Posted on Friday, December 16th, 2016 by Ethan Anderton
The time has come for another Star Wars movie to hit theaters this weekend. It’s not quite as big of a deal as it was last year when Star Wars: The Force Awakens arrived, mostly since that was a movie that fans had wanted to see for 32 years. Meanwhile, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story has been dubbed an experiment to see how fans like a spin-off story that lies outside of the primary Star Wars saga episodes.
However, in the case of Rogue One, we’re dealing with a spin-off that has direct ties to the events of Star Wars: A New Hope. It’s a little bit of that familiar territory with a bunch of new elements, not unlike what J.J. Abrams did with Star Wars: The Force Awakens.
So how did Rogue One turn out after all of the troubling chatter about reshoots and whatnot? Well, our own Peter Sciretta already offered his spoiler-free thoughts on the movie, which you can read whether you’ve seen the movie or not, and David Chen also put forth his own video review. After the jump, I offer up some more thoughts on the movie, but beware of major spoilers from here on out.
Let’s start with the best things about Rogue One. First up, the action is some of the best the Star Wars saga has ever seen. It’s gritty, hard-hitting- intense, and once we get to the third act, it’s a non-stop ride until the end, one that leads directly into the opening moments of Star Wars: A New Hope in a way that gave me chills. From the dogfighting in space that includes from familiar faces in the cockpits from the first attack on the Death Star in A New Hope to the ground battle on Scarif where the entire Rogue One crew is trying to get the plans to the space station off the planet. It’s an all-out war between hordes of Imperial troops and just handful of Rebels willing to defy the wishes of the Alliance. It’s pure Star Wars through and through.
In addition, this is one of the most gorgeously shot Star Wars movies we’ve ever seen. Director Gareth Edwards and Greig Fraser frame all of the action masterfully, delivering breathtaking visuals, including some moments made for the biggest screen possible that give us a much better sense of the scale of the Death Star (and its destruction) than ever before. The visual style of this movie feels more in line with the original trilogy than any other Star Wars movie, immersing us in the turmoil of galaxy far, far away better than The Force Awakens ever did. It feels like a real story set in space rather than a movie desperately trying to be Star Wars (and that’s coming from someone who loves The Force Awakens).
Having said that, Rogue One‘s biggest shortcoming is that the assembly of characters who make up what becomes a rogue faction of Rebels aren’t nearly as endearing or engaging. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) gets the most investment of our time with regards to her backstory and laying out her motivations and arc. We only get hints of the rest of the characters, and it doesn’t quite feel like enough to make all of their deaths at the end of the movie feel as powerful as they should. The first act of the movie where we meet each character, which is a bit clunky and clumsy in the editing department, feels like it’s missing more proper introductions for our characters that might have fixed this problem. It’s just difficult to get invested or care about any of the Rogue One crew as much as you do about Rey, Finn, Poe or even Kylo Ren in The Force Awakens.
Relationship between these characters also feel half-baked and even forced at times. It seems like there should be a sense of camaraderie between Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and K-2So (Alan Tudyk) along the lines of Han Solo and Chewbacca, and while some of the humor is there, I don’t entirely buy that they’ve been working together for a little while. On the opposite end of the spectrum, the bond that Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) has feels rooted in mythology, a friendship that has existed for years. They might be the most complete and convincing characters with the most satisfying relationship in the entire movie.
Meanwhile, the bond that eventually builds between Jyn and Cassian doesn’t feel organic or earned in the least, nor does the former’s sudden decision to fully support the Rebellion rather than just walking around not caring about what happens. Any details we might get about Jyn’s past with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) that might inform her conflicted attitude about supporting the Rebellion before intercepting her father’s hologram message are left by the wayside. Because of that Saw Gerrera becomes a far less interesting and vital character than he should be, lacking any real definition beyond being a little stand-offish and paranoid, but serving no real purpose in the movie.
The two characters who work the best independently are Chirrut Imwe and K-2SO. They feel fully formed (even without their counterparts), bring moments of levity to an intense movie, and are easily some of the best new characters introduced to the franchise in this new era of Star Wars. Working a little less effectively than I was hoping is Director Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). While the trailers painted a portrait of an intimidating new Imperial officer, he’s nothing more than an ass-kissing follower who is only intimidating when he’s the highest-ranking person in the room. His conflict with Grand Moff Tarkin (played eerily and distractingly by a mix of visual effects, voice acting and a stand-in instead of the late Peter Cushing) doesn’t feel like it’s worth the dramatic efforts he’s putting into proving himself to the Emperor, especially when we know how casually menacing Tarkin can be.
As for the nostalgia factor, Darth Vader (voiced by James Earl Jones again) is used just enough to be effective. Hearing him speak properly again on the big screen gave me chills, even if he does throw out a stupid pun when he leaves Director Krennic gasping for breath. He ultimately redeems himself from that cheesy moment though when he plows through a regiment of Rebel troops on one of their transport ships, using his Force abilities to an extent that we’ve never seen displayed so effortlessly and powerfully before. It’s one of the all-time best moments this saga has ever seen, and it’s part of a larger sequence that tells you everything you’d ever want to know about the moments leading up the opening of Star Wars: A New Hope.
But one of the areas that’s most satisfying about Rogue One is how it delivers a Star Wars movie without feeding on our nostalgia in an overwhelming way. While I’ve watched The Force Awakens over a dozen times since it came out last year, there’s something about its nostalgia that feels a little disingenuous from time to time, like it’s pretending to be Star Wars instead of just being Star Wars. Rogue One never feels like that, even if it does take a little while to find its footing. And while it does include some references to A New Hope, only one feels shoehorned in there, and it’s the appearance of R2-D2 and C-3PO at a terrible time.
In the end, Rogue One succeeds in places where The Force Awakens stumbles, but it also falters where the Star Wars sequel succeeded in a far superior way. It’s tough for me to figure out exactly where to place it in an overall ranking, but that’s something the entire /Film crew will come together in determining early next week.
But now it’s your turn. What did you think of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? Did you love the new characters. How did you feel about the story? What about the action? Was this more satisfying than The Force Awakens? Sound off in the comments below!Cool Posts From Around the Web: