Tag Archives: Darth Vader

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016), My Thoughts!!

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Warning!!! This review spoils EVERYTHING about Rogue One, if you haven’t seen the film and DON’T want to know, stop reading NOW!!!

Still here? Okay, continue!! (But remember, you were warned!!)

Oh my gosh, oh my gosh, OH.MY.GOSH!!! Thursday night, 9:45 p.m., the long wait finally ended and I saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first stand-alone Star Wars film in the Anthology series. And oh boy did it deliver!! The film does have one flaw, but I’ll get to that after a bit, let’s start with one of the best parts of the film…

DARTH VADER IS BACK!!!

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Let’s all be honest, I think most of us who have gone to see this film did it because Vader was showing up (I know that certainly helped to sway my decision). This is the first time Vader (in all his armored glory) has graced the cinematic screen since Revenge of the Sith in 2005 (though granted that was a very short appearance). In Rogue One, Vader is at the height of his power and general nastiness. Believe it or not, he’s in the film for not quite ten minutes (split into two appearances): his first scene takes place on the lava planet Mustafar where he’s since built an imposing castle-fortress to reside in when he’s not on some mission for the Emperor. I THOUGHT I recognized the planet, but I wasn’t sure until a YouTube review from @StupendousWave (my favorite source for Star Wars news) confirmed my suspicion. Not only do we see this amazing fortress, we also see Vader, briefly, as we’ve never seen him before: completely armorless in a bacta tank. It’s only a few glimpses, really, but it was more than enough to show how little remains of Vader’s human body before he re-armors in order to greet Director Krennic properly.

Speaking of Krennic, he’s the main antagonist for most of the film, or at least he tries to be. Krennic comes across as one of those villains who assigns to himself more importance than he actually has. For instance, a major sticking point (with Krennic) is that he receive the proper credit for developing the Death Star for all these years. When this credit is about to be taken away from him (by a certain character that I will discuss shortly), Krennic dares to whine about this to Vader, who Force chokes him for his troubles.

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I really thought that Krennic would meet his ultimate fate at Vader’s hands, but what really happened was almost as good. The film’s climax takes place on the tropical planet of Scarif, where the Death Star plans are stored in an archive. The Rebels, led by Jyn Erso and company, infiltrate the base, and Krennic (arriving around the same time) moves to stop them. Ultimately, the Death Star arrives and after a long engagement with the Rebel fleet, the Death Star is ordered to fire on the base, destroying it. Krennic, badly wounded from a blaster shot, is trapped on the base’s communication tower and witnesses the weapon he helped create firing on the planet, knowing there is no way he can escape the shock wave in time. Talk about irony!!

And who orders the Death Star to fire? Who is taking the credit for this great achievement away from Director Krennic? Why, Grand Moff Tarkin of course! You know, the villain portrayed by Peter Cushing in the original Star Wars film in 1977? Yes, him!!

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But wait, I hear you all say, didn’t he die back in 1994? Yes, yes he did! And yet, here he is! I confess, I did NOT see this moment coming. I partially blame this on being buried in dissertation work, but also on a slight misunderstanding on my part. I, of course, heard the news very early this year that Disney was working on a CGI replication of Cushing’s character. However, when the main villian was announced to be Director Krennic, I was under the impression that they had scrapped the CGI-Cushing idea. It never dawned on me that they were going to do both!

I mentioned that the film has one flaw, and, please don’t be upset, but that flaw is Tarkin. Don’t misunderstand me, the character as he appears on screen is a remarkable achievement. Digital creations of a human character have come lightyears in terms of appearance and believability and Tarkin is so realistic it’s scary. But…it doesn’t quite work. The first time we see Tarkin, he has his back to the audience (though you know instantly who he is). The big reveal comes when he turns around, and the moment I saw him, I KNEW what they had done. You can see the CGI elements in the way Tarkin moves his head and speaks. The “uncanny valley”, as it were, is still in effect. I WAS able to suspend my disbelief some of the time though, so for me it wasn’t a fatal flaw. I am curious to know what you all thought of seeing Tarkin brought back to life again.

