring the chubby and unlikely hero who rises to fulfill his destiny. Kung Fu Panda 3 leaves those inspired beginnings behind to pursue an excuse to incorporate baby pandas, and wedge in undertones about family, fatherhood, and identity. While these features lend some tender moments, it's all lost in between the odd spirituality and overused jokes. A solid one-timer.

Outside of the theater however, Netflix proved itself to be an able producer of decent entertainment, not just a distributor, when it presented...

The Siege of Jadotville. If you've never heard of Jadotville, or that there was a siege there, you're not
alone. This historical drama set in 1961 delivers a gripping tale of a little-known Irish battalion holding out against a siege of 3,000 Congolese troops led by French and Belgian mercenaries. With solid performances throughout, this intense bit of war-like drama delivers a straightforward but compelling tale of courage and resourcefulness against insurmountable odds and despicable politics. By no means the best war-like movie you'll ever see, but worth the watching all the same.

February might have produced some critical darlings and audience favorites, but I didn't bother with most of them. One of the few contributions I did make time for was another Netflix contribution, namely...

Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: Sword of Destiny. Unlike its predecessor, Sword of Destiny is filmed in English, and while I don't mind subtitles, I'm thankful this wasn't dubbed. Seeing Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon isn't particularly essential to understanding Sword of Destiny, and I'm still on the fence as to whether or not Sword of Destiny detracts anything from its predecessor. To its credit, it does not answer how Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ended, but picks up much later, only lightly referencing the events of the previous movie. Michelle Yeoh returns as the veteran swordswoman, and another character "returns", played by seasoned martial arts star Donnie Yen. All in all Sword of Destiny is entertaining and engaging, but carries a different tone than its predecessor. It's lighter, less haunting, and more hopeful altogether.

When March rolled around, the first of the supposed blockbusters came with it, bringing in...

Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice. It seems that audiences were divided on this one, but I've got one word for it: ugh. We see Bruce's parents murdered for the millionth time onscreen. Sequences of surreality are not differentiated from reality, which brings several of the artsier moments into the realm of absurdity; for example, Bruce ascending on the updraft of swirling bats. Characters such as Lois Lane and Diana Prince are not so much characters as plot devices. Lex Luthor is so maddeningly over the top that even as an unhinged maniac, he more resembles a bad Joker imitation from a YouTube star. The entire movie is weighed down in its own seriousness, trying with every line of self-conscious dialogue to be moody film noir, but is instead flat and lifeless. Every time Clark appears as Superman, he strides in a dramatic broad-shouldered hero walk, with his cape flurrying behind him in slow motion. EVERY time.

At least March gave us some comic levity with....

Zootopia. Animation has never been a stranger to aiming its humor at the parents sitting alongside the oblivious children who are just there to see the "cute bunny", but Zootopia goes a step further, taking inspiration from movies like L.A. Confidential and The Godfather. As such, Zootopia gets dark at times, but bounces back on its plucky animated haunches and delivers a fun sort of light entertainment, provided you can overlook what at times feels like a wandering agenda.

The closer we got to the summer, the closer we got to the movies everyone really wanted to see. Meanwhile, we had April, which brought us...

The Jungle Book. I actually did a full review on this one, which you can read here. But the short of it is, this was a fun movie that was faithful to the classic animated version, while bringing something new to the table. The life-like CGI made the animal characters more connectable than would have been possible with actual animals, but also maintains an element of realism that keeps this adventure moving.

And with the month of May comes the summer season. Summer season means franchise time and big movies! And launching the season is...

Captain America: Civil War. My only excuse for not fully reviewing this one in its own post is that I didn't see it until a little later. Civil War is basically everything that Avengers: Age of Ultron  wanted to be with its inner-team conflicts, government interference, good intentions with poor outcomes, etc. Winter Soldier ranks among the highest of Marvel movies, and Civil War is a worthy follow-up in almost every way. Although it is a part of the Captain America franchise, Civil War is every bit an ensemble movie, adequately exploring the motives and intentions of each character without going into heavy exposition. Civil War does such a good job of exploring each side of the conflict, that it's a little hard as the viewer to take a firm side; it's easy to see why the team is divided over their new paths. The strengths of the movie echo what Winter Soldier did right, which was in focusing more on the plot and character development, and using big action sequences with tasteful restraint.

