TheatricAL: “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” Non-Spoiler Review

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the most recent installment in the Star Wars cinematic universe. I’d be surprised if you didn’t know that already since you are currently reading this review. However, what has surprised me is just how many casual moviegoers and even fans of Star Wars are confused about what this movie is and what it isn’t. Let me briefly clarify in case you find yourself confused about when this movie takes place in the Star Wars timeline.

This movie is not Episode 8. It is not the sequel to The Force Awakens. We won’t be getting that movie until December of 2017. As opposed to being one of the main saga films of Star Wars, this movie is a spin-off film. That is to say that it is a smaller story outside of the main storyline (but still very much tied to it) that is still made by LucasFilm/Disney. Disney’s CEO, Bob Iger, has dubbed Rogue One as a type of “experiment” meaning that Disney is seeing if these type of Star Wars spin-off films will sell tickets. With Rogue One generating a very healthy $155 million its opening weekend (Forbes) and other spin-off films already in the works (i.e. an untitled young Han Solo film and a Boba Fett movie) it’s safe to say we’ll be seeing more Star Wars movies from Disney. Fans are also almost universally clamoring for a Obi-Wan Kenobi film which Disney has been holding off on… possibly due to his involvement with Star Wars Episode 8 and/or 9… but that’s a story for another time.

Now that hopefully we’ve cleared up what Rogue One isn’t, let’s get to talking about what it is! Rogue One is the telling of the story through the eyes of our lead female, Jyn Erso, and a group of rebels that form specifically for the seemingly impossible mission of obtaining the plans to the DeathStar (after discovering its existence) and getting said plans into the hands of the leaders of the Rebellion to set up the events which transpire in Episode 4: A New Hope.

NON-SPOILER REVIEW

This movie is not your typical Star Wars movie. While you will watch this movie and it will be undoubtedly set in the Star Wars universe, the movie plays out much more like a grounded and gritty war film that it does epic space adventure/opera. For instance, we are very much used to seeing the force being used and seeing Jedis wielding lightsabers in every Star Wars film we’ve seen so far. Not the case in Rogue One. In fact, there are almost no characters who seem to be even “force-sensitive” with the exception of Darth Vader (Who definitely appears in this film which I don’t consider a spoiler since he was in the trailer. More on his appearance later.) and arguably, maybe, sort of one other character. But this film’s identity was very much centered around telling the story of this group of rebels that didn’t have the luxury of using the force to accomplish their mission.

This film did so much to explore more of what the Rebellion really looks like in this universe and how it wasn’t all about good guys versus evil guys. There are definitely shades of gray on both sides. It did so much to show the “war” in Star Wars, the heart-wrenching sacrifices to be made for the cause and the inevitable collateral damage that ensues.

The characters and casting were all just brilliant. Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso, Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, and even Alan Tudyk’s voicing and motion capture of K-2SO were all on point and captivating. Now there are some characters from A New Hope, I won’t say which, that are CGI’d into the movie. While this type of technology is getting more and more impressive, it did take me out of the movie a bit to realize that these characters were more or less animated. That being said, I’m still thrilled that these familiar characters were in the film.

This brings us to Darth Vader. The usage of Darth Vader (who is still voiced by the unequaled James Earl Jones) in this film was very well done. I was worried that they would use him to little and I’d be frustrated that they just used him to sell more tickets or that they’d use him way too much and detract from the purpose or the flavor of the film. Neither was the case in my opinion. They used him well and left me wanting more… in a good way. I think this movie had the perfect amount of Darth Vader and that it used him in a way that made sense.

Another thing this movie did really well was having well-placed easter eggs and references to the larger Star Wars universe and movies that we know so well. This included having references to the animated Clone Wars and Rebels series which I haven’t gotten into but it’s still neat that it’s there. For the sake of not spoiling anything, I won’t go into what they all are but I will say to keep a sharp eye and ear out for little details looming in this film. I might do a spoiler review later that contains these easter eggs. If you’re anything like me you’ve already googled what they are immediately after seeing the movie.

Things I didn’t like… it was kind of a slow build. While I was so excited to see this movie and ultimately really liked it, it took quite a while for the story to build any momentum. The third act is really where things turn up and everything gets really exciting. But there is a bit of a disappointment in how long it takes to get there.

