Okay, since I reviewed The Force Awakens and recently watched all eight movies in one sitting, I figured a review of Rogue One is also in order. I was pretty pumped in the lead-up to it, despite the PC pandering that was obviously in high gear. The idea of exploring stories apart from the Skywalker saga was very enticing. Plus, when the backdrop is precursory events merely mentioned in A New Hope, it was hard to resist getting a little excited. With Gareth Edwards, who had recently given us a moderately entertaining and fairly mythos-honoring monster feature in 2014’s Godzilla, Lucasfilm again was not going with the time-tested big-name director. Plus, there was a wildly diverse cast. Would it pay off?
Since Rogue One is a departure from the standard Star Wars film, I’m just going to give you a non-standard review. Here are my thoughts…unformatted are indifferent, italicized are negatives, and bold is positive…in somewhat chronological order.
Prelude lacks gravity, but sets up the characters. Ben Mendelsohn and Mas Mikkelsen do their best to elevate their characters above one note characters, but are kind of shortchanged by the script.
Why does Krennic’s ship “park” so far away? Who are the death troopers, and why are they special?
No opening crawl.
Cool asteroid city thing, but it seemed more like a concept artist payoff than something plausible.
Cassian. I get that he’s supposed to be morally ambiguous, but I really don’t like how he just kills a guy outright. Not just here, but later on Jedha.
Jedha. Lazy name for the Jedi homeworld or whatever.
Exposition. So much exposition.
Diversity. Alright, let me just get this out of the way. I hate what they’re doing to Star Wars in the name of pandering to social justice warrior crybabies who need a cinematic safe space. Yes, I get that that galaxy far, far away is probably just as diverse as our planet is, but I just question intent. Protagonist: white female (again). Protagonists’ friends: Latin male, a black-ish droid, a pair of Asian males (who some have suggested are a gay couple), and an Arabic male. Rebel leaders: white female, Latin man, black woman, white male (who is the detractor), and alien male. Antagonist: old white male. Other antagonists: old white males – one in a black suit. Then there’s the whole Jedha holy city bit, where it’s essentially a stand-in for Mecca – complete with elaborate, Islamic-inspired garb. Thereby, the Empire is clearly Islamophobic. Okay, I’ll stop…for now.
K-2SO. Say what you will about Star Wars’ overreliance on droid humor, but I loved K-2SO. Voiced by the versatile Alan Tudyk; he has the best dialogue in this flick.
Nostalgia. The expansive take on the Rebel fortress on Yavin 4 was great. Seeing the AT-ST on Jedha was pretty cool too. Even the modified AT-AT walkers on Scarif were pretty great too, if a little too easily taken down.
The Music. Michael Giachinno is not John Williams. While repeated viewings have left me less jaded by this fact, it is still noticeably underwhelming compared to the Skywalker saga’s scores.
Mon Mothma and Bail Organa. It was a move that nicely tied the first trilogy with the prequel trilogy without dredging up all the bad feelings of the prequels. It’s nice that they cast the Genevieve O’Reilly, who played Mothma in scenes cut from the prequels, and her striking resemblance to Caroline Blakiston in ROTJ sure helps. But she’s a nice expanded cameo, even if she’s a little heavy on exposition. Having Jimmy Smitts back as Bail Organa was nice too, especially when he discusses his “friend, the Jedi” with Mothma, as well as someone he trusts with his life. These were nice moments, even if they felt a little forced.
“I find that answer vague and unconvincing.” – K-2SO
Saw Gerrera. Aka, discount Vader…but even that seems overly kind. He’s loud, incoherent, and ultimately pointless. Forrest Whittaker is over-the-top, and his motivations seem shady at best. Plus, his connection to Jyn’s parents is never explained…but I’m okay with that, because this movie is so heavy on exposition already.
Jyn. Look, I have no real problem with a female protagonist if it’s in service to a story, or even if it’s to say that there are strong women. I also think that Felicity Jones really tries to bring that to the table, but as with TFA, this one feels more like Kathleen Kennedy wants to push an affirmative action agenda, as opposed to focusing on the narrative. That being said, she’s not a woman of color, she appears to identify as a female, and she doesn’t go on a man-hating tirade…so I’m sure feminists hate her for the same reasons they hate the straight, white version of Wonder Woman that hit screens earlier this year. My real problems with her are that she doesn’t evoke feminine qualities that made her predecessors endearing (aside from Padme’s penchant for emo men). She’s tempestuous, far too serious, and has a wishy-washy agenda. I guess she does have the angry part down, so feminists probably relate to that. And I guess maybe her little Stormtrooper takedown with a truncheon could represent her taking down her male oppressors. So maybe she is a feminist icon after all.