X-Men: Apocalypse. Well, after X-Men: Days of Future Past, the X-men franchise seems unleashed to do whatever it wants, which has its pros and cons. Apocalypse presents the single most stirring piece of Magneto's past that we've ever seen, and Michael Fassbender proves again that he is capable of bringing an intensity and range to the character that makes Magneto more sympathetic than ever before. Elsewhere, previously introduced characters like Xavier, Hank, and Mystique return (with an obligatory Logan cameo), but mostly just carry star power to usher in the new young ones. Speaking of the young ones, it's somewhat enjoyable to see the early years of Cyclops, Jean, and Storm, but ultimately it all feels like a big CGI-fest of "look what we can do!" Apocalypse as a villain is more preposterous than frightening, serving as another vehicle for CGI showmanship. Not bad, not great.

Continuing the trend of big sequels, June brought the highly anticipated...

Finding Dory. A Finding Nemo sequel has seemed fairly inevitable for over ten years now, so Pixar really ought to be commended for not using the Nemo hype to immediately throw us a half-baked fish story. A full review of Finding Dory is available here, but the jist of it is that Finding Dory isn't a bad sequel, but it does feel a little recycled in many ways. I'm not sure how that could have really been avoided though. As I said in my full review, Finding Dory is a worthy follow-up to Finding Nemo, being effervescent and full of heart, but also putting a few nicks on that heart. Oh Pixar, how you love to play with our hearts.

For me, one of the best movies of the summer came in July, because it brought me...

Star Trek Beyond. Naturally I have a much more in-depth review, but suffice to say that Beyond is "perhaps not the highest point in the trilogy, nor for sci-fi in general, but it's still a heck of a lot of fun" (quoting myself because I can). The revived Star Trek movies abound in witty banter and comical scenarios, allowing the freedom to reinvent the iconic characters while also paying them homage. Even the self-serious Spock is liberated enough to not treat his every word as holy, and ultimately we get a movie that's well-scripted and fun in its sci-fi peril, but thoughtful in its execution and storytelling.

Jason Bourne also featured in July, but I personally think it's time for Mr. Bourne to retire. He's found his identity, proved his supremacy, cast his ultimatum, and now it feels like the brand is on life-support. The intrigue and mystery have worn off, and unfortunately neither the franchise nor Jason himself have the charisma and variety to continue in the manner of, say, Mission Impossible. Another chase through a European city isn't even fan service anymore-- it's just old. Revelations in this most recent installment are predictable, and other plot twists are repetitive. Jason Bourne's end lands us right back where it began-- with Jason hiding in shadows and unable to trust anyone. Time to say goodbye.

August brought me nothing from the theater, Netflix, or Redbox. The month was a dud for entertainment, and September wasn't much better. October produced only...

Inferno. There's some sort of unwritten rule in Hollywood that everything must happen in trios, and so it happens with Inferno. Whether Inferno is prequel or sequel to The DaVinci Code I don't know, but it is, like the underrated Angels & Demons, a continuation of the strange adventures of Dr. Robert Langdon. Tom Hanks has never been an action hero, which is just as well because Robert Langdon was never meant to be Indiana Jones, despite his entanglement with religious relics and conspiracies. Inferno self-consciously ticks boxes as it goes, repetitively incorporating features of the previous two movies, while still trying to be progressive in its plot. Ultimately it ends up a decent enough bit of intrigue, but once you understand the stakes, there's very little question as to whether or not Langdon will succeed so much as a question of how.

Going into the Fall movie season, November was the bearer of my personal favorites of the year, starting with...

Hacksaw Ridge. I had planned to write a full review of this charming and inspiring war movie, but had a difficult time getting the ball rolling on it. War movies are probably the hardest to critique because there is a vast well of emotion that surrounds each story, whether portrayed in some unique way or with gritty passion. In many ways, Hacksaw Ridge echoes one of director Mel Gibson's earlier masterpieces, Braveheart. While the story centers securely on war and the brutality of it, the individual is firmly established through both sweet and harrowing moments. Desmond T. Doss, the hero of Hacksaw Ridge, is in every way the unlikeliest of heroes except in his determined resolve to serve as far as his convictions will allow. But as a conscientious objector, his convictions prohibit him from killing another person. Predictably, his firmness on this issue will garner persecution from fellow soldiers and superior officers, but he finds a way in the heat of battle to serve his country and his fellow men while never swaying on this resolve. Andrew Garfield as Doss shines as a lovable country boy turned war-hero, while Hugo Weaving's portrayal of Doss's father will be one of the most underrated supporting roles of the year. While Doss isn't the strapping image of a heroic war figure, he's an inspiring figure all the same, and it's both heart-pounding and gut-wrenching to see him pulling barely-alive men to the edge of the cliff, only to breathe "Lord, give me one more" when each man safely reaches the bottom.

Doctor Strange. When promos for Doctor Strange began hitting, I was moderately interested. I didn't know much about the story or the character's impact on the Marvel universe, but I like Marvel, and I like Benedict Cumberbatch, so it seemed like it would be a safe bet that I'd enjoy this movie. Enjoy might be a mild understatement, and I now struggle with where to place Doctor Strange in Marvel's top five best movies. With snappy dialogue, kaleidoscopic visuals, and solid casting, Doctor Strange is a glorious origin story that sets a high bar for its own future in all the best ways.

Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them. At one point in the history of blogging, I wondered if I should rename my blog and do only pieces on Harry Potter. With that kind of history of fandom, it's probably not surprising that Fantastic Beasts should be my most anticipated movie of the year. It's a return to the world of Harry Potter, long before Harry Potter, in a different era and different country. The results were absolutely mesmerizing, bringing the audience back to the magical world we've missed so much, but also showing us a whole new one with an entirely new kind of hero. Who is Newt? No one quite as important as the Boy Who Lived or He Who Must Not Be Named, but a delightful everyman tangled up in grand adventures.

The year wrapped up in December with one of the biggest brand names in cinema,

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. As a fairly big fan of Star Wars, I went into Rogue One with high expectations. Rogue One was far from terrible, but missed several opportunities for character development or emotional engagement. The lack of character development turned Rogue One into a forced plot vehicle that felt more like a checklist than a flowing storyline, with all its features serving the already-known endgame.

Until I began working on this particular post, it hadn't necessarily occurred to me whether or not 2016 was a good year in movies, but looking at this list, I'd say it had some more than decent contributions, with November being my favorite month. My 2016 list is made up of mostly sequels and franchise pieces, and 2017 will probably be similar, with a few outliers. While I'm highly anticipating the continuation of various installments in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well as Star Wars Episode VIII, I also harbor hopes that some franchises will finally end in 2017. If the year brings forth nothing else that is good and enjoyable, I will at least be spared from having to sit through another Transformers or Pirates of the Caribbean trailer, should these movies fail in the way that I maliciously hope for. But, I've got an entire year before I can look back on the whole and see how we did in 2017. In the meantime, I bid adieu to 2016, with special gratitude for the high points in entertainment this year.

Thursday, January 5, 2017

An open letter to the Galactic Empire

Dear Supreme Leaders, Grand Moffs, and Sith Lords,

First, I believe congratulations are in order for having built and then revived a powerful and formidable Empire. Your ambition and vision are truly incontestable and to be revered.

The purpose of this letter is to suggest that perhaps it is time to adopt a new strategy, as your repeated attempts at building super-weapons invariably seem to backfire. The destruction of six planets total is certainly an accomplishment, but the Rebels have a way of blowing up your super-weapons, yet you stubbornly rebuild, believing that the next one will be stronger. Unfortunately, all three have met the same tragic end. 

