Contained here are my thoughts on the new film Rouge One: A Star Wars Story, released December 16, 2016. Set between episodes III and IV, Rogue One is the latest in the Star Wars film franchise and focuses on Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she and a group of Rebels go on a suicide mission to steal the plans for the Empire’s newest weapon, the Death Star.
I really liked Rogue One, but it is not without its faults. For the winter season, it was a great action movie to get the blood flowing and keep excitement about the Star Wars universe going, not that it needs help. It had some of the best action sequences in the series and gave cool new perspectives on elements like the Rebel Alliance, the way non-Jedi look at the Force, and the Imperial power struggle. This said, there were some elements that left something to be desired. I won’t be ruining the whole movie, but there are some spoilers ahead!
A Story We’ve Heard Before
In terms of story, I would compare this to Seven Samurai/Magnificent Seven, despite our main team being 6 characters. You get a small mismatched group of characters with a variety of different skills together to do a suicide mission (figure out how to stop the Death Star) in order to protect a group of underprepared people (the entire galaxy) from total annihilation. Much like the newest version of The Magnificent Seven, we are introduced to most of our characters fairly quickly, given a sense of their personalities and their quirks, their general mission or track, and not much else.
Seems like a good point to talk about characters. Look, I love Star Wars and I think it has some of the most iconic characters, some of them even show up in this movie, but the cast of this film is largely forgettable. Yes, there are awesome character moments like watching the interactions between Donnie Yen’s Chirrut and Jiang Wen’s Baze who each have radically different personalities and fighting styles, yet share this deep connection to one another that is easy to miss at surface level, but providing almost no backstory for your characters removes a layer of connection from them to a certain degree. Chirrut and Baze get this treatment the worst since we are simply told that they were guardians of the Church of the Force, but are provided nothing else about them.
Felicity Jones’ Jyn, while competently portrayed, felt like half of a character. Yes, we know she is capable of things because they show what she can do, but about her time fighting with Saw and his guerrilla anti-Imperial resistance? It’s mentioned she was one of Saw’s best warriors, but we don’t know how or why she was captured. Show us more of that. On that topic, Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera seemed misplaced in the film and felt wasted. It’s pretty clear that he was another character before and was just changed to create links to the canon animated Star Wars properties.
Diego Luna’s Cassian is interesting to me, not because of his character in the story, but because of his actions. In his “Han shot first” moment, as well as when he is given the mission to kill rather than capture the groups target, we are shown the Rebellion operating in the moral gray zone. For me, this was more important than almost any aspect of character building. For years in Star Wars, the Empire always represented the most evil of evil, and the Rebellion were always portrayed as morally righteous and good to a fault. Through Cassian, we are shown a Rebellion willing to shoot its informants in the back and kill potential allies to save its skin. While it would have been interesting to learn more about the things that he lost, mentioned in passing during an argument, I do applaud using him to convey the lengths the Rebellion was willing to go in combatting the Empire.
This brings me to the defector, Bodhi, portrayed by Riz Ahmed. Maybe not the most nuanced approach, but I did enjoy the somewhat reluctant Empire cargo pilot turned Rebel’s story, though it would have been interesting to have him expand on his relationship with Galen Erso, and why he would be trusted to get the message to Saw. Watching him grow into his role as a Rebel intrigued me, and watching him stumble through finding his voice was relatable. Also, I did a little reading to find the meaning of his name. Bohdi can mean enlightenment or awakening.
K-2SO was another fun droid who I don’t have so much to say about. Many people found him funny, some folks felt like he was the only character they related to, for me he was kind of meh. Not that he was bad, I just didn’t think he was as special as I had hoped he would be.
On the side of the Empire, Ben Mendelsohn did a great job as Orson Krennic. I felt that his desires and ambitions were conveyed nicely, and he had a snake like charm to him in some scenes. Despite the horrors of his actions, his desire to be recognized for his work was relatable and his feeling betrayed both by someone he thought a friend and the organization he cares about were both understandable, though flawed. I personally felt that Mendelsohn gave one of the films stronger performances and makes me want to read Catalyst to learn more about his relationship with Galen and rivalry with Tarkin.
I guess I’ll end with this: Poor Mads Mikkelsen. What’s the point of being a great actor if you’re not used? He didn’t actually need to be in the film outside of his hologram. I guess you could argue that Galen’s death strengthened Jyn’s resolve, but I still feel like that could have been achieved through his hologram. His inclusion felt like it was only there to create an unnecessary action beat leading towards the climax. In short, he wasn’t bad, just unnecessary.
