Today I’m going to give my two cents on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. Obviously I will essentially spoil the entire film and if you’re a person who can’t handle criticism of Star Wars, read no further.
Rogue One’s entire premise hinges on the viewer entering the theater adhering to the following:
- Has seen every Star Wars movie, including the prequels
- Has a decent understanding of A New Hope’s plot & finale
- Is keeping an open mind about an unfamiliar primary cast
Many people have been waiting for a Star Wars movie like Rogue One for a long time, and in some regards it delivers. In others it falls woefully short. I’ve seen it twice – once in IMAX, the other a standard theater – and each experience was drastically different.
Rogue One let us play with our action figures one more time. There was no shortage of cool in RO, especially as pertains to the crafts: X-Wings, TIE Fighters, Star Destroyers, Y-Wings, and different spins on Storm Troopers, AT-ATs, etc. All of our favorite toys were out there in grungy CG fighting one another again, and it felt great, especially in IMAX. While the Falcon will always have many of our hearts, getting more of those space/ground battles with Star Wars tech felt like something we’d been owed since Return of the Jedi.
The prequels flipped the script on the hardware, giving fans shiny smooth crafts that were devoid of personality, age, and use. Nothing about them felt like they had human interaction and further reflected the loss of focus that those movies so badly suffered from.
The Force Awakens kept a great deal of the original trilogy’s hardware in mind, but gave us a few new vehicles that felt more appropriate given the aesthetic of episodes IV/V/VI.
Rogue One, however, being stuck between Revenge of the Sith & A New Hope had to essentially pick a lane, and since the prequels are now considered an embarrassment the choice was logical. Director Gareth Edwards put all of his (and our) favorite ships possible out there, adding small newer vessels in that were interesting and inoffensive.
It felt, especially in IMAX, like I was a kid in my buddy’s backyard playing with our Star Wars toys all over again. At least it did the first time…
There was a major plot hole resolved. A New Hope had its fair share of storytelling gaffes (like most movies), but one thing that always stuck in the craw of fans was why the Death Star would have such a weakness built into it in the first place. Luke, aided by the Force, plops a couple proton torpedoes into a ventilation shaft and seconds later – poof. No more Death Star. RO’s backstory finally expands this strange weakness into the methodical sabotage of a reluctant and brilliant engineer.
We got to meet at least 3 interesting new characters. Even though everybody dies (and I mean that almost literally, in terms of the primary cast), we were introduced to three characters that held my interest in both viewings:
- Chirrut Îmwe, a blind warrior who, while not a Jedi himself, is deeply in touch with the Force.
- Baze Malbus, a ‘heavy’ soldier and good friend of Îmwe, despite not being as convinced regarding the will of the Force.
- K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid who now sassily co-adventures with the Rebels under Cassian’s command.
While none of these characters are leads, they are what keeps the movie interesting (at least for me), adding some humor, color, and emotion to what is an otherwise flavorless journey of our main protagonists.
The IMAX experience of Rogue One is great. While there was nothing spectacular about the 3D aspect of the IMAX edition, the sound is phenomenal, and Rogue One suffers greatly without the IMAX audio. When I saw RO in a standard theater I felt like I had been spoiled by how wonderful the IMAX quality version was by comparison. If you have to see Rogue One only once, see it in 3D IMAX. The only other movie I can think of that suffers so tremendously from not having IMAX sound is Interstellar.
Darth Vader gets some dignity back. After the prequels essentially ruined everything about the Vader character, it was nice to see Vader, still recovering from his wounds years later on Mustafar, being as dangerous, powerful, and cunning as we all know him to truly be. While it was exhilarating to encourage his rampant slaughter of a handful of Rebel troops during the film’s finale, I would’ve preferred he also slew Crennic halfway through the plot instead of merely choking him a bit for his impudence. Part of why Vader was such a badass in the original trilogy was that he was unafraid of dealing out death to even his own subordinates.
WHAT DIDN’T WORK
Jyn Urso’s story was already better told in Inglorious Basterds. Let me explain:
- Jyn and her father Galen are the only characters given a backstory, and it works to some extent. We see that Galen wanted to live a peaceful life but his talents were required by the Empire to such a degree that Crennic was willing to exterminate his wife (and attempt to kidnap his daughter) if it meant getting Galen back into an Imperial uniform. Jyn apparently receives training at the hands of Saw Gerrera to be a skilled fighter & ne’er-do-well for several years before discovering her father not only is alive, but needs her to fulfill his vengeance. Several movie-days later she plays an integral part in foiling Crennic and transmitting the Rebellion the Death Star’s blueprints before she dies.
- Inglorious Basterds has a very similar story arc in the character of Shoshanna, who escapes the murderous clutches of Hans Landa, SS Agent of the Third Reich. She later single-handedly arranges the death of every prominent Nazi in her Paris theater.
Gareth Edwards is no Tarantino, sure, but I found these two characters so utterly comparable, from stem to stern, that I couldn’t help but compare them movie-to-movie. Inglorious Basterds is an infinitely better film than Rogue One, but these films serve extraordinarily different purposes and Felicity Jones has a minimal amount of screen presence that couldn’t take hold at any point in her performance of Jyn Urso.
Cassian was a stack of missteps & poorly cast. There is no weaker character in Rogue One than Cassian Andor, and no weaker performance from anyone more than Diego Luna. At no point during Rogue One’s 133 minutes does Cassian feel essential, well thought out, or emotionally stimulating. He is written poorly, acted thinly, and given the vaguest of motivations. I kept waiting for them to show us a montage of his past and give the audience a reason why he’s so cold, why he does what he does on behalf of the Rebellion, or any excuse at all to care. The fact they shoehorned a gentle romantic relationship between Cassian & Jyn was laughable. It’s like they had no other ideas, so they just figured “screw it, have them be attracted to one another…sorta. Maybe. Whatever, film it.”
Cassian Andor should have been a woman, and given much more personality. I feel like having Cassia (what I’m going to call her) be a brash and outspoken Rebel would have done way more to spice up the story line and give her and Jyn a more interesting and less obvious dynamic. It would’ve been awesome to see the two of them working together in the end in spite of their differences, giving us a small but familiar callback to the Han-Luke relationship of old. Instead we got two boring people with boring dialogue silently becoming friends and insinuating a romance that thankfully never culminates.
All the space combat, cool/familiar ships, and Darth Vader stuff only works once. Red Letter Media’s “Mr. Plinkett”/Mike Stoklasa got it right when he compared Rogue One’s fan service to icing on a cake – too much and it’s just sugar; you need the cake to be a balancing agent. Rogue One is all icing with very little cake, and all these familiar Original Trilogy beats made me giddy upon first viewing. The second time through, however, I found almost all of it cloying to the point of being distracting.
I found myself liking the movie way more in the first half when they were wandering through Jedha, blending action with pacing & bits of dialogue. When they blast off from the exploding planet, the story becomes extremely thin, and Edwards veils his uninteresting characters behind roaring hordes of TIE Fighters & the somewhat awkwardly easy dispatching of several Star Destroyers.
It felt…cheesey, somehow, and not nearly as fun as when I saw it originally. Maybe I’m unique in thinking this way, but that’s how I feel.
On the whole, Rogue One is a one-off lark through nostalgia, executed reasonably well and providing a fun initial viewing experience. It has no lasting power, however, and while I’m glad the movie was made, I’m glad The Force Awakens was nothing like it.
ANDY’S SCORE: 6.8/10