Before I continue, I would like to point out how unbelievably impressive it is that these three aforementioned super-weapons (Death Star, Second Death Star, Star Killer) were constructed in total secrecy. Such an incredible development boasting the finest advances in architecture, technology, and military prowess seems that it would attract attention in several galaxies. And with the amount of manpower needed to materialize such a thing, it is truly remarkable that the hundreds of designers and builders needed were able to carry out this feat in total confidentiality. I make no assumptions on where they all are now, though rumors exist of previously offered retirement packages on the planet Alderaan.

Perhaps this is presumptuous of me, but it seems that the greatest success the Empire has had in subduing the planets was in the early years where coercion, deception, and shrewdness strategically placed some of your greatest minds in highly influential positions. For example, the manipulation of the Imperial Senate to elect to power the late Palpatine, was truly ingenious, and it seems that your regime enjoyed years of blind following before sparks of rebellion began. A return to these more diplomatic and subversive means of conquest might be to your advantage as you start up your new regime. It's not that fear and military might don't produce results, but it seems that you faced no opposition until these tactics became your main ones.

I would also like to point out that the Empire, vast and varied as it is, seems to have a few moles. The Rebels and Resistance do have a way of attaining your plans against your will (or sometimes in line with your will), but we have yet to know of an Imperial spy within the Rebellion or Resistance.

 Your tireless efforts to dominate are impressive, and you truly are the definitive examples of "If at first you don't succeed, try and try again."

Please don't blow up my planet.

A concerned, loyal, and in no way questioning citizen of a galaxy far, far away.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

     Before Luke Skywalker's fateful entanglement with the Rebel Alliance, a rebellion was raging in the universe. Before Han Solo abandoned his shady ways to join a greater purpose, there were already many heroes for the cause against the Empire. Rogue One seeks to tell the story of those hitherto unnamed and unsung heroes of the rebellion, and to show what war is like for those who aren't Chosen Ones mysteriously bound by the Force to some great destiny.

     Rogue One is more of a war movie than Star Wars has ever presented before. There are no Jedi or fascinating lightsaber battles, no shocking familial connections, and not much fancy space travel. This is the non-glamorous side of the rebellion, where the work is hard and the sacrifices are real. This corner of the galaxy isn't sparkling clean or filled with quirky characters; it's grim, dusty, plodding, and hard. The story of Rogue One is almost Shakespearean, nay, GREEK in its determined interlacing of tragedy, hardship, fate, and eventual victory at noble cost. The full poetry of the piece crescendos in the final ten minutes, sliding Rogue One right up to the minute of A New Hope with what might be Darth Vader's finest moment in any Star Wars movie.

     To Rogue One's credit, the story here is a moderate diversion from the Jedi, the Sith, the Force, and how they play a part in the political terrain of the galaxy. Yes, it still pertains to the destruction of a superweapon, but goes deeper by demonstrating what manner of intrigue and battles ensued in order for Princess Leia to hold the information critical to the destruction of said superweapon. The final battle sequence alone plays out the War in Star Wars, evoking the Pacific battles of WWII as the heroes ambush the guards, storm the beaches, and take up handheld firearms against machines of war. Every shot fired against the courageous troop diminishes their hopes of survival, but never their determination to complete the mission.

     And now, take a deep breath. This is about to get exhaustive.

     Unfortunately, those sacrifices are less than keenly felt, due to a tragic lack of character development, and an overuse of cliche. The dialogue tries to drop hints about each person's background to ignite a connection to the audience, but there isn't quite enough mystery to fuel interest, and not enough exposition to generate any sort of potency. Rather than a band of bonded misfits or a small uncelebrated military unit, we get a lump of disconnected characters who decide (rather abruptly) to unite for a common purpose and die together. This might have worked had there been any development of bonding or friendship between the characters, but there isn't the slightest spark of chemistry among them. This ensemble as a whole lacks the charisma of The Dirty Dozen, the Magnificent Seven, or even The Goonies. After all Disney's and director Gareth Edwards' promises of this being a darker installment, a "Saving Private Ryan" for Star Wars, I went in with the expectation that Rogue One would be a heart-breaker. Surely we would be subject to the emotional battering of watching that small but determined troop see their brothers in arms fall one by one. Yet the only loss that seemed moderately emotional was that of a droid. I liked that droid.

