Published on December 16th, 2016 | by Craig Silliphant0
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
The first Star Wars spin off is more a prequel. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is box office boffo — is it any good?
This review will be spoiler free, until the bottom section, where you will get fair warning.
So far, I’ve heard opinions and read reviews on Rogue One: A Star Wars Story that swing wildly back and forth like a drunken Jedi waving a lightsaber around. Some people think the movie is a stellar addition to the canon; some are going to great pains to diss it. The truth lies somewhere in between, as it usually does. Anyone dumping on it with such fervour is either just being contrarian (probably for click bait) or they don’t know how to have fun. And anyone over-praising the movie is willfully ignoring its obvious flaws. The honest take: the movie does indeed have some serious issues as a film, but it’s still a really engaging Star Wars movie.
Rogue One takes place immediately before Star Wars ‘77 (Stubbornly, I still kind of refuse to call it A New Hope), feeling more like a prequel than the spin off it was touted as. This is the tale of how Princess Leia got the Death Star plans she fed to R2-D2 at the beginning of Star Wars. Jyn Erso is (yet another) displaced orphan, whose father designed the Death Star, the Empire’s super weapon. As the Death Star nears completion, Erso is drawn into the conflict while the Rebel Alliance nears its now or never moment. We know how this movie is going to end, but they still manage to find some surprises along the way.
This is a darker Star Wars than we’ve seen before; it’s not the light-hearted space opera romp through bright colours, kooky saxophone-playing aliens, and mostly good-natured protagonists. Director Gareth Edwards is telling a down-in-the-dirty-trenches war movie, echoing everything from WW II films to what we see with modern military conflicts. There has long been the thought/joke that if you’re honest, the Rebel Alliance are actually terrorists attacking the status quo, but they’ve never felt closer to being Taliban than in this movie.
In fact, one of the themes that emerges is, how far should one go to complete their task? What lines do you cross in doing what you think is right? The Star Wars universe has always been very black and white, good versus evil, but now the lines are blurrier. The early proto-Rebels are killers, assassins, and saboteurs. This is a brilliant subversion of movie logic and blockbuster rules and one of the smartest things about the film. It also works on both sides of the conflict. There is the more obviously questionable character of Cassian Andor as well as some of the generals behind the Rebellion. But you also generate some empathy for the Imperial bureaucrat, Director Krennic, who seems to take shit from all sides like a true middle manager. I thought all of these themes made the movie feel more modern, like Rogue One maybe had something to say.
Too bad that many of those notes are buried behind the shield wall, however, so you’re getting general impressions rather than a clear transmission. While most of the action, both on the ground and in the space battles, is suitably epic, there is almost a fatiguing amount of it. Or at least, there’s not a good balance with other important elements — for example, there’s very little character development. We are introduced to Jyn Erso and this group of misfits she’s surrounded by, but we don’t really learn much about any of them. They all have defining traits, and I would have liked to get to know them better, but sometimes the movie becomes too concerned with MacGuffins like, ‘getting to that uplink tower,’ or ‘pressing that button,’ or ‘pushing that lever! Hurry!’ Yes, these have always been action movies, but they have endured because of their characters and the arcs they take over each movie or trilogy.
The casting helps the character issues to a degree; Donnie Yen stands out as the blind kung fu force wielder (he’s not a Jedi), Ben Mendelsohn is amazing as always, having Mads Mikkelsen in anything helps, and Alan Tudyk provides some comic relief as the robot that tells it like it is, K-2SO. On the flipside, one important CGI character was pretty terrible, which has the effect of grabbing you by the shirt collar and pulling you right out of the movie. It was a cool idea, but guys, if we’re not there yet technologically, don’t put it up on a giant theatre screen.
The other thing that pulled me out of the movie too often was the excessive the fan service cameos. Yes, it’s fun when you stick someone in there that we recognize, but it gets disruptive when it’s overdone. Being meta can be cool, but tell me a story and quit winking at me constantly. This is really a problem with a lot of tent pole franchises these days. (As a side note, the inclusion of someone like Vader makes a lot of sense, in fact, he could have been a bigger part of this movie. He was a major player with the Empire at the time. I don’t want to say too much, but there’s one Vader sequence that will bring you to nerdgasm).
Am I now sounding more negative than I made out at the start? I’m not meaning to. It’s easy to pick this thing apart because I love Star Wars and my mind races when I see a movie like this, so don’t take all my nitpicky little criticisms as damnation. As I said, there’s some good and some bad in this movie, and overall, it was a thrilling entry into the series with a lot of heart and some clever, subversive themes. I enjoyed the movie quite a bit, both as a Star Wars movie, and as a war film.
Rogue One offers us a different tone on the universe we know and love. People might think it’s silly that Disney will be pumping out a new Star Wars movie every year, but as someone who grew up in an age where we only had one (then finally two, then finally three), it will take a lot more stagnant creativity and a poor track record to make me sick of them. Like the James Bond series over time or the different genres they mix into the Marvel movies, there are plenty of angles that these franchises can take. Some iterations of James Bond are rubbish, and even some Bond films within certain eras are less than stellar (Quantum of Solace, anyone?), but we don’t call for 007’s head. Once the suits at Disney really set their creative teams loose from the constraints of having the story revolve around the Skywalker family, they’ll be free to truly explore. Star Wars has proven itself to be a big galaxy, where our imaginations can soar through at lightspeed, having all manner of amazing adventures along the way.
SPOILERS (and minor observations)
They haven’t really given us a spin off here, so I’d still like to see someone really take ownership of their own story. This is Episode 3.5. Some are saying they could have gone anywhere in this galaxy and instead they give us exposition to a movie we already have. I actually thought that they’d explore a true spin off more after re-establishing things for the fans and new audiences with the fun, but safe The Force Awakens. But the other side of that opinion is that this is also just armchair producing. So shut up. They made the movie that they made. You just need to decide if you like the movie they did decide to make.
Those Star Destroyers crashing into each other was the coolest thing since the space battle at the start of Revenge of the Sith.
Seriously, CGI Tarkin was a cool idea, but it looked terrible. Leia looked weird too, but at least she was on screen for just a brief moment. They could have used Vader more instead of Tarkin. Again, he’s a character we love that anyone can play, as long as James Earl Jones is alive to do the voice, and it makes sense that he’d be a major player in this time period. #gimmievader
Even though you know where the movie is going, having all the main characters die was great for the element of surprise. I wonder if a lot of people won’t like this, but I think it really makes for a different kind of Star Wars movie, and makes the cost of the rebellion seem much more real. And again, it really upends blockbuster rules, which I love.
The blue milk cameo, amirite? Now, that was a good subtle cameo. Is blue milk a big thing in this galaxy? Not just a Tatooine farm staple, apparently. A big, well marketed corporation? Got Blue Milk?
I said that the Rebels have never felt more like the Taliban than in this movie. The Alt-right Nazi contingent have been made uncomfortable by this movie, where a woman leads an international cast against a bunch of old, exploitive white men. They want to boycott it with their #dumpstarwars campaign — yeah, good luck with that. With a projected $150 million opening, it looks like “Rogue Won.” These boycotts never work (as in the case with religious nuts boycotting Harry Potter because it’s witchcraft). They just draw more marketing attention to the movies.