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Moving on to the rest of the story and our heroes, Jyn Erso, Cassian Andor and K-2SO make a great trio. Jyn is the daughter of Galen Erso, a brilliant scientist forcibly returned to the Death Star project by Krennic, and also the man responsible for placing the fatal flaw inside the Death Star that leads to its destruction in Episode IV. Jyn, his only child, has lived on her own for years, and loves her father very much. She is initially recruited to the Rebellion because the Alliance is searching for her father, and a Rebel extremist named Saw Gerrera has in custody a defecting Imperial pilot who came from the installation where Galen works (it’s a little complicated, but still good!)

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Outside of Jyn, K-2SO might be the best character on the side of the heroes: he’s an Imperial droid reprogrammed by Cassian and he has the snarkiest sense of humor you’ve ever seen, but his loyalty to Cassian (and the Rebellion) is unquestionable. He and Jyn do not get along for most of the film, but by the end, they’ve earned each other’s respect.

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My other two favorite characters are Chirrut and Baze Malbus. They were formerly Guardians of the Whills (they served at the local Jedi temple on the planet Jedha, they can feel the Force, but can’t actively control it the way a Jedi could) before the Empire, and now they are inseparable. Chirrut still believes in the Force after all this time, while Baze has become more of a skeptic. Chirrut has this habit of praying over and over “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, I am one with the Force and the Force is with me, etc.” He’s actually blind, but is so in tune with the Force that he can fight as well as any sighted person.

And speaking of the end, deep down, I think I knew this was going to happen, but I was secretly hoping at least one of them would get out alive. Yes, you heard right, in the end, none of them make it off Scarif. Jyn, Cassian, K-2SO, Chirrut, Baze, even Bodhi (the defecting Imperial pilot who has been helping them), one by one, they all die. Jyn and Cassian are the last, they successfully transmit the Death Star plans up to the fleet, but immediately afterward, the battleship fires on the planet. It’s not enough to break up the planet itself (the weapon isn’t quite finished yet), but it is enough to destroy the base. The blast is set out in the nearby ocean so it takes a few minutes for the destruction to reach the pair. Jyn and Cassian have just enough time to reach the beach, reflect on what they’ve done and embrace before they meet their end in a fiery cloud of death. It’s terrifying to me because as they sit meeting their end, Jyn is facing the shockwave as it comes, and you can’t help but wonder what she’s feeling, knowing her death is seconds away.

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And the Easter eggs in this film boggle the mind, simply because there are so many of them! Let me see if I can name more than a few: there’s several sightings of Senator Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits reprising his role from the prequel trilogy); Jyn and Cassian (literally) bump into the pair that tries to assault Luke in the cantina on Tatooine (“He doesn’t like you, I don’t like you either…”); R2 and C-3PO pop up for a split second at Yavin base; in possibly one of the best Easter egg moments, the characters of Red Leader and Gold Leader are featured, briefly, in the climactic battle over Scarif in a clever re-use of some footage from Episode IV; and there are several references to the Star Wars Rebels series (listen for the page asking for “General Syndulla”). There’s more, but that’s most of them.

Lastly, I have to talk about the music. I was so nervous about Michael Giacchino composing the score for this film, and I was terrified it wouldn’t be any good. While I still need to go back and analyze the score, my first impression was very favorable. It definitely helps that Giacchino re-used several of Williams’ themes at key points in the story (particularly the Imperial March, I would’ve been furious if he’d left THAT out). The music definitely isn’t bad, but how GOOD it ultimately is I can’t say just yet (I need to listen to the soundtrack separate from the film before I can give a definite opinion).

Final thoughts:

Rogue One is a worthy addition to the Star Wars canon, though it treads dangerously close to the line with its use of CGI to recreate certain characters. The Easter eggs make this film a fun watch for any Star Wars fan.

It was WEIRD having no opening crawl (and no Star Wars fanfare), I almost wish they would go back and recreate the opening to have a crawl anyway.

It was cool (and a little freaky) to see Peter Cushing’s Tarkin walking and talking again, they’ve almost nailed recreating a human character in full CGI (but NOT QUITE)

Ending the film moments before Episode IV begins was a nice touch, though I am somewhat not okay with how they recreated Princess Leia. I would have preferred seeing her from the back only.

