For those of you that don’t know, I am a huge Star Wars fan. I love all the movies, and that includes the prequels. Yes, the originals are better, but the prequels had their own merits if you ask me. But as there’s way too much to say about the movies as a whole, I’ll just summarize my thoughts on its recent cinematic resurgence.
STAR WARS EPISODE VII: THE FORCE AWAKENS (2015) was a wonderful return to the franchise and I really liked it. It was fun, it was awesome, and some welcomed returning faces made for one hell of a movie. My only real criticism is that I hated Kylo Ren. To clarify, I love Adam Driver as an actor, but I hated Kylo Ren as a character. I thought he was too whiny; too childish. Because of him, I rated the movie a strong 4/5, as opposed to a perfect 5. I really liked it and I really wanted to see more.
And then ROGUE ONE was announced. One of the biggest criticisms from other sources of FORCE AWAKENS was that the politics made little sense, which I agreed with. For example, what is the relationship between the Republic and the Resistance? There’s many more, but that’s one of the more common ones. Because of this big ole question mark, my hopes were that ROGUE ONE, being a spin-off and all, would showcase the basic ground soldier or pilot of the Resistance, like Poe Dameron, and would give deeper insight into the Resistance, the Republic, and the First Order. Otherwise, one of two things would happen in next year’s EPISODE VIII: the movie would come to a full stop at some point to explain itself rather than focus on its own story and progressing it, or audiences would continue to be left in the dark about the relationships between the Resistance and the Republic.
However, I’d be disappointed in the chosen subject matter for the longest time. It’s supposed to take place between EPISODE III and IV, detailing the events of how the Rebel Alliance came across the plans to the Death Star. First of all, I don’t think anyone was asking that question. Even if there was, we just got started telling a new chapter in the Star Wars lore. That should be the focus, instead of leaning on the older stories for traction.
Having said all that, the more still shots, and teasers that got released, I was more or less on board with it like everyone else. It looks like a much darker, grittier, and intense war film than any of the previous movies have given. In fact, the cast is what drew me in the most.
So let’s talk about them, eh? The film stars Felicity Jones, whom I am quickly becoming a fan of. Her role in THE THEORY OF EVERYTHING (2014) was phenomenal, and cemented her name as one of the best rising new talents, though obviously not an amateur actress considering her career has gone as far back as the late 90’s. She wasn’t bad in this year’s INFERNO, but let’s just say it’s a relief that she’s in this flick to add something a little meatier to her résumé. Really looking forward to her in this. In support, we also have Alan Tudyk. This name really got my eyes widened, and any fan of the TV show FIREFLY is right up there with me. In a way, maybe it makes more sense than we think. He’s no stranger to lending his voice to a character. WRECK-IT RALPH (2012), FROZEN (2013), I, ROBOT (2004), this year’s ZOOTOPIA and MOANA. He’s even done quite a few video games, including HALO: ODST and INJUSTICE: GODS AMONG US. Of course, we also have the incredible talents of Forest Whitaker (ARRIVAL , SOUTHPAW , and OUT OF THE FURNACE ), Mads Mikkelsen (DOCTOR STRANGE , CLASH OF THE TITANS , and CASINO ROYALE ), and Donnie Yen (Netflix’s CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON: SWORD OF DESTINY , the Ip Man franchise, and BLADE II ).
Now for behind the scenes. Directing is Gareth Edwards, primarily known for GODZILLA (2014). Co-writing the screenplay is Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy. Weitz has written both the film ABOUT A BOY (2002) and it’s TV show port, THE GOLDEN COMPASS (2007), and CINDERELLA (2015). Gilroy is known for the Bourne franchise from IDENTITY (2002) to LEGACY (2012), MICHAEL CLAYTON (2007), and ARMAGEDDON (1998). Composing the music is Michael Giacchino known for DOCTOR STRANGE (2016), INSIDE OUT (2015), and DAWN OF THE PLANET OF THE APES (2014), as well as TV shows FRINGE, ALCATRAZ, and LOST. Finally, the cinematographer is Greig Fraser known for LION (2016), KILLING THEM SOFTLY (2012), and SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN (2012).
Despite my initial reservations I am more excited for this movie then I’m not. I do wish they’d focus more on the current story that has been established, but considering what I’ve seen, this film looks like it will be really good, so I’m optimistic. This is my honest opinion of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.