     Jyn Erso tries ever so hard to be a tough and independent renegade, but comes off not so much hardened as just wound up. Most of the time Jyn is onscreen she's holding her breath or spitting out her lines in a manner that was clearly intended to be feisty, but comes off constipated and unnecessarily high-strung. She exudes anger, but not even in an interesting "tortured past" or "rebel without a cause" kind of way, though there are hints to both of those archetypes; more like a caged wolverine baring its teeth at everything that comes near it, until...she doesn't. Her journey from lone wolf to self-sacrificing happens so quickly, it's almost dizzying. Unlike other women that Star Wars has proudly toted, there isn't much about Jyn that's likable or sympathetic, but she'll be proudly toted all the same as some sort of feminist icon. Jyn is the quintessential female protagonist that you'd find on your average network TV show: no-nonsense, important father, better fighter than any man, shady past, endless skills, friendless, and so on and so forth. All of these things can add up to an interesting and engaging character, but here they add up to a stoicism that just doesn't offer more than what's on the surface.

     Speaking of the important father, Galen Erso is Exhibit A of criminally underused talent and a largely missed story opportunity. Actor Mads Mikkelson as Galen has better screen presence than anyone else here, yet is barely used in a story that is largely about his work. Galen had the most potential for complexity of anyone; he reluctantly agreed to design the Death Star for the express purpose of working a flaw into the design, knowing full well that he would likely never see his family again. His work drives the plot of not only Rogue One, but also the climax of A New Hope. I could have used a little more on this conflicted and misunderstood character, since he's one of the few  straddling the line between Empire and Rebellion, and could have offered a truly unique perspective to the story.

      Decidedly not redeeming the underdeveloped characters is Cassian, a diluted Han Solo type so limited in his emotional processing that his entire purpose and being is transformed by one "who's with me?" speech. He lacks any defining characteristics in that he's not suave, gruff, funny, or interesting; just clean-shaven, soft-spoken, and of course, shady past. Cassian isn't very soldierly, but he's also not a strong enough personality to be convincing as an intrepid risk-taking spy for the Rebellion. He's got all the right makings of a really nice sidekick, or even the kind of character written to meet his demise in some overly contrived way so as to inspire his comrades to action. Yet here, Cassian is pushed center stage like the high school understudy who isn't ready to have his moment in the spotlight while the real actor is backstage throwing up.

     What is Star Wars without a great villain? Even the woeful Episode 1- The Phantom Menace featured the memorable (and underutilized) Darth Maul, whose fight scene remains the high point of the movie. Rogue One could have used a Darth Maul or someone like him. I'm not even saying that the villain had to be a Sith Lord, just someone formidable. Rogue One's villain is Director Krennic, the military director in charge of the construction of the Death Star. At first it seems like Krennic might be a daunting Imperial with commanding presence and tactical cunning. Nope. He's a middle-manager without realizing it, whose plans and orders can be overturned with a word from his superiors. And when he gets really upset, his lisp comes out. Krennic is unfortunately sub-par, especially when he shares a scene with Darth Vader, or the distracting digitized Grand Moff Tarkin (played with great gravitas by the now adult child-star of the Polar Express).

