Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I saw “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” on Tuesday, and it took me two days to figure out how to write about it. Short version: I liked it, and I imagine when I see it again, I’ll love it. The first half of this post is a spoiler-free review in case there’s anybody else like me who had to keep pushing this back week after week, but the second half, which will have a big giant warning label before you get to it, goes into spoilers and behind the scenes stuff I’m dying to talk about but would have hated knowing going into the theater. I don’t get a lot of comments, but should this generate any, read them at your own risk.

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I’m definitely going to have to see this movie again.

Part of that is just because it’s a good movie that I want to see more than once. But part of it is because I know I missed some stuff or wasn’t able to fully appreciate it at the time. Like, this is the sort of movie I want to take home, turn off all the lights and watch while standing a foot away from the TV to better soak it all in.

As I’m sure everyone knows by now, Rogue One tells the story of the team of rebels who steal the plans for the Death Star. It continued the recent trend started by The Force Awakening of making Star Wars films that look and feel (and sound!) like Star Wars films. In the same way that I was impressed with Terminator Genisys’s revisiting of the original film’s 1984 scenes, I was incredibly impressed by how so many scenes and shots in Rogue One really looked like they could have been lifted straight from A New Hope. Like, I didn’t think a little dude sitting on top of a tower surveying the rebel base or helmeted Death Star workers pushing buttons and pulling levers would fill me with such a nice form nostalgia, but they did.

It wasn’t a perfect movie in either storytelling or filmmaking, though. Another reason I want to rewatch is because the color palette is so muted and dark that it probably played a role in things I might have missed. The prequels were bright, vibrant films — granted, that also looked pretty cartoony, but there was no missing the action (unless you’re talking about that lousy Count Dooku fight in Attack of the Clones). Even A New Hope had a stark contrast between the black and grays of the The Death Star and the bright white of storm troopers and Luke and Leia’s outfits. Plus, it looked like they turned the lights on in the space station.

Also, I feel like the movie spent a lot of time building up to the raid on the Empire’s archive planet, but I don’t feel like much of that time was spent making the Rogue One team feel like a team.  They were strangers from different walks of life, and then *poof!* they were a team! I guess you could make the same claim about Luke, Leia and Han, but A New Hope moved pretty fast once everyone met, and Rogue One…kind of dragged. There are some movies that feel long, and you’re really glad they do, but I’m not sure this was one of those. It’s length didn’t make it bad, but it was noticeable.

Having said that, when this cast of characters really formed a cohesive unit with a set mission, it shined. Because the characters are all pretty great.

Of course the driving characters are Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the reluctant rebel daughter of the unwilling architect behind the Death Star and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), the freedom fighter who’s been fighting the Empire since he was six and isn’t afraid to get his hands dirty for the Rebellion. Their stories are deep and may be the most interesting on paper, but I found myself far more into their band of side characters.

One of my favorites was Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen). He wasn’t a jedi, but he had deep faith in The Force, which brought a real spirituality to it that the other films of the franchise lost a little bit, outside of Han referring to it once as a hokey religion with ancient weapons. Of course, Chirrut was also a blind man who could take down a half dozen stormtroopers with a stick, and I’m not sure it gets more badass than that.

There’s also Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and  Baze (Wen Jiang), the Imperial pilot who defected to the Rebellion and…a guy who turned up somewhere and…was there? Of everyone, I feel like Baze got the short end of the stick. He didn’t really get a chance to be noticed until the third act, but was great when he did.

Alan Tudyk’s reprogrammed imperial droid K2-SO was a bit of a scene-stealer and some much needed levity.  If you take two of Tudyk’s other roles — the robot Sonny from “I, Robot” and pilot Wash from “Firefly” and Serenity” — throw in a dash of C-3PO (and maybe a pinch of HK-47, for those Knights of the Old Republic fans), you’ve got K2-SO, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

And that levity was needed. From the murder of Jyn’s mother, to the cities under Imperial occupation, Bodhi’s legitimacy-testing torture at the hands of Saw Guererra (Forest Whitaker), a man too extreme for the rebels, battles that at times seemed far more intimate than what came before, and Cassian’s secret orders, Rogue One shows a grittier side to the Rebellion. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing! The original trilogy always made the Rebellion secondary to the Skywalkers, and I think that went hand in hand with some sanitization of it. But wars aren’t clean. They’re messy, and Rogue One did a great job of exploring that side of things — and the aftermath of the prequel trilogy — while still maintaining a solid PG-13.

And while this is a dark film, no question, it bleeds so seamlessly into Star Wars: A New Hope that you can’t help but leave feeling a little uplifted, because you know what’s coming. No matter what happened here, because of it, a farm boy will rise up, a princess will deliver a vital message on her way to becoming a leader of the Rebellion, and a scoundrel will do the right thing when it counts to win one against the evil Empire.

And in the end, it’s nice seeing what made all that possible.