The Empire is at the height of its power and is constructing a super weapon. On a distant world, a former scientist of the Empire named Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) is tracked down by the ruthless and merciless Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). But Galen knows that means taking his wife and daughter Jyn hostage. However, his wife is killed for resisting, Jyn is on the run, and her father taken by Krennic. Eighteen years later, Jyn (Felicity Jones) is a captured fugitive of the Empire. Led by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the Alliance breaks her out, even though she has little interest in their political agenda. Turns out, the Alliance knows about an Imperial pilot defector named Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) that has information for the Alliance, sent directly by Galen. The Alliance needs to track him down, but he’s in custody of a independent individual with no ties to either the Empire or the Alliance named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an ally of Galen’s and who raised Jyn after being separated from her parents. The Alliance knows that Saw won’t talk to them, so they try to convince Jyn to act on their behalf in hopes of finding Galen and, unbeknownst to Jyn herself, assassinate him. But bigger things are at stake and soon, priorities change and the greatest threat that the galaxy faces can only be brought down through unlikely allies and risky missions.
DISCLAIMER: I will be talking about a lot of spoiler-related stuff, so I recommend not reading my review until you’ve seen the movie (or if you don’t care, in which case… shame on you). So with that said, here we go.
While not the best that the films have to offer, it is certainly the most unique and different, and will certainly satisfy the fans that have been waiting for a more magnified look at the average soldier fighting for the Rebellion. And I’d be lying if I said I didn’t really like it.
Let’s talk about the fifteen minutes, which probably has the most flaws.
We start with Galen and his family trying to stay away from Krennic and his recruitment. Now, here’s where some flaws rear an ugly head. Galen’s talking to Krennic, presumably to buy time for his wife and daughter to hide. But the wife foolishly comes out of hiding, with a pistol, and aims it at Krennic. She gets killed, he gets taken, and Jyn successfully hides until found by Saw. Here’s why I take issue with this scene. I know the Empire is still fairly new by this point in time, but surly anyone, especially someone who’s married to a man who used to work for them should know full well if you point a gun at an officer of the Imperial Forces, you’re in for a painful incarceration or a swift death. There’s a few things that I think made Jyn’s mother stupid. There is no synchronization on what this plan of dealing with Krennic is. At first glance, you’d think Galen is just buying time for his family to escape, so… why doesn’t she escape with her daughter and get protection from Saw? Did I miss something? Which then means that she gets herself killed without knowing the consequences. What if Galen retaliated and got himself killed? Both of Jyn’s parents dead with only a grizzled war veteran to raise her? Yeah, not cute. And if you’re going to point a gun at someone knowing it’s going to end badly for you, why hesitate and not just shoot the bastard instead of talking to him? I feel like this scene could have been written better.
So fast forward some, what, fifteen, twenty years later? The editing is unbearably chaotic. In one scene that lasts barely two minutes, we see Jyn in a jail cell, the next minute, we see Cassian talking to a dude, kills a couple stormtroopers, kills his informant, then leaves. Then we see the defector pilot getting carted off by Saw’s men, barely lasts two minutes. Then we see Jyn in a truck being loaded somewhere, and then broken out of. Seriously, I think there were like four or five scenes played out in less than ten minutes. Guys, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, I do not have an eye for editing. So if I can spot it, you know it’s not good. Again, these scenes could have been handled much better. I wanna say it’s supposed to be a little like a montage, but it feels too unbalanced between each establishing scene’s length. I would have had it open on Cassian killing his informant, picked up by the Rebels, the general dude says they need Jyn, and that’s when we see her getting sprung from capture.
There’s also this one scene where Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) is taking on a bunch of stormtroopers with his trusty staff and some stormtroopers are stupid enough to charge at him… with blasters in hand. I mean, I know the joke is that stormtroopers aren’t the most competent minions in cinema, but holy hell, this was beyond dumb.
Jones does a decent job as Jyn. There are some really powerful moments out of her. In the beginning, she hates her father, but as soon as she sees his hologram, she almost breaks down and it’s unclear if she’s about to burst out crying or going to vomit. Unfortunately, beyond that, Jyn is somewhat bland. She’s not the most memorable character in the story, despite the camera constantly on her face. There were some good ideas in here, like mentioning that she’s indifferent to either Rebels or Empire. She states something like, “the Alliance, the Rebels, whatever you call yourselves, it’s brought me nothing but pain.” Thing is… when did the audience get a glimpse of that? All we ever saw was how the Empire assassinated her childhood. Her hatred for the Rebels makes little to no sense. Sure, later on we learn that the Rebels aren’t the cookie-cutter good guys they’ve always been portrayed as, but that comes much later. Again, Jones is a fine actress, but I didn’t think she had too much to work with.