I am so happy we got to see Vader use his lightsaber!!!!! After the first scene, I was terrified that we weren’t going to get any more Vader, not even with his lightsaber, so seeing that at the end was fantastic!

And those are my thoughts on Rogue One. What did YOU think of the film? Loved it? Hated it? Already in line to see it again? Let me know in the comments below (first chance I get I’m going to see this film again, that’s for sure).

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See also:

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace (1999)

Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (2002)

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith (2005)

Star Wars, the one that started it all! (1977)

Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back (1980)

Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi (1983), the saga concludes (or does it?)

A Random Thought on “The Force Awakens”

Star Wars: The Last Jedi: The Good

Star Wars: The Last Jedi- The Bad

Star Wars: The Last Jedi-The Ugly

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The Lightsaber Duel at Cloud City: A Nightmare in Three Stages

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The lightsaber duel between Luke Skywalker and Darth Vader in The Empire Strikes Back is often referred to as the greatest saber duel of the saga, and for good reason. The staging is perfect, the tension is spot on (and it happens to feature the biggest cinematic twist of all time).

I already wrote about the duel somewhat here but now I’d like to go into a bit more detail.

As I see it, the duel is divided into three stages, with a different setting and feel for each.

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Stage One is set in the carbon freezing chamber on Cloud City (where Han Solo was recently frozen into carbonite) and is also where Vader plans to do the same thing to Luke. At the beginning of the duel, Vader believes that Luke will be a pushover, so he’s not really expending a lot of energy. Quite the opposite, he lets Luke initiate the duel (Luke activates his saber first AND he makes the first attack), Vader only parries the blows in response. In fact, Vader isn’t even holding his saber with both hands, whereas Luke is clearly expending a lot of energy early on (and getting nowhere).

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There is a bit of taunting (on Vader’s part) but not too much, as he wants this duel to end quickly. It doesn’t take much to get Luke down the stairs and right in front of the pit as Vader activates the machine with the Force. And then Vader gets cocky: forcing Luke down into the pit, he boasts “all too easy” and flips the switch. But Luke (thanks to his training) is able to leap out a split second before the freezing process begins, much to Vader’s surprise (he says he’s “impressed” but I really think surprised is the better word). Clearly, this duel is not going to be a quick pushover, so once Luke kicks Vader off the edge of the platform (and I somewhat believe Vader let that happen), the Dark Lord disappears to regroup for Stage Two.

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Stage Two takes place in an abandoned hallway deep inside Cloud City. And even before it begins, Luke has a choice to make: at this point, Vader has vanished to who knows where and Luke doesn’t HAVE to follow him (I know I wouldn’t, I mean really, venturing into a dark hallway in search of a ticked off Dark Lord with a lightsaber? NOPE!), but of course he does.

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There’s a literal transition point as Luke comes to a brightly lit service corridor that takes him to the location of stage 2: the abandoned hallway with a large octagonal window looking out into the air shaft of Cloud City. And once Luke reaches that point…the breathing begins (a moment that always sends a shiver down my spine). Luke re-ignites his saber (Vader’s is already activated), but instead of launching back into the duel, Vader decides a “lesson” is in order (this is discussed more in the radio drama version of ESB and as far as I know is canon): sure, Luke is (at best) a competent duelist, a skill surely inherited from his father, but what experience does he have against a veteran Force user who can duel AND manipulate objects in the Force at the same time? Of course Luke doesn’t have any such experience which is why he gets the crap knocked out of him by various flying debris. At this point, Vader is still somewhat toying with Luke, but things are definitely more serious (I’m still not sure if Vader intended to have Luke go flying out the window, cause after that moment Vader comes over to look like “did I kill him?”)