     Yes, Grand Moff Tarkin makes a return, as I always hoped he would. And I jest about the child star of the Polar Express, but if you've seen Rogue One, you know what I mean. I will admit that my hopes of seeing him return centered around recasting rather than resurrection, which is what is done here. It's undeniable why Tarkin's presence was essential to the story. The New York Times explains "If he’s not in the movie, we’re going to have to explain why he’s not in the movie. This is kind of his thing" in a quote by Kiri Hart, a Lucasfilm story development executive and Rogue One co-producer. That's a defendable reason-- in A New Hope there's a definite impression that the Death Star is Tarkin's opus, so it would be awkward to not feature him at all. And while I can certainly applaud the ambition behind digitally resurrecting him, he still looks painfully out of place among flesh and blood actors. If the moviemakers could have conceived a reason to keep the character in shadows, or even feature him via hologram only, it would have solved the issue. 

     After these characters, the rest of the individuals who make up the Rogue One team are more memorable for their features rather than their names (in part because they don't use each others' names much, and so are easily forgotten). Blind Asian guy. Blind Asian guy's friend in Ghostbusters suit. That pilot. Droid. In an unintentionally comical attempt at giving the characters those features that make them identifiable, it treads right on the border of those stereotypes which seem to plague the criticisms of so many movies. Remembering that the idea of the Force is itself based on Eastern mysticism, it's a little overt that the only spiritual person here should be Asian, and that both of the Asian characters are guardians of an ancient temple. Captain Cassian, portrayed by a Latino actor, is introduced in a crowded marketplace trading in shady business under its hanging baskets and smoking fryers. It's not that I personally have a problem with this; I really don't. But if every big movie is going to be scrutinized and raked for racial stereotypes, and its quality measured by the spectrum of its ethnic representations, I feel honor-bound to follow suit and point out in similarly hypersensitive manner that Rogue One isn't perfect in waving its banner of multiculturalism over the good guys.

     While it can't really be argued that the Star Wars movies were in need of some diversity before The Force Awakens, Rogue One tries too hard to make up for it all at once. The result is overkill wherein the good guys are diverse and the bad guys are white-washed. Once again, I'm not criticizing the inclusion of diversity at all-- I thoroughly enjoyed how The Force Awakens demonstrated that there exist a variety of people on both sides of the conflict-- it's that Rogue One totes it with such brazen exhibitionism that it really just becomes "psuedo-political prattle", even mercenary. Without stronger character development or backstory, the diverse array of characters feel like a tactic to woo foreign audiences with promises of ethnic representation, rather than giving solidly written heroes who just happen to represent ethnic groups.

     Getting back to the movie itself, amidst what would have otherwise been a strong story, Rogue One makes some strange choices seemingly designed to shoehorn in showpieces. Example, Saw Gerrera. Here is a character who is mentioned several times throughout the movie, but features only briefly. His entire purpose is unclear other than to be a moped-style exposition vehicle for Jyn's past. Otherwise, he operates as an unhinged zealot, paranoid and barely able to talk without the aid of his oxygen. When he's able to speak, he seems determined to utter the most t-shirt worthy line, no matter how ill-advised the timing may be. Shortly after Jyn declares in no uncertain terms that she is perfectly happy to bury her head in the sand and pretend the Empire doesn't exist, Saw wheezes "Save the rebellion...save the dream..." before being ceremoniously crushed by his falling hideout.

     On the note of unclear purpose, Saw has this monster which can apparently sense truth or deception in its victims. So when Bodhi the defector pilot shows up at Saw's hideout and actually tells the truth, Saw gives him over to this monster thing to be unnaturally interrogated, and warns him that he will probably lose his mind once the blubbery monster is done probing it. Bodhi is mildly traumatized for about a minute before he's fine again.The whole sequence is superfluous, seemingly constructed for the sole purpose of showcasing the obligatory alien monster.

     The Hollywood Reporter film critic Todd McCarthy has been blasted for noting that the film needs "a strong and vigorous male lead to balance more equally with Jyn...". I think I would have been happy for a strong and vigorous character of either gender of any species. To be fair, it's not that every single entity featuring onscreen is boring, it just goes back to under-developed use of what might have been engaging characters. For example, one of the more memorable persons of Rogue One will be Chirrut Imwe (aforementioned as Blind Asian guy), who is Exhibit B of underused talent. He at least has a degree of humor and personality, not to mention martial arts skills. But that's all we get. Every flesh and blood person including Chirrut is out-shined by the droid K-2SO, who has more personality and wit than the rest of the cast put together. And he's one of the only bright spots in an otherwise joyless pocket of the galaxy.

     Alright, time to address the one person who needs no introduction: Darth Vader. It would have seemed strange to have a movie that features sometime between The Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope and not have Vader connected to it somehow. Vader has two scenes here, one being so glorious that it very nearly redeemed everything the rest of the movie did wrong, the other being a little more debatable. One of the things audiences were promised was Darth Vader in his prime. Somehow, Rogue One managed to deliver and disappoint. As previously mentioned, one of Vader's scenes is spectacular, and really does demonstrate why he was such a feared warrior for the Empire. He enters the scene like the title monster of a horror movie, and proceeds to plow through his foes with a chilling mixture of intensity and ease. This is where Rogue One delivers, and delivers well. It disappoints in not having more Darth Vader, though it's understandable why, since his iconic status does drain the thunder from any other villain onscreen. This is the Darth Vader of episodes IV-VI. In what is probably a complete accident, he manages to bridge the movies when his other scene shows him to be the Vader/Anakin of episodes I-III, with bad lines and a labored pun.

     To indicate that Rogue One is a bad movie would fairly unjust. It's not bad, but nor is it great. It's the kind of sci-fi movie that rides its brand name for recognition, and works well enough as a world-building companion piece to the saga, but wouldn't stand on its own. For me, it ranks above the forlorn prequels, but below everything else. It has the right story at its heart, and does an excellent job of fitting Rogue One comfortably into the Star Wars universe in terms of style. Also to its credit, is the restraint with which the originals are referenced. Callbacks to episodes IV-VI are few, and not overly self-conscious in their occurrences, being sure to honor rather than undermine the movies that the story precedes. Characters that have been encountered in other movies are used with defined purpose, such as Tarkin, Vader, Mon Mothma, and Bail Organa (Leia's adopted father). The latter is used especially cleverly, as he serves as a sort of bridge character for episodes I-III and episodes IV-VI. 

     Rogue One was born from the opening crawl of A New Hope, which reads:
It is a period of civil war.
Rebel spaceships, striking
from a hidden base, have won
their first victory against
the evil Galactic Empire.

During the battle, Rebel
spies managed to steal secret
plans to the Empire's
ultimate weapon, the DEATH
STAR, an armored space
station with enough power
to destroy an entire planet.
And now, we know the story behind those few sentences. Given the box office success of Rogue One, I expect the spin-off Band of Bothans to feature soon so as to tell the story behind the line "Many Bothans died to bring us this information" (Mon Mothma in Return of the Jedi, referring to the intel that the Emperor himself is overseeing the final stages of the construction of the second Death Star). Rogue One tested the waters for Star Wars spin-offs, and although the results were polarizing, the fact that enough people liked it ensures infinite possibilities for future spin-offs.
Rogue One has polarized critics and audiences alike, with some praising its bold and dark approach while others are less impressed by the shallow characters and forced storytelling. Though I recognize that there will be hostile disagreement with my position, just as there was when I praised The Force Awakens, for me, The New York Times critic A.O. Scott sums it up best:
"All the pieces are there, in other words, like Lego figures in a box. The problem is that the filmmakers haven’t really bothered to think of anything very interesting to do with them. A couple of 9-year-olds on a screen-free rainy afternoon would come up with better adventures, and probably also better dialogue. Plots and subplots are handled with clumsy expediency, and themes that might connect this movie with the larger Lucasfilm mythos aren’t allowed to develop...It doesn’t so much preach to the choir as propagandize to the captives, telling us that we’re free spirits and partners on the journey. The only force at work here is the force of habit" (http://www.nytimes.com/2016/12/13/movies/star-wars-rogue-one-review.html?referrer=google_kp).