This review contains minor spoilers.
Amy, I’m really struggling with Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the interstitial movie that takes place right before Episode IV: A New Hope but doesn’t focus on the Skywalker family saga. From the beginning you know this is going to be a different Star Wars experience. Gone is the familiar Star Wars logo pop in to John Williams’ blaring score, and gone is the scrolling introduction text that we’ve expected for the past 40 years. Do I have a problem with it? No, that would be nitpicking details that have nothing to do with the story or characters (but that isn’t keeping the rest of the internet from raging about it).
There are parts of Rogue One I love, and there are other parts that are there solely as fan serving devices adding nothing to the story except a heavy handed wink wink, nod nod to semi-hardcore fans. I know you liked most (if not all of them) while I found a few of them distracting, unnecessary and in one case bordering on ridiculous to the point it brings into question continuity leading into Episode IV: A New Hope.
Rogue One is gorgeous to look at, even if much of the imagery is visually dark and muted. I’m hoping it wasn’t just the theater projection. Gareth Edwards, who directed 2014’s underwhelming 137th Godzilla reboot, takes us to that long time ago galaxy we are all familiar with, but this time it’s portrayed in a much more thematically dark manner. It’s still a dirty and well worn galaxy, but it’s populated by many unsavory people. In previous Star Wars films it felt as if everyone was on the side of the heroes except those wearing Imperial uniforms. In Rogue One you have rebels, spies, assassins, terrorists, separatists, extremists, and mercenaries . . . and depending on the cause these are all the same thing.
It’s said there is no honor among thieves (rogues) . . . and one person’s freedom fighter is another person’s terrorist.
Neal, I’m really struggling with your use of the word interstitial. LOL!
While I don’t disagree with your overall assessment of the film, I’ll try to focus on the positive aspects since we did enjoy the movie and don’t want to join the nerd-ragers in freaking out about the smallest details. With that being said, I do warn parents that this is not a film for little kids. This is a story about rebellion and war. There are no cute Ewoks or droids like BB-8 that your kids are going to beg for this holiday season. As Neal mentioned, the best character in the film is K-2SO, voiced by Alan Tudyk, who provides the comic relief. Yet, unlike the comic relief provided by C-3PO, K-2SO’s humor is a result of his unfiltered speech not lovable naivety.
So, what do I love about this film? First and foremost, Star Wars lore. This is the story of how the Death Star plans ended up in the hands of the Rebellion in order for them to reach Princess Leia who inserts them into R2-D2 who manages to get them to Obi-Wan Kenobi and Luke Skywalker. Without these plans, A New Hope never happens! Knowing that the plans survive does lessen the suspense in Rogue One, but we are provided with a satisfying ending to the movie. A tear may or may not have leaked out of my eye at the end.
Now, Neal (aka grumpy old man), you have a problem with so-called “fan service,” but I find the Easter eggs peppered throughout the film a fun tribute to the history of Star Wars. Those moments are entertaining for fans but certainly don’t detract from the film for those who are just viewing the Star Wars universe for the first time. Yet, I do agree that the “ridiculous” moment you mentioned makes no sense. Even so, some of the moments were really cool like using old footage to put Rebellion pilots into the cockpits during a battle scene and using CGI to recreate a character from the Empire.
|Rogue One often casts the Rebellion in a very ambiguous light. They fight with one another. They murder one another. They sacrifice thousands of lives for the sake of the cause. This is a far cry from the sanitized Rebellion we’re used to seeing in Episodes IV-VII, and the one championed by Princess Leia. Because of this it’s very difficult to sympathize with many of the ensemble cast. I understand and even embrace the necessarily dark tone required to tell this type of story, but it’s hard to root for the wooden and mostly emotionless Jyn Erso as she’s basically blackmailed into serving the Rebellion. It’s also difficult to root for Cassian Andor after you watch him cold-bloodedly murder someone in the first minutes of the film.|
Sadly, the character I had the most empathy for in Rogue One was a droid . . . K-2SO. Is that weird? Probably.
Other parts of the movie felt like an endless series of quests that needed to be completed, and once done opened up another series of tasks to be done. Fly to planet X, complete task Y, activate transmission tower A, after flipping power lever B, and so on. It makes for great adventure and action, that’s about it. I really missed John Williams’ musical score. This is the first Star Wars film not scored by Williams, and I read that Michael Giacchino only had four weeks to complete the score for Rogue One. It shows. The only time I noticed the music was when a fragment of Williams’ original themes would weave their way into his score.
Amy, I know my review comes across as a downer, but I did enjoy Rogue One. Just not as much as I hoped because it’s different than I was expecting. I rank it below The Force Awakens, but just above dead center in the overall franchise. While The Force Awakens was also chock full of fan service, it was done in such a way that made it much more fun to watch, with important chemistry between characters. We all know how Rogue One ends, and while that ending does give the Rebellion and viewer a new hope, it’s not a happy ending.
Here’s how I currently rank the Star Wars movies:
|Rogue One is a hard-core action film. The Stormtroopers are formidable enemies who shoot to kill. The Rebels are scrappy and willing to do what it takes to get the job done. People die . . . lots of people die. This is what makes it a departure from the typical space opera we know and love about the Star Wars series. Though the themes are dark and the idea of good vs. evil is not as clear cut as in the other film, it makes sense. There comes a time in every rebellion where people have to make tough choices in the name of the greater good.|
Frankly, I prefer character driven stories and had a hard time developing an emotional connection with these characters since the focus was on the action. The closest I came to having an emotional reaction to the characters was with the duo of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang). Chirrut Îmwe is a warrior-monk who, though being blind, is able to fight and sense things about those around him. Îmwe’s mantra is “I’m one with the Force, and the Force is with me.” Yet, he isn’t a Jedi, so Baze Malbus appoints himself as an official protector. I appreciated the unspoken friendship between these characters.
Neal, you called Jyn Erso “wooden and mostly emotionless,” but I think that has more to do with the script than Felicity Jones’ acting. We see Jyn as a child at the beginning of the film and then 15 years later. A lot has happened to her during that time to develop her into a cold, untrusting person sitting in a Galactic Empire jail cell. She doesn’t change until mid-story when she gets word that her father is alive. Now, I do think that Jones’ lacked the necessary charisma to inspire her band of rogues, so what should have been an emotionally powerful motivational speech fell a little flat. Yet, her actions made me root for her every step of the way. I appreciate that she is a strong female character that is focused on getting the job done without cliché emotional entanglements.
Rogue One is a great film to see in the theater due to all the amazing action sequences and special effects. If you are new to Star Wars, I recommend watching A New Hope first.
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