Movie Review: Rogue One (2016)

The first Star Wars anthology movie has hit theaters. With so much pressure weighing down on it, did Rogue One surprise its nay-sayers and take us back to a galaxy far, far away, or is it the Star Wars movie that should not have been? (Spoilers within.)

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Rogue One takes place in the Star Wars canonical timeline directly before Episode IV: A New Hope. It tells the story of a group of Rebel sympathizers who go up against an imposing Galactic Empire in hopes of loosening its tyrannical grip. There are no Jedi and very little hope, and this movie is all the more refreshing for it.

A Different Side of Star Wars

When people think of Star Wars, they think of lightsabers, of Jedi, and of Darth Vader. And while everyone’s Number One Sith Lord does make a terrific appearance, this Star Wars movie eschews most things that people are used to seeing in Star Wars films. Instead of following a wide-eyed farmboy on his journey of self-discovery, the main characters of Rogue One are downtrodden and tired heroes who have been resisting an overbearing Empire for their entire lives and it shows. I couldn’t help but notice the stark contrast between the wardrobe of these heroes and the heroes of the original Trilogy. Jyn’s clothing is very dirty and very dark, while Luke’s was pristinely white (despite coming from a planet that is literally just dirt). Instead of Han Solo’s perfectly coifed hair, you get Bodhi Rook’s stringy, sweaty hair, clinging to his shoulders like so many worries and cares that come from fighting the Empire.

Not Your Daddy’s Empire

We have never seen the Empire at its full strength. In Episode IV, Darth Vader and the Empire are scrambling to protect their plans, and they are handedly defeated by a ragtag Rebellion. Even in Episode V, when we see more of the Empire’s terrible war machines with AT-ATs and Star Destroyers, it’s all part of a desperate retaliation of a failing Empire. We’ve always known that the Empire was bad and we accepted it, because the stormtroopers and Darth Vaders just looked evil. Right?

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Rogue One, rather, shows us how evil the Empire really is. We feel the oppression weighing down on the average person. We see the Empire literally robbing the graves of ancient civilizations and quashing any resistance bold enough to try and stop them. In this movie, we finally realize just how desperately the Galaxy needs the Rebellion to succeed. We finally get to understand why the Empire must be stopped.

We’ve also never seen Darth Vader fully unleashed. In the original trilogy, Vader is always at the end of someone’s leash, whether it be Tarkin in Episode IV or the Emperor in Episode V and VI (with his leash getting progressively shorter and shorter as he continues to fail). In this movie, we see very little of Darth Vader, but what we do see is like something from a horror movie. Without a Ben Kenobi or Luke Skywalker to oppose him, Vader is the unchecked monster that no normal man can hope to stand up to. (Though some do try.) I find myself wishing Vader had been in the movie more, but I also realize that if he had, the heroes of Rogue One would have stood no chance against him. The final few minutes of the movie feature a Darth Vader scene that is one of the most gripping and terrifying and beautiful scenes from any Star Wars movie. The scene left me with goosebumps even as I left the theater.

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Finally, A Villain Whose Name Doesn’t Start With Darth

Let’s be honest, besides Darth Vader, are there any good Star Wars villains? You could start listing any number from the now defunct Extended Universe books: Grand Admiral Thrawn, Talon Karrde, Mara Jade, and Prince Xizor. But when it comes to the movies, who are there? Darth Vader (of course), Darth Sidious (the Emperor), Darth Maul (he has a really cool lightsaber!)… General Grevious (maybe)… Boba Fett? (but let’s be honest, his screen presence and failures leave much to be desired).

Star Wars is a film franchise that has one primary villain: Darth Vader. You could argue, that the entire Star Wars series is the story of Vader.

ben_mendelsohn_rogue_oneRogue One introduces a new villain and he is delightful. Admiral Orson Krennic, is a manipulative and squirrely villain. He is brought perfectly to life by Ben Mendelsohn and he is a villain that you immediately love to hate. He is not as physically opposing as Darth Vader, but Krennic possesses a shrewd and cunning intellect, along with a desperate desire to please the Emperor and rise up in the Imperial ranks. Which makes him a dangerous and volatile mixture for our mortal soldiers of the Rebellion.

A Diverse Cast of Characters

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Probably my biggest complaint leading up to seeing Rogue One was, “Where are the aliens?” I wanted the cast of Rogue One to feature Twi’leks and Bothans or any of the other exceedingly exorbitant amount of alien species that the Star Wars universe possesses. However, after seeing the movie, I respect the filmmakers choice to feature humans of different races. Especially in the current climate of social and regional tensions, it was inspiring to see a team composed of Asians, Pakistanis, Mexicans, and Whites all working together. I’m sure Star Wars fans of color felt vindicated by being finally represented in the universe they love. It’s also empowering to see humans being active and fighting for what they believe in. It may have been easy to emotionally disconnect if Jyn was a Mon Calamari fighting for her beliefs.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Felicity Jones) Ph: Film Frame ©Lucasfilm LFLAh, Jyn Erso.

I was surprised to find so much controversy surrounding this character. If you do not already know, there were extensive reshoots done of Rogue One. Just compare the very first Rogue One advertisement with the final product and you will find certain scenes, pieces of dialogues, and characterization is missing from the plot. And it would seem that Jyn Erso’s character took the brunt of the reshoot blow. She does not seem as abrasive or nonchalant as she did in the original trailers. Why is this? No one really knows.  Maybe some deleted scenes or extra content on the blu-ray release will tell us all more.

I am happy that Star Wars is continuing to feature strong female characters after Episode VII. Reshoot drama or not, Jyn leads a group of men to save the galaxy in a very Joan of Arc kind of way.

