Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story was released as the first of the stand alone films within the Star Wars: Anthology series. For this reason, there was much speculation and debate on if it would resonate as well with audiences as last year’s smash hit, The Force Awakens. Would it ‘feel’ like a Star Wars film? Would it take the franchise in a completely new and unique direction? How would it fit within the larger universe? Was Gareth Edwards capable of capturing the same magic that J.J. Abrams did the year before? These are some of the questions that were circulating in the months leading up to the release. After all, we had never seen a Star Wars film released less than three years removed from a previous installment, much less nearly one year to the day. For those reasons and many more, Rogue One becomes a captivating film to dissect and unwind. In the following review I will attempt to do just that. Be warned, this review may contain some MINOR SPOILERS.
In Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we find ourselves witnessing a series of events that immediately precede those of the original film, A New Hope. We are introduced to a motley crew of rebels, lead by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) who find themselves tasked with recovering the plans to the first Death Star in order to expose its one weakness and bring, well… hope, to the Rebellion. Oddly enough, it seems that many critics have glossed over the setting and events that were depicted in this film and expected something much different than they received. They believed that because this was a non-episodic entry into the franchise and the first of this stand alone anthology series that we would see a film that deviated greatly from those that came before it. This thought process was both bizarre and illogical. When you have a film that immediately, and I mean up to the minute, precedes the events in one of the other films, as well as one that is literally telling a pivotal piece of the main plot of that same film, Rogue One NEEDED to feel like the same type of movie as the original trilogy.
A film that veered off the beaten course, which no doubt will come as we progress through the stand alone chapters of this franchise, in this case would have been jarring to say the least. Instead, what we get is a film that could easily be edited or cut in a way that you could seamlessly sit through a viewing in which you went directly from Rogue One and transitioned into A New Hope without missing a beat and in some cases not even realizing that one movie had ended and the other had begun. To that effect, Rogue One was a remarkable achievement.
This franchise going in completely new directions will be an exciting breath of fresh air; this however was NOT the film in which to do that. In fact this film in a way should really not be a part of the stand alone anthology series at all, but instead should simply be labeled or at least thought of as Episode 3.5.
Another incredible task that Rogue One accomplishes is the way in which it ties in ALL facets of the Star Wars franchise. From cameo appearances, which we will get into more in a bit, by characters we were introduced to in the original trilogy (Episode 4, 5, 6), to characters and events that we observed in the prequel trilogy (EP 1, 2, 3), to artifacts and references to the animated series, Star Wars: Rebels, there seems to be no property within this universe that is not in some way tied into this one specific film. The most impressive aspect of that, however, is how fluidly they interwove all of those separate threads in a way that you never felt like the rug was being pulled out from under you.
There is however one example of where they failed in this practice and fell prey to what many deem ‘fan service’. Before we get to that misstep though, one should know that fan service is NOT something that is inherently negative. It’s such an odd mentality that so many critics have that a film bringing joy to the fans it is being made for is somehow immediately a negative mark against it. Granted, when it is done for no other reason but to elicit that reaction, the film by all means should be taken to task, but if the film finds ways to include these fan service moments in ways that fit within the framework of the story it is attempting to tell, then by all means it should be applauded and not criticized.
There is however, the one example of when Rogue One not only includes a cameo that is so shoehorned in and unnecessary that it risks overshadowing all of the otherwise perfectly executed cameos that appear throughout the film but that it also left a wasted opportunity on the cutting room floor. At one point we find ourselves amidst the rebellion in which the camera pans to show us R2D2 and C3PO looking off to the distance and C3PO delivers a forgettable piece of dialogue. Granted, audiences applauded and hooped and hollered as they did with every cameo throughout the run-time, but this was one cameo that was blundered significantly. This cameo served no purpose in that it didn’t add to the progression of the story in any way and there was no real reason why the droids would have been in that exact place at that exact time. What makes this blunder so much harder to stomach is the fact that the events of this film conclude aboard the Tantive IV, a ship in which both droids are clearly seen on at the beginning of, A New Hope, thus presenting a perfect opportunity for the filmmakers to inject one or both of these droids into the final scene and make the transition from one film to the other seem even that much more of a natural progression.
Some critics have taken points away from Rogue One for the way in which it ‘retcons’ as they call it, prior events in the franchise. These critics must subscribe to a different definition of that term than I am used to. To retcon would be to introduce new information that changes an interpretation of previous events. It is not ret conning something if all you are doing is introducing new information that explains previously unexplained events. Changing criticisms or reviews of a previous film is not the same as when you change events or interpretations that were actually presented within said film.
