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Review – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

I’m going to cut to the chase here a bit.  I enjoyed it.  I have been more excited for this movie than I am for Episode 8, especially after how patronizingly fanservicy Episode 7 ended up being.  There are some dodgy bits, especially during the middle act, but it’s decent overall.

What Rogue One does the best, is being a good movie set in the Star Wars Universe.  Ok, sure, that’s what it is.  I get that.  What I mean though is, it’s not part of the “Main Saga”.  It’s a side story, like other classics such as The Ewok Adventure, Ewoks: The Battle for Endor, and of course, The Star Wars Christmas Special.  The environment and ascetics are definitely there on all levels.  The musical score isn’t super memorable, but it does fit the tone and some of the familiar themes show up here and there.  There’s even a few of the classic characters, though aside from one or two, they almost feel like cameos.

Anyway, after this point we’ll move into the spoiler section and some other more detailed thoughts.  You’ve been warned…

The Spoiler Section

A brief rundown in case you’re here and don’t care about spoilers, the movie follows Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), members of the rebel alliance (eventually) as they work with a rag tag group of other misfits to retried the Death Star plans for the Rebellion.  Jyn Erso is enlisted because she is the daughter of Galen Erso, who was lead designer of the Death Star, and Cassian Andor is just a rather ruthless Rebel mercenary.

This movie takes place before the original 1977 Star Wars movie, Episode 4, a New Hope.  It’s possible it takes place literally seconds to minutes before, though I’ll touch on that a bit later.  It doesn’t involve any Jedi, it doesn’t get it’s own opening crawl, it doesn’t center around any of the Skywalkers.  Most notable, as many have pointed out, none of these characters exist in the “Original Trilogy”, which also makes the ending a bit of a downer since well, everyone dies.

I’m rather glad they went this route though, trying to come up with some cheesy mechanic as to how say, Jyn survived but decided to go into hiding or something wouldn’t have worked as well.  There’s already some vague continuity issues with the job they did connecting this movie to Episode 4.

I’ll start with that connection, since it’s part of the bad of this movie in a few ways.  It’s also on the level of “nitpicky nerd shit” really.  The movie ends with the Tantive IV, Leia’s big white ship that we see in the opening to A New Hope blasting off into hyperspace with the Death Star Plans.  Just before this is Darth Vader, rampaging through a troop of familiar Rebel soldiers trying desperately to get the Plans onto the ship on a little data disc.  I know there have been some complaints about how Vader is a bad ass here while being “weak” later during his battle with Obi-Wan but Vader is also kind of a bad ass again later during Empire and Jedi, so if anything, A New Hope is and always has been the outlier in this whole Vader’s Power Level debate.

I’m more concerned with the need for a little flimsy data disc.  The entire climax of the film centers around needing to transmit the data up to the command ship, the command ship can’t just transmit it to the Tantive IV?  This may also be a bit of a Star Wars thing though, it’s a very odd mix of technology in it’s universe, some things are crazy advanced while others are downright primitive.

Anyway, the closing moments also give us Princess Leia on the ship.  A very, CGI Princess Leia.  It’s a very very good CGI Leia, but it’s definitely not real.  Which brings up another more major oddity.  Grand Moff Tarkin also appears in this movie.  Tarkin is the commander of the Death Star from Episode 4 who ultimately goes down with the ship… er… moon… whatever…  Since Peter Cushing, if he hadn’t already passed away, would be very old to reprise his role, they opted for a CGI Tarkin.  It’s very very close, like Leia, but it’s also clearly CGI.  He also shows up in the film a lot more than Leia’s 5 second appearance.  The movie centers around the rebels recovering the Death Star Plans, it makes sense that the guy who is in charge of the whole project were present during the film.  There are only a few other real noticeable characters from A New Hope, the two thugs from the Cantina, Dr Estibaz and Ponda Baba make a brief cameo, and the Rebel leader, Mon Mothma also makes an appearance, though instead of going CGI they just got a new actress to play her.

My biggest gripe with the film is most of it’s middle act.  There are a lot of “conveniences” which always feel like bad writing and feel like they are showing up more and more in films in general.  Basically what I mean is, in logical writing, Event X occurs because Action Y.  There are many moments where Event X happens, so that Action Y can happen, which makes things seem contrived and crap.  Most of this occurs during the scenes on Eadu.  They end up crash landing while trying to remain “under the radar”, something that feels like it would have made them more noticeable, but it doesn’t.

Cassian intends to assassinate Jyn’s father there, though Jyn is under the impression they are mounting a rescue operation.  It’s not super clear why the rebels would want to assassinate him since even if he weren’t already obviously trying to defect to the Rebels through previous actions, he would be an amazing source of information on the Empire’s new Death Star, since he, you know, designed it.  Killing him seems really reckless.  Conveniently, Cassian has a sniper rifle and Galen Erso happens to be in this random supply outpost AND he happens to have a need to come stand around on the upper deck while Cassian is waiting to shoot him.

