OK, now that I’ve finally seen Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, it’s time to do what I always do with Star Wars movies: dissect the living shit out of them. 😉 In case you’re not familiar, this movie is a prequel to the first Star Wars movie ever made, A New Hope. In that movie, the Rebel Alliance uses technical readouts of the Galactic Empire’s massive battle station, the Death Star, in order to destroy it. Rogue One tells the story of how they stole the plans in the first place. It is the first of at least three planned Star Wars Anthology movies, which will take place outside of the traditional “episodes” and depict different events in Star Wars lore.
As such, one could imagine that the filmmakers wanted this movie to stake out its own ground among Star Wars movies, and Rogue One does exactly that. I mentioned last year that The Force Awakens had a sort of modernistic sheen that didn’t exist in prior movies, but Rogue One breaks much more with tradition. I’ve heard it described as a “WWII movie in the Star Wars universe,” and I think that’s apt. It had the feel of a war movie much more than any of the previous entries in the saga. The movie centered on epic battles in space and on the ground (the space battle is one of the alltime best in my mind). In addition, it was grittier, darker, and above all, faster. There are some pacing issues at the beginning of the movie, but once it gears up, it moves at a faster pace than any to come before it. So fast, in fact, that I feel like I need to see it again not only because I traditionally see Star Wars movies multiple times in theaters, but because I want to see if I missed any key details. The movie also packs in a tremendous amount of action while moving at its breakneck pace. This different feel, in my mind, was exactly what the Star Wars franchise needed. After the giant nostalgia trip that was The Force Awakens, this served as an excellent proper introduction to the new landscape of the Star Wars universe.
In keeping with this theme, there’s also several staples of Star Wars movies that you won’t see in Rogue One. For instance, there are no Jedi characters, and very little discussion of the Force or Jedi philosophy. The movie does pay a weird kind of lip service to the concept in the form of Chirrut Îmwe, played by Donnie Yen. Îmwe, while not a Jedi himself (or even a Force-user, as it appears), is a blind warrior (already somewhat unbelievable) who reveres the Jedi and subscribes to their philosophy. So, he isn’t a Force-user, doesn’t wield a lightsaber, and isn’t really as interesting as the Jedi. Oh, and he walks around constantly chanting to an annoying degree. I found his character easily the least likable.
Which brings me to another of my issues. Star Wars has always thrived on its multifaceted and compelling characters, that the audience can bond with on their travels through space. Rogue One had precious little of that. Even the main character, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), felt rather underdeveloped. I came perilously close to not caring what happened to her by the end, to say nothing of the band of rebels she assembles around her. Rebel extremist Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) was also a missed opportunity in the character department. He was portrayed as a Rebel extremist, almost akin to a mirror image of Darth Vader. I think he would’ve been a very interesting way to explore moral gray areas, or could’ve been made into an interesting antihero. Sadly, neither of these happened. Now, I can forgive this somewhat, because war movies typically don’t develop deep characters so it’s easier to kill them off at the end, as Rogue One did with most everyone.
That said, the one character that did feel well-conceived was Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), who departed somewhat from the “hard and unforgiving Imperial” motif, and provided us with a different point of view of the Empire. The droid K2-SO provided excellent comic relief too. Alan Tudyk delivered his lines with the same sort of dry and witty comedic style that made him beloved as the pilot Wash in the Firefly ‘verse. The filmmakers even digitally recreated Peter Cushing as Grand Moff Tarkin, and did a fantastic job. I was a little worried about it when I heard that detail before I saw the movie, because I was afraid that it would be so obviously artificial that it would take me out of the action. The only time that really happened is when the character turned his body, but even that wasn’t too bad. They also painstakingly recreated his voice using a blend of voice acting and archival audio. I wonder if they’ll do similar stuff like this in the future.
Other classic characters make appearances, such as Jimmy Smits as Bail Organa. Genevieve O’Reilly reprises her (ultimately deleted) role as Mon Mothma from Revenge of the Sith. The filmmakers went to great lengths to reconstruct the world of the original trilogy, and did a great job with that as well.
And that ending. OH that ending.
While it wasn’t that surprising, the ending was sort of an elbow in the ribs to the audience, a reminder that, although this is a different movie, we are still very much in the Star Wars universe. Darth Vader (who I wish had been in the movie more) ignites his lightsaber and starts cutting through Rebel soldiers like a hot knife through butter, and they scramble to relay the Death Star data tape to Princess Leia, who is also digitally reconstructed. Leia speaks the last line of the movie, and the plot leads right up to the last minutes or hours before A New Hope starts. The final confrontation between Krennic, Erso, and Cassian Andor is also well done.
My only other real beef with the film is the soundtrack. Michael Giacchino got the unfortunate task of being the composer everyone will compare to the incomparable John Williams (with only about four weeks to write the score, no less). Williams’s Star Wars soundtracks are so engaging that they almost become another character in their films. Giacchino’s soundtrack felt much more “boilerplate action movie” -ish, and I hope that isn’t a sign of things to come when the 84-year-old Williams finally sloughs off the mortal coil.
Ultimately, Rogue One didn’t resonate with me quite the same way as The Force Awakens did, probably because we didn’t have as long a layoff between films, and I’m not a big war movie buff. But it definitely is worthy of the Star Wars name, and whets my appetite for Episode VIII next year.