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Fortunately, Luke doesn’t go falling to his death, but instead manages to make his way to a platform station of some kind even lower down the air shaft, the setting for Stage Three (and the end of the duel) But he barely has a chance to look around before Vader shows up, and this time the Sith Lord isn’t messing around. His strikes come fast and hard, and Luke is quickly chased backwards out to the near edge of the platform. Vader (holding Luke at saberpoint) declares his opponent beaten, it’s time to give up. Unfortunately, Vader also taunts Luke by saying “Don’t let yourself be destroyed as Obi-Wan did” reminding Luke about how Vader killed Obi-Wan in front of him. This visibly angers Luke and he stages a miraculous (and brief) comeback, which ends when he manages to score a partial blow on Vader’s shoulder.

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That this not-even-half-trained-would-be-Jedi managed to score a blow on him enrages Vader and pushes him over the edge. He pushes Luke back again and in a short series of moves deprives Luke of his lightsaber…and his right hand!! (For years I dreaded this moment, because it always seemed to come out of nowhere, and I hated Luke’s scream of pain).

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Now the fight is really finished, but Vader isn’t done yet. Now that Luke is cornered (literally), he makes his “pitch” for Luke to join the Dark Side. Of course Luke refuses, pointing out that he (Vader) killed his father. This prompts the biggest cinematic twist of all time:

“No” (Vader says) “*I* am your father.”

On the one hand, it makes no sense because Episode IV clearly establishes Vader and Luke’s father as two separate people. And yet….why would Vader lie? Luke knows there’s no reason for Vader to lie, hence his (understandably) upset reaction.

With the duel over, it appears Luke has no place to go except with Vader, but Luke figures he still has one way out: he’s at the edge of the main air shaft of Cloud City, and he’s not sure what’ll happen down there, but it has to be better than going with Vader…so he lets himself fall! There’s more, but that’s a separate scene.

Fun notes:

I remarked in my earlier post that Vader was played by master fencer Bob Anderson for this entire duel (David Prowse kept breaking the saber blades), hence  the reason this duel is shot from so many unusual angles (looking down at Vader, looking up at Vader, a lot of close-up shots) because Anderson was nowhere near the height and size of Prowse.

Only Mark Hamill, George Lucas, and one other writer knew the truth about the big twist. Everyone else was given a fake page of script where the “twist” was given as “You don’t know the truth, Obi-Wan killed your father.” (I mean that WOULD have been a pretty epic twist in and of itself)

The hallway seen in stage 2 is the same hallway Rey sees early in her Force vision in Episode VII. I really hope they explain at some point how Maz got the lightsaber, because last time it was seen, it was tumbling into the atmosphere of Bespin.

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The Empire Strikes Back or, Everyone has a Theme! Part One: Leitmotif and "The Imperial March"

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

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The Empire Strikes Back
Released: May 21, 1980
Director: Irvin Kershner
Music by: John Williams
*All music is the property of Lucasfilm

The Empire Strikes Back is considered by many to be the greatest movie of the original Star Wars trilogy and it’s no wonder. The film contains battles both on land (Hoth) and in space (the Millennium Falcon vs. Star Destroyers), a terrifying villain (Darth Vader), moments of comedy (C3PO) and one of the biggest twists in the history of film. It also features a gorgeous score composed and conducted by John Williams, a film composer who has been working in Hollywood since the 1950s and is solely responsible for some of the greatest film scores of all time.

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For his work on The Empire Strikes Back, Williams began with the musical themes he had established for the original Star Wars and used it as a starting point for the sequel. Two themes were already set in stone:

Luke’s Theme/The Force

Leia’s Theme

As the role of Darth Vader was being greatly expanded from his first appearance, Williams concluded that Vader would need a theme to match. This lead to the creation of “The Imperial March,” a theme that is now synonymous, not just with Star Wars and Darth Vader, but with anything evil in nature.

Darth Vader’s Theme/The Imperial March

These themes, and how they are used, derive from a technique created for opera, known as leitmotif. Leitmotif was made popular by the Romantic composer Richard Wagner in his famous series of “Ring” operas.

Leitmotifs, by nature, are meant to evoke a particular character and are played whenever a specific character is seen on stage OR when they are mentioned by another character. This happens a great deal with “The Imperial March”, and not just in The Empire Strikes Back.

