“It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.
Pursued by the Empire’s sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy….”
Directed by Gareth Edwards
If you are familiar with the opening crawl from Star Wars: A New Hope (1977), then you are already familiar with the last third of Star Wars: Rogue One. With Disney now in control, we will see Star Wars movies to fill every nook and cranny in the mythos. Rogue One is just the beginning, and it’s a logical place to start. A New Hope began mid-action. Princess Leia is under attack and captured by Darth Vader, but R2D2 and C3P0 have escaped his clutches with the plans to the Death Star. Did we need an entire movie to see how they got there?
Of course we didn’t. That’s why George settled for an opening crawl. The story of how the Death Star plans got into Leia’s hands has gone through many iterations over the years. The original Star Wars radio drama was one variation. In another, the video game Dark Forces, you steal the plans yourself as a character named Kyle Katarn. Now we have the official story featuring a new band of rebels: Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), K2S0 (Alan Tudyk), Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) and the charismatic pair of Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). They are assisted by the forces of Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), an extremist character originally from the Clone Wars television series. Together they must get those Death Star schematics into the hands of the Rebel Alliance.
If only it didn’t take so long to do it.
Rogue One is a long running movie, with a final battle that is stunning eye candy but too slow. As X-Wings, Tie Fighters, Y-Wings and new ships such as Tie Strikers and U-Wings do battle over the planet Scarif where the Death Star plans are stored, you get to watch…someone trying to flip a master control switch. Someone describing the location of the switch. Someone trying to locate a file in an archive. Someone trying to align an antenna and send a file. Almost sounds like another day at the office, and it takes forever to get from A to B.
Fortunately, Rogue One delivers in other respects. Planets new and old (you’re gonna shit your pants when you see which old) are to be seen. One strength of the original trilogy was the variety of planets. We visited five different worlds: desert, ice, cloud, swamp and forest. The prequel movies brought fire and water planets. Rogue One debuts the exotic Jedha, a spiritual home of the Jedi religion and a source of the Kyber crystals that power their lightsabers. There is also a tropical paradise planet, torn up and exploited by the evil Empire.
There are also cool new ships and stormtroopers to feast your eyes on. The coolest of these are the black Death Troopers, the personal force of Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn). Krennic is the prime villain of the film, an ambitious yet bumbling higher-up in the Empire who finds himself on the wrong side of Governor Tarkin (a CG Peter Cushing) and Lord Darth Vader himself. And as you shall see in the climax of the film, being on the wrong side of Darth Vader is not a place you want to find yourself. Mendelsohn shines in the role, especially in any scene in which he is paired with Mads Mikkelsen who portrays Jyn’s father Galen Erso. The character of Galen Erso is revealed to have made a major covert move in the war, that changes A New Hope in one significant way.
In trying to please Star Wars fans who weren’t into The Force Awakens or the prequel trilogy, perhaps Rogue One went too far. A film with Tarkin as a major villain is a Star Wars fan’s dream, but CG isn’t at the stage yet where he looks perfect. The uncanny valley strikes again, and somewhere between your eyes and brain, you can tell something is “off” about the character. The same can be said about another surprise cameo from the past. Other characters seem shoehorned into the film without a good reason. (Was there any logical reason to see Pignose and his friend, Scott?) On the other hand, there is some very clever use of original, unused footage from 1977 to bring other characters back who absolutely should be there. You’ll know the shots when you see them. Best, and most significant of the nods to the past are appearances by Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) and Mon Mothma (Genevieve O’Reilly), two senior leaders of the Rebel Alliance.
Felicity Jones and Diego Luna are as fantastic as Mendelsohn is. Jones can do more acting with her face than most can do with 10 lines of dialogue, but her character isn’t fleshed out. We know a little bit about who she is, but not about what makes her tick and what she feels. Luna’s Cassian Andor seems to have more depth. He seems to have some more skin the game. Jyn Erso is just along for the ride until she changes her mind mid-way and does a complete 180. Too many times, characters don’t take actions that are consistent or logical.
The biggest flaw with Rogue One is you already know how it ends. And if you don’t, you will be able to predict death scenes well in advance, so obviously are they telegraphed.
What makes Rogue One special despite its flaws are the ways it brings childhood dreams to the big screen. For decades, kids have been flying their X-wings through the back yard, strafing their stormtroopers on invented planets. Others lucky enough to have an AT-AT in their collection enjoyed target practice with a group of Rebel soldiers. Younger fans brought up on Star Wars video games will enjoy settings and action right out of the Jedi Knight series. Rogue One also lifts the veil on the Empire a little bit, an organization we actually see little of in the original trilogy. Think about it. Most of the time, you were following around Luke and his friends, on the run from the Empire and doing their own thing. You didn’t see much of what life under the Empire is like. Now you do. Mass electronic surveillance, police state tactics, punishment and coverups are the order of the day.
The last issue to discuss is the score by Michael Giacchino, which is intentionally different from a John Williams soundtrack. It is different and good, but lacks the standout themes that the saga films are known for. That was the right direction to take, as Rogue One should and does feel like a different kind of Star Wars movie. It should not be confused with the concurrent saga films, which follow the story of the Skywalker family.
It’s not Giacchino’s fault that Rogue One doesn’t deliver the same kind of awe-inspiring story of the other films. While it does venture into the mythos of the Force via the blind guardian Chirrut Îmwe, it is not intended to unveil the same kind of chilling revelations. There is no “I am your father” moment. There is no self-discovery of inner power as we saw in the past with Anakin, Luke and Rey. Instead Rogue One travels the road of the soldiers, the grunts on the ground fighting the Empire both openly and secretly. There are no Jedi to save them, no chosen ones. Only luck, if you believe in that sort of thing.
The most encouraging thing about Rogue One is how “right” it was done. Its heart is in the right place at all times. When the prequels came out to fill in the blanks, they left us more puzzled than anything. Wait…Darth Vader built C3P0? Obi-Wan was actually trained by Liam Neeson? Princess Leia’s mother died in childbirth even though Leia remembered her as being “beautiful, but sad?” Rogue One doesn’t trample on the continuity at all, it only enhances it. And that’s all we really needed.