The Ugly: The Uncanny Valley
“In aesthetics, the uncanny valley is the hypothesis that human replicas that appear almost, but not exactly, like real human beings elicit feelings of eeriness and revulsion among some observers.” (Thanks, Wikipedia!) Ok, so I love wanting to connect this directly to A New Hope, but you don’t need to CGI people back to life. Based on my understanding of Catalyst, Tarkin’s rivalry with Krennic in regards to the Death Star is a big deal and goes back a long way. I don’t have an issue with the inclusion of the character in the film, but creepily digitally sewing a deadman’s face onto someone’s body is going too far. In this same vein, doing this same digital facial reconstruction to have a young Leia on screen was unnecessary.
The Bad: Winking at the Audience
I’m all for cameos and easter eggs, I eat them up, but C-3PO and R2-D2 felt ham-fisted into the scene they were in and could have easily been a piece of the ending of the film. Winking at the audience can be a cool thing, but you have to do it the right way and it needs to feel unobtrusive. Something said over the intercom in the background, a ship in a large space battle, a droid rolling around the base, or even a container of blue milk on a counter, none of these examples take you out of the film like the jarring inclusion of characters who don’t need to be prominently displayed. Pandering to your fan base and continually going “wink-wink, nudge-nudge” isn’t endearing, it’s lazy.
Also Bad: When Hope is Not Enough
I’m not going to say a lot about this, but some of the dialogue was stilted, oddly written, and in some cases—Forest, I’m looking at you—was delivered in the strangest ways. This also extends to some of the speeches. The word “hope” just getting tossed around. Look, we know that A New Hope is up next, but we did not need to keep getting beat over the head with “hope.” It also felt like no one quite had the gravitas to inspire any of the members of the Rebel Alliance.
The Good: Our cruisers can’t repel firepower of that magnitude!
The battles are what I was most excited for in this film, and for me, they did not disappoint. Honestly, I didn’t go into this film for an expansion of the canon, I wanted to watch the war because until now we have just been shown glimpses from very specific perspectives shielded from the horrors of the front-line.
The fight in Jedha City, the skirmish on the beaches of Skarif, and the space battle above the planet all stand out to me. Being able to see Chirrut pull out some martial arts was fantastic, and I love the choice to keep him grounded, rather than having him flip about like the wire-Fu influenced prequel trilogy Jedi fights. I do know it is a bit ridiculous that a man with a stick could beat up a whole bunch of people in armored suits, but it was cool.
The scenes on Skarif kept reminding me Saving Private Ryan and the D-Day Normandy landing scene. Not a whole lot to go into there, but I loved how down and dirty the fight was, as well as how overwhelming and impossible the odds of victory were for the Rebel forces. The final space battles were also some of my favorites in the Star Wars continuity. Also, watching them use one of the hammerhead ships, which they had acquired on the TV show Rebels, to push one disabled Star Destroyer into another is one of the coolest things in the Star Wars films.
From that perspective, the filming of this movie was so different from the saga films. I loved the ground level perspective, the way the camera moved, as well as the shifts in focus. From a visual standpoint, it made you feel like you were on the inside of the conflict and gave you a great sense of scale when looking at the battles. That moment when th AT-ACT comes through the smoke, looming over the battlefield was terryifying and underlined just how small a single person is on the Star Wars battlefields.
I’d also be remiss if I did not mention how beautifully done the creatures were done for this film, as well as how “era-appropriate” the vehicles looked. Much like The Force Awakens, so much care was put into ensuring that these elements were perfect.
Also Good: Lord Vader
Some of the best Darth Vader action, and, fuck the haters, I loved his “choke” pun. I also loved the deep cut of having Vader’s castle, originally shown in Ralph McQuarrie’s artwork, make an appearance here, and that it is located on Mustafar, where he basically killed his wife, lost his limbs, caught on fire, and was left to die.
Conclusion: I Am One With the Force and The Force Is With Me
Look, no movie is without its flaws, and Rogue One isn’t perfect. The characters, dialogue, and story all leave much to be desired, but the action, setting, and filming help it stand out in the Star Wars canon. For those looking for a gritty look at events in the universe, this can be a fun, though somewhat depressing, ride. If you like the more magical side of Star Wars this may not be for you. In terms of blockbusters, it get’s the job done. It is competent and does a good job at holding your interest without making you think too much. It has some fantastic action set pieces and, from the perspective of technology and visual design, does the best job of replicating the feel of the original trilogy.
Some more time spent on developing the characters and their arcs, as well as giving the story a more original flair could have taken this from being a good movie to being a great movie. Disney has said that this film would serve as an experiment to help them see if they would do more of these “stand alone” stories. Based on the incredibly impressive initial numbers, it looks like that was a success and we will be getting more of these, I just hope they will focus as much on writing compelling characters and stories as they do on creating fantastic vehicles, creatures, and battles.
So what are your thoughts? Was the Force strong with this one? Or should it have gone to Tosche Station to pick up some power converters? Feel free to comment below!