The way in which Rogue One addresses one of the often talked about illogical constructs of, A New Hope, is nothing short of genius. It so brightly shines a light on how silly some complaints can be. As audiences we way too often accept only what is spelled out for us on screen and fail to read between the lines on what could be. Perhaps, we are afraid to put ideas out there that could end up being wrong, or get us labeled as ‘apologists’ but as the events surrounding the Death Star are laid out in this film you can’t help but want to hit yourself in the forehead and say ‘Wow, why didn’t I think of that!’
Perhaps the complaint you will hear most often when it comes to this film however, is its lack of character development. While I will cede the fact that character development has never been the strength of director, Gareth Edwards, let me propose a few reasons why this may seem even more exaggerated in this film.
First off, within the Star Wars film verse, we simply are not used to only having one film to get to know a set of characters. Typically we get to know characters over the course of two, three or even four films in some instances. That was never going to be the case for the main cast of characters in Rogue One. Secondly, you could say that the lack of development for these specific characters is, in fact, intentional, in a way that would be a more realistic portrayal of what these characters represented in the bigger picture. If you had asked one of the characters that was alive during the event of the original trilogy, ‘Who was Jyn Erso?’ how would they have replied? This character spent her childhood in relative obscurity and isolation and after her first attempt to reconnect with the community at large, played a small but pivotal roll in this greater rebellion, in which after the events of this movie would never be seen or heard from again.
It is my proposal then, that even the characters that existed within this world would know little about her character or personality, so why should we? Wouldn’t that be forced and disingenuous? Perhaps that is a cop out for many and the film may have benefitted in one or two less members of this motley crew or 10-15 minute less of action/battle sequences to let us further get to know these legendary characters. For most of them, outside of Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malbus however, there really wasn’t much else to know or discover than what we got. For those reasons, I simply wasn’t bothered as much as many others were when it came to character development.
The acting performances overall were above average. Felicity Jones makes a compelling leading lady in this story and her interactions with most of the cast of characters were fluid and believable. Ben Mendohlson was equally as engaging and captivating as our main antagonist. At times Diego Luna should have been reeled in a bit and from a writing and directing stand point his character was handled the worst in the film. Jiang Wen and Donnie Yen played off of each other extremely well and the voice work by Alan Tudyk in this film was artistically impeccable. K-2SO was by far the funniest character in the film, even if my loudest laugh came thanks to Chirrut Imwe. The thing I liked the most though was how cleverly written and expertly delivered the humor for K-2SO was. As a character he had the physicality of C-3PO but the personality of R2D2. I imagine if R2 could speak that he would have been very much like what we got with K2 in this film. The screenwriters avoided giving us a token comedic character or the kid friendly but annoying Jar Jar Binks archetype. Instead we got a memorable character that delivered on almost every joke in a way that only enhanced the overall moving going experience. James Earl Jones was a treat to listen to as always, especially after this many years removed from his last work as the character.
Then we are left with perhaps the most polarizing aspect of this film. For every person that has been amazed and in awe of the visuals/CGI work on Tarkin and Leia there has been someone who was appalled and taken out of the movie by it. I will admit that at first I was taken a back for a second the first time Tarkin’s face is shown on screen, however I quickly adjusted and started to admire how close and lifelike they were able to get these completely CGI faces. With Leia, we knew it was coming based on the camera work in that scene so I was in no way thrown off by it but was more caught in the awe and the magic of the moment. In the end I think the visuals deserve much more credit than critique as no one outside of Lucasfilm would have been able to pull off what they did in these two instances.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, blew away my expectations. With Gareth Edwards coming off of the heels of Godzilla, and the mystery of what to expect when it came to these Anthology Series films, I wasn’t sure what my reaction would be. I certainly was not expecting to be leaving the theatre fully convinced that I had just seen a superior film to The Force Awakens. As time goes by maybe that opinion will change, but as of right now, Rogue One was a perfect blend of the new and the old, gritty action with clever humor, good with evil, and standing alone yet tying everything together. Critics may not universally applaud it but my guess is you will be hard pressed to find a die hard Star Wars fan that didn’t have the time of their life at the theatre with this one. People can hate on Disney all they want, but the best thing that ever happened to this franchise was when Disney took the helm, and just as they laid the groundwork in this film for A New Hope, they laid the ground work in the bigger picture when it comes to hope for this franchise and the stand alone films that will make up the anthology series.
Final Rating: 4.5 out of 5