To a lesser degree, I think Luna suffered similarly with Cassian. Again, not a terrible character. In fact, his intro scene makes him very interesting. He’s a Rebel soldier, but he definitely kills people in cold blood, but doesn’t feel good doing it. So we’re immediately drawn in to him for being morally ambiguous. Even being ordered to assassinate Jyn’s father, and seemingly unflinched about it, he’s clearly no Luke Skywalker, but he’s not a bad guy either. He’s fighting for a cause that he believes in and has been ordered and forced to do some pretty awful things. But then they break that immersion with a line like, “I’ve been in this fight since I was six years old!” While all well and good, and maybe we can guess his motivations, I just don’t think he worked as a whole. If you’re going to hint at a backstory, tell us why he feels so strongly for the Rebellion. Of course, they don’t do that and I can respect a film that attempts to do away with exposition. Nothing drives movie-goers like me more insane than things being explained rather than shown and therefore experienced. The best fix to me would be to simply do away with the line and keep him completely mysterious. We know he’s not a bad guy, we know he does bad things, but we see he doesn’t like doing them. I think that’d be enough to make him compelling without teasing us with a backstory that won’t go anywhere. Again, none of this is Luna’s fault, he gives a convincing performance, but there wasn’t a lot of meat to the character to hold the entire package together.
Another bummer is Saw. While the average movie-goer wouldn’t know this, but Saw is actually a character that’s appeared in the extended universe of Star Wars, what the die-hard fans refer to the stories that take place outside of the Star Wars movies (TV shows, comics, novels, video games, etc…). Specifically, he’s from the 3D CGI animated TV show STAR WARS: THE CLONE WARS that ran from 2008 to 2014 and will soon be making an appearance in the animated TV show STAR WARS: REBELS. This is debatably the only character to have appeared in a secondary Star Wars story that’s made his way to the big screen. And yet, the movie barely gives this character any screen time. He’s a veteran of the Clone Wars and survived through most of Empire’s first couple decades, but after a grand total of ten or fifteen minutes worth of screen time, he’s killed off rather unceremoniously. It’s possible it was a contract thing, maybe a scheduling conflict with Whitaker, or maybe the writers just did something kinda shameful. I mean, this character raised Jyn and taught her how to defend herself since she was a child. Why are we given a half-baked backstory between the two of them? The story could have benefited immensely from his level of experience fighting the Empire, and… for God’s sake, it’s Forest Whitaker! You don’t put him in a Star Wars movie for fifteen minutes! That’s such a waste of talent! Where’s a wrist? I need to slap it. You feel nothing for his death and it’s a shame. A character that fights the Empire but isn’t allied with the Rebellion, that’s interesting! If we can have a blind warrior, we can have a dude with mechanical legs too.
But it’s time to talk about the good stuff.
Chirrut is probably one of my favorite characters of the movie. While he doesn’t really play a Jedi, I think there’s some strong implications that he was. Either way, it’s hard to not immediately like a blind warrior that kicks ass, which he totally does. The choreography on his fight scenes are nothing short of entertaining and awesome. Not to mention he’s one of the funnier characters of the film. “Are you kidding me?! I’m blind!” I’m still giggling to that line. But he’s even more hilarious when he’s interacting with Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). I really like their dynamic, and how one is so in touch with the Force and the other is a protective skeptic who calls him a fool. All the while carrying a rather bad-ass repeating blaster that I want for Christmas. K-2S0 (Alan Tudyk) is also a very funny character. Very direct and unfiltered, and a hint of sadistic, he’s always a scene stealer. Of course, he usually shares screen time with Jyn and Cassian, so it’s not a difficult feat to be the best part of any scene he’s in.
I have to admit, Krennic was almost an annoying character, and I will probably guess that I run in the minority, but I think he’s actually pretty solid. While he does spend a lot of the film kind of whining, it’s not exactly for the worst of reasons. He’s been at the forefront of the Death Star’s construction and here comes Governor Grand Moff Tarkin (performed by Guy Henry) taking away all his progress and passing it off as his own. But he doesn’t quite take it up the butt. He has the balls to go straight to Darth Vader (more on this awesomeness later) for recognition for his work and to clarify that he’s still in charge of the Death Star. Though Vader is clearly annoyed with his groveling, you have to give the guy kudos for having that temerity in the first place. So I like this guy. A straight-up douche, not the most intimidating, but at least he does something about his misfortunes. Not that it amounts to much, but… respect.
Now for my favorite parts: the appearance of Tarkin. Not just the character, but the actual face of Peter Cushing. No, obviously, I don’t mean the actual man, but his face was digitally inserted over Henry’s. I won’t lie, the CGI is a tad obvious, but it took a minute for me to notice that this wasn’t extraordinary make-up. But after a minute, the facial movements, the muscles, it was a tad unnatural. But honestly, it barely mattered because it was Cushing’s face! It was pure awesome! And that he wasn’t a simple cameo, but an antagonist to the antagonist made his character all the more enjoyable. Smug, calculating, pure snake through and through. It’s too bad this is the most we get to see of the character in the films, but who knows what the future may bring. The same technique was used for Princess Leia (performed by Ingvild Deila), which again, was awesome to see.