Notice what I said about conveniences.

Turns out that Director Krennic, the movie’s protagonist who also has a knack for conveniently being everywhere our hero’s are, has also come to Eadu to discipline Erso’s troop for the data leak over the Death Star’s existence.

Logically, sniping Krennic, the guy who is sort of second in command of the Death Star would make a lot of since, but Cassian seems determined to shoot Galen.  Around the same time, the Rebels decide that since they can’t raise Cassian and his crew on the radio, they should scramble a bunch of starfighters to the planet.  More conveniences.  During the ensuing battle, Galen is accidentally killed by a rebel bomb.

The whole sequence of events just felt really… sloppy.

It felt like it was meant to create tension between Cassian and Jyn, the two main characters but that tension felt like it was just thrown away within a few hours time by the end of the movie.

This also touches on a complaint I have had with the Newer Star Trek films.  Space is big.  Like, really fucking big, even at the speed of light.  Yet lately space travel is, when convenient, treated like it’s a 5 second hop anywhere.  I mean we just had a short scene where our heroes were chilling in the ship during their flight to Eadu, now the Rebels are sending X-wings almost instantly to the place from Yavin?

The only other real complaint is that Saw Gerrera played by Forrest Whitaker is almost a non character for as much effort as they put into finding him and all of the plot mystery surrounding him.  He leaves way more unanswered questions about his background than he really should.

Enough complaints though, what’s good.  The visuals are good, really good.  Aside from  the two uncanny valley moments with Tarkin and Leia, all of the effects are top notch and really fit the world of the original trilogy well.  Little scuff marks here and there on background scenery, the odd ball layered outfits and clothing, the weird juxtaposition of fancy space technology with primitive technology.  It all does a very good job of feeling like Star Wars.

This film also, as a result does a good job of feeling like it’s paying homage to the original trilogy, without feeling so blatant about it the way Episode 7 was.  Where Episode 7 really played up the whole “hey look, here’s this thing you remember from A New Hope!”, Rogue One just does it, and it exists in the world, as if it’s part of the world, not as if it’s part of some barrage of Easter eggs you’re supposed to feel good about.

The cast is decent as well, though the characters are mostly one dimensional stereotypes.  As I mentioned right off, it’s hard to get too invested in them in the end, since they all bite it in the end.  Jyn and Cassian get the most characterization followed probably by Director Krennec or K-2SO.  K-2SO is to Cassian as Chewbacca is to Han Solo, he’s sort of his partner in crime, as a reprogrammed Imperial Droid.  He mostly exists to provide some comedy but serves his purpose in the plot.  Mostly he comes off as a really snarky C-3PO.  He definitely gets most of the best lines throughout the film.

There is also the pair of… I’m not sure what they were, former Jedi Temple guards or something, with Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yun) and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang).  These two join the crew about halfway through the film somewhat by happenstance and provide some on the ground support through a few battles.  Most notable is Chirrut Îmwe, who is basically a blind martial artist who very strongly believe in The Force.  This feels a little odd but consider that at this point in the time line, the Force has effectively been eradicated.  Order 66 was roughly 15-20 years previous and Obi-Wan is still in hiding and Luke Skywalker is busy farming moisture on Tatooine for his uncle.  He doesn’t seem to be Force Attuned like a Jedi but he’s very likely Force Sensitive.  He’s a fin character though like most of the secondary cast, pretty one dimension in scope.

The climactic battle around the Imperial archive is nicely done as well with plenty of good tension all around.  We get a lot of classic Star Wars vehicles and ships along with a few new ones.  The Rebels haven’t recruited Admiral Akbar apparently at this point since we get a different, fatter, bluer Mon Calamari in charge of the flagship.  There’s some cameos by Red and Gold leader from Episode 4, though their couple of scenes and lines just seem to be remixes of footage and voice lines from the Episode 4.  No sign of Wedge Antilles, which I have to say was a little disappointing, considering he’s the only pilot from the original trilogy to survive all three films.  Maybe they couldn’t decide which Wedge to use since he’s played by two different people in Episode 4.  It’s also possible I missed it.

I know it feels like the nitpicky negatives outnumber the positives but it’s a good movie.  I think mostly I’m still kind of off on this concept of spin off Star Wars movies.  I know there have been TV shows and books for ages, I’ve experienced both of them, but the whole spin off movie still seems weird.  Maybe after there have been a few more films they will feel more natural.  Though it’s possible that by that point I’ll be on Star Wars burn out mode.  I kind of wish Episode 7 had done this well in terms of flow, but Episode 7 also had a bit of a bigger role to fill, being the first Star Wars movie in 13 years, and trying to make up for the bad vibes that the last three films had left for everyone.

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