There are spoilers here. Stop reading if you haven’t seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

I’m just going to do this in list form, and in no particular order.

  • Holy crap, Darth Vader! – Coming so late to the movie, I’d been spoiled to know Vader was in it, but I didn’t know in what capacity. For all I knew, he could have spent his time stalking around The Death Star and intimidating the workers. But instead he give an awesome – and kind of scary – beatdown to a bunch of rebels just before Princess Leia’s ship makes its getaway. The only thing that brought down that scene was the realization that THIS was the Vader we’ve always wanted to see. Revenge of the Sith was by far the best of the prequels — and pretty good in its own right — but most of the fighting we saw from Anakin was him murdering younglings and going head to head with Obi Wan, who ultimately hacked off the rest of limbs. That was a great fight, but didn’t offer much Dark Lord of the Sith-y action.Plus, I remember an interview when George Lucas was talking about The Phantom Menace and how excited he was to show the jedi in their prime rather a really old men and a half-robot guy waving their swords around or newbie Luke who barely knows what he’s doing. And when you stop to think about it, it is a little hard to reconcile what we saw in Rogue One, with what we’ll see “a few days later” in A New Hope. But I’ll happily let that go. Also, was it just me, or was Vader still living on Mustafar? Like, dude. Get away from the place that ruined you.
  • Dogfights!: Honestly, usually I find the space battles to be kind of boring — at the very least, not why I bought the ticket — but I want to watch this dog fight over Scarif again and again and again. I would be remiss to not mention the wealth of female pilots, which was nice to see, but I really want to talk about something else. My initial impression of the CGI Tarkin face throughout the film was that it was a little off, but I never once doubted these dogfight shots of Red Leader — and there was a reason for that! Turns out some of that footage was leftover from A New Hope! So, that guy was really that guy at least for part of it. (And Yellow Leader, too, but let’s be real – we were all focused on Luke’s squadron in ANH.) I thought I might have seen Wedge in there, and I’d heard after the fact that Biggs Darklighter was a CGI addition, and I just want to see it all again and smush their little rebel faces.Also, I think A New Hope was made all the more richer by seeing Red Five in this movie. As we all know, Luke will take up that mantle in the run against the Death Star, and seeing why here really hit home how strapped the Rebellion was.
  • “We’re wanted men”: I know it was a groaner for some people, but I really liked Jyn running into the Mos Eisley guys from A New Hope. I recognized them immediately and loved it.
  • Everybody dies! I had to edit this into the post, because I forgot to talk about it. Not sure how I forgot about it, because it certainly wasn’t something I was expecting.  The saddest death, for me, was K-2’s, which seems odd, given that K-2 is a droid. Most poignant award goes to Chirrut and Baze. Bodhi’s death was kind of blink-and-you’ll-miss it. The strangest thing to me though was how little of an effect Cassian and Jyn had on me. They were ostensibly the biggest players of this film, but I guess by the time we got to them, everybody else had already died, so it was pretty much a foregone conclusion that they would, too. Plus, I found myself distracted by how they made it from the top of the archive tower  to the peaceful beach shoreline for their sunset hug before everything was destroyed.

    But I will say that it was awfully brave for Rogue One to take the risk of killing off all its characters. Not only does it run the risk of upsetting the audience (no dog died, so I guess that’s all that matters), but from a marketing standpoing you’ve just taken these characters out of existence. If people really like them, there can’t be any more future stories.  Well, I guess there could be stand-alone films in between Revenge of The Sith  and Rogue One that could focus on one character a time (probably Cassian and K-2 or Chirrut). But that might definitely make Star Wars the most out-of-sequence saga every committed to film.

  • CGI Leia: There’s no escaping this topic. I was sadly spoiled for this, and I’m not sure what I think of it or if my reaction would have been different if Carrie Fisher were still alive. I mean, it DID look a little uncanny valley to me, which was disappointing in that this was Fisher’s iconic role and seeing it not perfect now that she’s gone makes every little thing seem worse than it probably is.And while I sort of like the uplifting note of “What is it?” “Hope!” there’s also a part of me that would rather the movie ended on a montage of Vader and the stormtroopers overtaking Tantive IV intercut with darkness and shadows, and  just a few close crops on Leia’s hands, robes or hair and R2-D2 as her message to Obi Wan is delivered in narration, the closing line of course being “Help me, Obi Wan Kenobi. You’re my only hope.”

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5 thoughts on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

    • Haven’t seen it again yet. My hope is that it’ll still be in theaters the next time I visit family and can see it with them. Thanks for commenting! I haven’t done reviews for film sites, but about a decade ago I did reviews for reznetnews.org while in college. But much like the long-dead blogging software the used to host Ye Old Leisure Time at my former local newspaper it appears to be dead now. So now it’s just this blog, which sometimes gets picked up by my current local newspaper (as this review did). What did you think of Rogue One?

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