Starting with The Phantom Menace, echoes of “The Imperial March” are heard towards the end of the film when Yoda (reluctantly) gives Obi-Wan permission to train Anakin. (specifically: when Yoda says “Nevertheless, grave danger do I feel in his training”)

The theme grows stronger in Attack of the Clones, but again is heard primarily at the end of the film when the Clone fleet is seen landing in Coruscant, announcing the start of the Clone Wars.

 

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Finally, in Revenge of the Sith, the theme is finally heard in full when Anakin turns to the Dark Side and is dubbed Darth Vader by the new Emperor Palpatine. (The theme can be heard in snippets throughout the latter half of the film, but fully comes out when Vader is being placed into his armor, particularly when the mask slips into place).

Part Two will explore the theme of Han and Leia’s love and the theme of Yoda. Until next time!

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See also:

Film/TV Reviews

The Empire Strikes Back: “The Imperial March” by John Williams

The Empire Strikes Back Part Two!: Han and Leia in Love and Yoda!!

*All music shown is the property of Disney and Lucasfilm, I own nothing.

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“I love you….I know…” One of the most remembered lines from the Star Wars universe came moments before Han Solo was frozen in carbonite by the evil Darth Vader. Leia finally realizes that she loves the scoundrel of an ex-smuggler and he reveals that he’s known it pretty much all along.

(On a side note, Han’s response was a complete ad-lib by Harrison Ford, as they had tried numerous takes using the generic “I love you too” and it just wasn’t working out.)

The music heard immediately before this line (when Han and Leia share a brief kiss) is the culmination of a theme that has been building since early in the film when the two are seen arguing in the ice caverns of Hoth.

Musically, this love theme is remarkably similar to Leia’s original theme (as heard in the first film):

Notice that both begin with large leaps from the first note to the second, using a pickup note. Both can also be divided into two sections, with the second section featuring a leap as well. The primary difference is that whereas the love theme drops down a whole step after the initial leap, the original Leia theme keeps going up. It’s almost like an inversion of the original theme, where the music now moves downward instead of up.

Of course Empire Strikes Back is also where we get to meet Yoda, the diminutive (size matters not!) and slightly eccentric Jedi Master who reluctantly agrees to train Luke in the ways of the Force. Yoda’s theme, a quiet melody for woodwinds, is first heard after Yoda is walking back to his hut and inviting Luke to follow. Of course at this point we have no idea that this is actually Yoda (or maybe we do, but Luke certainly doesn’t).

The theme is a perfect match for the ancient Jedi Master. It exudes a quiet confidence, the exact opposite in fact of the “Imperial March.” This theme really comes out in full when Yoda demonstrates what the Force can do when he successfully raises Luke’s sunken X-Wing from the swamp.

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See also:

The Empire Strikes Back: “The Imperial March” by John Williams

*the links in this post contain affiliate links and I will receive a small commission if you make a purchase after clicking on my link.

 

The famous Imperial March a.k.a Darth Vader’s theme. This music never fails to send a chill down my spine. What’s interesting is the contrast between the main “Imperial March” that everyone knows and the softer “B” melody, that’s played in the middle. The woodwinds create an unbelievable sense of tension that sets the listener up for the return of the primary “A” melody which quickly modulates into a different key.

The theme is first heard in The Empire Strikes Back when we cut away from the Rebel base to get our first look at the Imperial fleet, but it is also notably used to herald Vader’s arrival in the ruins of Hoth base, and as the remaining heroes rush for the Millennium Falcon, the camera repeatedly comes back to Vader striding through the ice caverns.
Later on in the film, during the climactic lightsaber duel between Luke and Vader on Cloud City, the theme comes back rather menacingly as Vader begins to use the Force to hurl objects at Luke to distract him.
Though there are other instances after this one, I would like to highlight one final time we hear the Imperial March and that is, ironically enough, at the end of Vader’s death scene at the end of Return of the Jedi. Just after Vader/Anakin dies, listen very carefully to the music in the background.
Right there on the harp, is the last iteration of the melody, so soft you can barely hear it, and nothing like the strident march first heard in The Empire Strikes Back. Fitting for a villain who was successfully brought back to the side of good.

 

See also: Film Soundtracks A-W

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