I will say I was not happy with the end of the movie when she had to be saved from Krennic by Cassian. The entire movie has followed her brave and heroic decisions, and then she gets saved by a man from the man she should have gotten the final blow on. Seems like a missed opportunity for character development to me.

Everyone Has A Role To Play

(You really should skip this section if you don’t want the movie to be spoiled.)

rogue-one-baze-chirrut-ogWith such a large cast of characters, it is hard to fully develop them all within the 133 minute time frame. However, each of the main characters undergoes some sort of change and become better for it. Along with undergoing some sort of change, each character has a specific purpose to play in their mission’s success. Bodhi overcomes his fear to link up the communication relay to get the Death Star plans sent out, Chirrut overcomes the obstacle of his blindness to turn the relay on, and K-2S0 sacrifices himself for organics that he seemingly couldn’t care less about. Each character had a mission and an obstacle in front of them and they overcame that obstacle to complete their mission. Then, they died.

bodhi-star-wars-rogue-one-battle-of-scarifWhile it’s certainly sobering to spend two hours falling in love with these heroes only to see them snuffed out by the Empire, it really does hammer home the point of how desperate struggle against the Empire that I mentioned before. I think it also poetically suggests that we all have a role to play. Each one of us. Even if it is as simple as flipping a switch or plugging in a communication cable, we are each part of something bigger and worthwhile. It also goes to show us that our little efforts when combined with our fellows can accomplish something great, even in the face of whatever force that is trying to keep us from it.

The Problem With Saw Gerrera 

All of Rogue One was excellent, save for one very strange tandem that the team followed at the beginning of the movie. That tandem involved Saw Gerrera. If you are a big Star Wars fan, you probably recognize Saw from the few episode of The Clone Wars that he was featured on. People were very excited to see a character making the jump from the small screen to the big screen, and about the possibilities it could mean for different fan-favorite characters.

But I feel the hype surrounding Saw’s inclusion in the movie was overdone.

downloadHis role in the movie is surprisingly minimal. He saves Jyn as a child, has some sort of connection with her parents (off-screen), trained her to be a soldier (off-screen), and then gives her a message from her father before dying. It seems Saw’s greatest contributions to this story were off-screen (which I’m sure there will soon be a book about if there isn’t already one being written).

The entire sequence in Saw’s hideout on Jedha seemed out of place to me. The heroes could have easily rescued Bodhi from a prisoner transport or execution center, whether than wasting screen time introducing a bizarre and uninteresting character. Also, what was with the tentacle monster? What was it called? Boutros Boutros-Ghali? It was just a bizarre part of the movie and didn’t feel Star Wars-y to me at all. The movie could have done without that entire plot line.

The Fan Service

This movie features some amazing CGI and brings Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia straight from 1977 into the present. I found myself straining my eyes in disbelief when I first saw Tarkin. I thought, “I know Peter Cushing is dead, but that’s him!” Amazing work.

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Also, I was giddy to no end at the remastered and unused 1977 footage of Rebel pilots being inserted into the movie. I feel this was the perfect movie to both honor and set some background information on Episode IV.

The Acting

Star Wars continues to knock it out of the park with casting its characters. Alan Tudyk voices a wonderfully snarky K-2S0 and Donnie Yen created a wonderful addition to memorable Star Wars characters. I had never heard of Diego Luna or Riz Ahmed, but I was very impressed with their portrayals of Cassian and Bodhi, respectively. A well-acted group of characters really helped this movie shine.

The Music

A Star Wars movie with no John Williams? Can such a thing be? Yes. Yes it can. Michael Giacchino composes the tracks for Rogue One. You may know him from the Star Trek movies and tons of others: Zootopia, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, and Super 8 to name a minimal few. A very prolific composer, Giacchino’s music is a welcome addition to the Star Wars universe. I love John Williams’ music, but I feel he retread a lot of old themes in Episode VII. Giacchino creates new music that feels immediately Star Wars and flirts ever so tenderly with Williams’ classic tunes, but only towards the end of the movie and in the most moderation.

The Kids

Is this movie appropriate for kids? Older children, yes.

While this is a Star Wars film, it is much darker than any other Star Wars film you have seen. The heroes die and Cassian exhibits some questionable wartime ethics. This is a great movie, but I would caution against taking younger Star Wars fans to it. Consider taking your older fans with you, preteens and up.

The Grade

Rogue One had a lot riding on it. It was a daring experiment to reach outside of the normal Star Wars lineage of Jedi and Force-imbued heroes to tell a gritty Vietnam-inspired story of everyday heroes and a desperate Rebellion.

And it worked.

It is not a perfect movie, but it is one of the greatest Star Wars films and is just a great film by itself. I have read comments and heard testimonies from plenty of people being drawn into Star Wars by this movie.

I give Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, a grade of…

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Well, there you have it! My review of Rogue One! I thoroughly enjoyed this movie, maybe even more than Episode VII. Did you catch those subtle Star Wars Rebels references? What are your thoughts? Do you, like me, hope that the Han Solo movie and Episode VIII are as good as this one? Or maybe you’re holding out hope, also like me, that there will be a Ben Kenobi movie announced starring Ewan McGregor? One can only hope in The Force.

Let me know your thoughts in the comments below.

 

leia_leftPS – In light of yesterday’s tragic news, I cannot even think about Star Wars without mourning the loss of Carrie Fischer. There have been a lot of beloved celebrity deaths this year, but none have hit me as hard as this one. Carrie Fischer was many things for many people, and to me she will always be my Number One Princess. Rest in peace, Carrie.

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