ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story
Director: Gareth Edwards
Writers: Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy, John Knoll, Gary Whitta
Stars: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Donnie Yen
Reviewing a movie like Rogue One off of one viewing is tricky for me. My expectations are usually high for movies like this, so it’s hard to separate those from the finished product on the first go-round. I love Star Wars - the original trilogy VHS set was watched into the ground in the DeAngelo house while I was growing up.
When The Force Awakens dropped last year, I was elated to see more of the Star Wars story explored – and finally with the original characters we all knew and loved from our childhood and not little kid versions of characters we love with bad dialogue, lots of political conversations, and CG effects (*cough* PREQUELS *cough*).
I know there are many camps when it comes to The Force Awakens (Some loved it, some absolutely hated it), but I thought JJ Abrams did one hell of a job threading the many needles put in front of him. First, it had to be a good movie on its own. Second, it had to introduce Star Wars to a new audience. Third, it had to introduce new characters to drive the story forward while servicing the old characters that everyone knew and loved. Fourth, it had to feel like old Star Wars and something new all at once. And the list goes on and on – I’m honestly just shocked that JJ didn’t go insane from the pressure of it all. Regardless, the force was with him. Not only did he make a Star Wars movie, he made one of the most successful and well-received movies of all time.
Even then, there’s still a contingent of die-hard Star Wars fans that insist the movie is just a bland rehash of A New Hope, which, on one level, it intentionally is. But it’s also much more – and, let’s be honest, it’s a more well-made and more entertaining version. I love A New Hope, but re-watching it today, it feels like a loosely stitched together student film – a lovable and entertaining one – but it certainly has its flaws. If you asked me which movie I wanted to watch now, I’d choose The Force Awakens 9 out of 10 times, as it’s insanely re-watchable and much more well-paced and structured, like a well oiled machine; however, I do see where some fans feel that something is missing while watching The Force Awakens. There’s a lovable dirty grit and even campiness to the Star Wars world in the original trilogy. The Force Awakens had some due to the embrace of practical effects, but still had some of the JJ Abrams sheen that he brings to every project. You could see the money on the screen, whereas A New Hope didn’t have that kind of budget, and that was part of its charm. Enter: Rogue One, which splits the difference and comes about as close to an old Star Wars movie as is possible these days, all while being something all its own and winking at fanboys until they’re blue in the face.
Don’t get me wrong, I liked Rogue One – quite a bit, actually. The characters were solid, the story was interesting, and it fixes more than one of the questionable plot points from A New Hope and fleshes out some of its lesser used characters in the process. In fact, I’d love to watch the two back to back to see how the story holds up…but for now, I just have the one viewing.
Like I said, the characters are great. Same goes with the actors performances. Yes, you wish you could have more time soaking in their backstories a bit, but that would make an already long movie just too damn long. Instead, with the exception of Jyn, you get just enough to hook you on each character and barely anything more. While I see Alan Tudyk’s K2SO being a hit with the kiddos (he certainly did have his chuckle-worthy moments), the stand-outs for me were Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor, who brings shades of grey into a rebel group previously thought of as shining white knights, and Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Îmwe, a charming blind Jedi that clings to the teachings of the force when the world around him has abandoned it. In fact, the best and most affecting relationship in the movie is between Chirrut and his friend (or lover?), Baze Malbus. Ben Mendelsohn also does an admirable job as the main antagonist – the evil and opportunistic Orson Krennic – despite far less screen time than needed.
Aside from the multitude of new characters introduced, they also have a ton of characters pop up from the original trilogy – some just for mere seconds, some for more meaty roles. Almost all of which are surprisingly obscure.
Also, I think it’s safe to say that Darth Vader’s cameo in the film is no secret due to the trailer footage. Without saying too much, they finally show why Vader was considered such a badass in the Star Wars universe in a scene that I will likely re-watch many times at home…more of that, please…MUCH more of that.
The writing and direction are also quite strong. If you followed the behind the scenes events leading up to the film’s release, you may be surprised at this, seeing as it was rumored that the final act was completely re-written and re-shot by a separate writer/director, Tony Gilroy. Either way, this seems to be one of the few cases where studio meddling was likely beneficial to the final product. I don’t particularly care how the chicken was cooked as long as it’s still finger lickin’ good.
Most importantly, Rogue One just feels like a story in the Star Wars universe. They cared about getting the littlest details right here, and it makes all the difference. Even though you know none of the main characters, all of the other details scream Star Wars, leaving you simultaneously nostalgic and feeling like you’re seeing something new. With that said, their focus on easter eggs and nods to the original trilogy is a bit of a double edged sword…
The movie rides the edge of too much fan service. There are so many references to the original trilogy and other Star Wars offshoot properties or even books that it becomes a bit dizzying. I’m sure there’s some super-nerd that caught everything and absolutely loved it, but some were so obscure that I question why they even made the references in the first place. My guess is that Disney was trying to get more of the die-hard Star Wars geeks that were still on the fence with the new movies back on board.
Second, the movie relies too heavily on the magic button/lever. There’s a lazy plot tool that writers use in Hollywood blockbusters where their characters need to just flip a nearby magic switch to accomplish a goal and move the plot forward. I believe this happens three times in Rogue One. I know it’s minor to some, but it’s lazy and annoying….and THREE TIMES??? Seriously?! You couldn’t complicate the process just the tiniest bit in one of those instances? (Flips magic lever - moves the review forward)
Finally, despite keeping heavily with the practical effects approach, some characters (I won’t say exactly who, but you’ll know) are digitally resurrected, due to the passing or aging of the actors who originally portrayed them. Sadly, the CG effects are so glaring in comparison to their surroundings that it feels like George Lucas is plopping CG characters in his old movies again, i.e. Jabba the Hut in the restored version of A New Hope. P.S. – can we finally get the original un-restored/edited/George Lucas-ed versions released on DVD/Blu-Ray??? C’Mon Disney, it’s free money.
While it’s no Empire Strikes Back when it comes to masterful Star Wars storytelling or The Force Awakens when it comes to pure fun and re-watchability, Rogue One still establishes itself as one of the better films in the Star Wars universe due to its strong characters and the depth it adds to the original trilogy while very much standing alone as its own film.
Current Rotten Tomatoes Score: 84%
Current IMDB Score: 8.3 out of 10
My Score: 8.5 out of 10
Finally, if it helps you judge how you’ll like the movie by comparing our tastes, here’s my current ranking of the Star Wars films, from best to Phantom Menace:
1.) The Empire Strikes Back (Episode V)
2.) The Force Awakens (Episode VII)
3.) Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
4.) A New Hope (Episode IV)
5.) Return of the Jedi (Episode VI)
6.) Revenge of the Sith (Episode III)
7.) Attack of the Clones (Episode II)
8.) The Phantom Menace (Episode I)