There were also some things about the way they portrayed the Rebellion that I think actually detracted from how I’ve always thought of them in regards to the original trilogy. I’ve always thought of them as a hanging by a thread, last-ditch kind of organization that was just barely avoiding annihilation by the Empire. In this movie, the Rebellion seemed a little too well put together, if that makes any sense. Their fleet is substantial, endless x-wings at their disposal apparently, and many more groups of peoples seem to be in on the cause. I can’t say much more without getting into spoiler territory but I will say that is one of the things that I thought actually took away from how I’ve always viewed the original Star Wars movies.

Lastly, there is one scene that is super strange and features a pilot being interrogated by this really weird alien… if you’ve seen it you’ll know exactly what I’m talking about. But that whole scene was super weird and took me completely out of the movie with how ridiculous it was. It made me think of the Rathtars (big ugly ball and tentacle alien that grabbed Finn on Han and Chewies new ship) from The Force Awakens and how many people didn’t care for that plot device either. This scene in Rogue One was the Rathtar scene from The Force Awakens. Other than that, not a whole lot to complain about.

I’ll end this review by saying if you enjoy Star Wars in the least you’ll definitely like this movie. Some nitpickers don’t love it and I get why (haters). Rogue One ends in such spectacular fashion that I wanted to IMMEDIATELY watch A New Hope again because of how well the ending of this movie ties to Episode 4.

That’s all for now! What did you think of the movie? Let me know what you thought and be careful about posting any potential spoilers at least for a couple weeks until everyone who wants to has had a chance to see it. Thanks for reading!

 

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EducationAL: Ideas for Student Ministry in Public Schools

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Just this week I finished an 8-week curriculum with a small group at a local public middle school through a program called TEEN LIFE (formerly Teen Lifeline). I’ll talk more about their curriculum and my experience, but I first want to address the student ministers who happen to come across this blog post. Finding ways to do student ministry well in a public school setting can be difficult. Depending on the policies of your state and the practices of a specific school, it seems student ministers receive a red carpet welcome on certain campuses and jump through flaming hoops just to visit for lunch at another. This aspect of student ministry is one I consider a weakness in my ministry. As such, as I share my experiences of things I’ve tried, please please please comment or reach out to share ways you’ve experienced success in practicing student ministry in a public school setting.

Visiting  Campus

Whether you are just popping in to visit with your students for lunch, showing up for a pep rally, or slipping notes of encouragement in lockers, it’s good to have a presence at the schools of your students. This not only allows you to meet your students’ friends but it also gives you familiarity with some the staff and the halls your students traverse every day. When you do go to visit for lunch, I always like taking some other youth ministers from other local churches with me or at least have a game or two handy in case conversations get stale. Make sure you bring a photo ID anytime you go for a visit and be aware of the school’s policies that protect their students.

School Events

Visiting your students’ games, recitals, performances, and shows is a great way to show your students interest in their extracurricular talents. However, depending on the size of your youth group and the number of schools they attend it can become very time-consuming and expensive. In some districts, they distribute special cards for youth ministers that allow the bearer to get into sports events for free. Always worth asking! Having a calendar in your youth room specifically for your students to share the dates of their events can also encourage your students to attend each others’ events.

Getting Involved

These schools are always looking for volunteers for special events. Getting in contact with your students’ school’s PTA will keep your options open as to where you can help out. Supervising school dances/banquets, helping serve food for the teachers, and helping out at fundraisers are just a few of the ways you can likely volunteer with the PTA.

Do you know your students’ school’s counselors? Expanding your network with the school’s counselor can also open up opportunities to mentor students or even be a standby grief counselor in the event of the death of a student. Networking with teachers, coaches, or any school staff is always a great way to stay informed on opportunities to get plugged in with your students’ schools.

Teen Life is a program that trains student advocates (such as youth ministers) in an 8-week curriculum that focuses on equipping a small group of students. The curriculum illustrates several tools that help students deal with their problems that they encounter on a daily basis. In my case, the counselor at one of our local middle schools reached out to me and other youth ministers who had taken the training and she personally selected the students that made up each small group. The curriculum was very practical and contained several points I plan to use in my student ministry. Of course, the curriculum itself contained no faith-based  elements outside the allowance of a belief in a higher power. Even so, the experience of helping at-risk students that largely had no youth group or church family to turn to was very rewarding.

If you are interested in learning more about the TEEN LIFE program, visit their site at https://www.lifelivedbetter.org/.

That’s all I have to say about that. Please do take some time to comment and let me know what your youth minister did to minister at your school. What are some more ways a youth minister can get involved at public schools?