But more than the CG likenesses of those characters, there’s some real-world reprisals too. Those who know the prequels will remember Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. This came right out of left field, but was certainly a welcomed face. Though she wasn’t featured in the prequels outside of some deleted scenes, for anyone that might have cared enough to watch those, Genevieve O’Reilly reprises her role as young Mon Mothma. I thought that was pretty cool to see both the actress and the character return. Though both characters do little other than serve as fan-service and don’t contribute much to the overall plot, as a die-hard fan of the Star Wars universe, it was hard not for me to appreciate what was done here. About the only cameos that I didn’t care for were the two jerks that harass Luke in the Mos Eisley cantina in A NEW HOPE. Of all the brilliant cameos that were done, why bring them in? Really pointless if you ask me.
But… it’s time to talk about the big one. The big kahuna himself. Darth freakin’ Vader. Holy crap, this is probably the best representation of Vader I’ve ever seen. Let’s talk about his intro scene. Clearly uninterested in talking to Krennic, and the cherry on top of their exchange is an amazing Force-choke with the line, “Careful not to choke on your own aspirations, Director.” Oh man… the chills ran down my spine like hail. But the absolute crème de la crème was when he appears in front a small squad of Rebel soldiers, crimson lightsaber in hand. Hell, the jitters I’m having right now just thinking about it… the look the soldiers have said everything. “We are so screwed,” and they freakin’ were. Vader’s deflecting blaster bolts, throwing people left and right, holding them on the ceiling, slashing down on these poor trapped bastards as he’s making his way to the Rebel soldier that’s holding the Death Star plans, frantically holding it through the door just barely open, only to hand it off to another soldier, who watches the last get a red blade right through the sternum, OH MY GOD, this was the first time I’ve ever truly felt frightened of Vader and it was glorious.
The story is about what you’d think it would be about and the ending isn’t exactly a huge surprise. These unlikely people get together and go on a daring suicide mission to get the Death Star plans for the Rebels and they all essentially die in the mission. The story, while not exactly full of shocks and twists, is still pretty well executed, but not resolved in the most powerful of ways. Jyn and Cassian are, as previously mentioned, bland, but still get the most development, if you can call it that. So when they die, that should have been the big tear-jerker moment, but it can’t happen. Still, better than Bodhi. Did anyone care about this character? The most interesting characters are the supporting cast, so their deaths are pretty powerful, especially Chirrut and Malbus. K-2S0 was also a sad loss considering how hilarious he was and his personal sacrifices.
It’s also probably a good idea to talk about how this movie claims to have changed the way audiences should look at A NEW HOPE. Everyone knows the joke about the Death Star’s weakness: the big ole hole that needs a single proton torpedo to destroy the whole thing, it’s been mocked and made fun of for decades. ROGUE ONE tries to change that by explaining the whole thing. But for a “subtle” weakness, it still seems pretty obvious especially considering there’s plenty of turrets blasting away down that trench. So… I’m not sure how much I buy this, or if I really buy it at all. How come no engineers did the math themselves? Open exhaust port, goes directly to the core, not a single red flag went up? Galen was such a respected leader to his science team and such a loyal lapdog for Krennic that no one raised their hand to voice a concern? But fine, whatever. The point that was also made in other secondary sites that I do actually agree with it how the actions of Rogue One add weight to the events in A NEW HOPE. We now can have a deeper appreciation and know just how much bigger the stakes are for Luke to blow that thing and go home. This is the very moment that Rogue One’s sacrifices meant something. Despite the weakness in the Death Star still being kind of silly to me, it’s made up for by doing the best thing imaginable: making you want to watch A NEW HOPE again with a new perspective. That’s impressive and unheard of.
In conclusion, while I still disagree with the subject matter not focusing more on the new story we got from FORCE AWAKENS, this movie does so many phenomenal things. In a lot of ways, it’s a love letter to the original trilogy, but having just enough class to acknowledge the prequels via including some of the cast of those movies. It’s not a perfect film by any means. I thought the two leading characters were uninteresting by comparison to the secondary characters, some awkwardly executed scenes in the beginning, and some pointless casting choices, but it’s hard to deny how engaging and visceral the movie is as a whole. I was thoroughly happy with the end result, and highly recommend this film to any Star Wars fan out there.
My honest rating for ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY: 4/5