Bodi. You’re probably expecting me to go off about his ethnicity. Well, sorry to disappoint, but I’ve already done that. It’s doesn’t matter what diversity quota he’s filling, I found his character half-written at best. A defecting Imperial pilot is “local”, so he’s sent to Saw with a message that Galen wants Jyn to see? The Saw part I get (sort of), but they really have no use for him otherwise. They could’ve easily just left him out, since his miniscule part to play was already exposited in an earlier conversation.
Bor gullet. A mind-reading terra-octupus? Sounds more like they wanted to get a creature in the movie and an excuse for a polygraph. Lame.
The Death Star Construction. Talk about showing the scale of that thing.
Tarkin. I really like that they brought him back, and the CGI is actually pretty good. However, I think they could’ve done the less is more approach. Maybe just show his reflection in the window, or just show him sneer over his shoulder at Krennic? Still, it’s nice to have him show up as a nostalgic call back.
“Rebellions are built on hope.” Skip.
Guardians of the Wills. So…force groupies? Some of the bits were okay, and it felt like there were a couple of chances for character development when Chirrut senses something in Cassian and Jyn, but both of these moments were never expanded on. Not that we needed more expositive backstory, but it felt like a missed opportunity.
“There are a lot of explosions for two people blending in.” – K-2SO
Chirrut’s Stormtrooper takedown. Illogical, but fun.
Crash on Eadu. The affirmative action coalition survives this.
The death of Galen Erso. It was pretty predictable, but ultimately necessary to propel the plot, specifically for Jyn. There was hope for a reunion, only to have those hopes dashed. But since the majority of the narrative around Galen is through a prelude and a hologram, it’s hard to be terribly affected by his death.
Vader’s Castle. You’d think that Vader would evade lava after his misfortunes on Mustafar led to his becoming more machine than man. However, instead of running, he embraces it. Though not mentioned in the movie, his castle is on Mustafar, and it is glorious. The whole scene where Krennic visits him is great. So nice to have James Earl Jones lend his iconic vocal chords to the role again. Plus, his dialogue is classic.
Who is Vader’s butler? Snoke?
The Rebel Council scene. This feels like manufactured tension. Sure, it’s great to see the Mon Calamari represented by Admiral Raddus, in a callback to ROTJ, but the rest of the scene plays out like a clichéd hawks vs doves debate, with Jyn – an outsider with questionable motives and little to no evidence to support her claims – injecting herself into the conversation in an attempt to garner support for an attack. Then she does a little callback to that tagline from before. Skip.
“May the Force be with us.” Ugh. Force-d.
C-3PO and R2-D2 cameo. Instead of obliging them into the narrative the way the prequels did, they just get little flyby scene, and I liked it.
Jyn’s pep talk. Skip.
“Good luck, little sister.” Why? Baze has had little to no interaction with Jyn up to this point. Why would he say this? Manufactured emotion.
“For Jedha!” Really? Why would this be a pre-charge cry by Rebel forces? They lost nothing on Jedha, and really, in the grand scheme of things, that planet being destroyed affected very little.
The space battle. Even though I loved the space battle in ROTJ, this one was almost equally as wonderful. Even with the hammerheads (a “Rebels” shoutout) and ion cannons acting as deus ex machines (yes, that was intentional), it was epic. Honestly, even if it was essentially mirroring ROTJ, right down to the Mon Calimari admiral running the show, I still was enraptured.
The Scarif surface battle. Some of it is fine, and it’s vastly better than the Endor surface battle, but I really didn’t care about what was going on there, as much as I did what was going on in space.
I didn’t really care about any of the characters as they were getting picked off. Chirrut had a moment where his “I am one with the force and the force is with me” moment seemed to pay off, only to be offed in a manufactured emotional scene between him and Baze. Baze’s guns blazing death was illogical, since he was essentially a superweapon when we met him on Jedha, but basically wanted to die after Chirrut’s death. Bodi’s death was akin to Dobby’s death in Harry Potter…”Meh.” His line, “This is for you, Galen” seems to recount a relationship between him and Jyn’s father, but there’s no basis for it in the cinematic narrative.
The only death with emotional payoff was K-2SO, with him sacrificing himself to give Jyn and Cassian a chance. Kind of sad to see my favorite character’s eyes go dark. Perhaps it’s because I identify most with a droid? Does that make me transtechual?
Everyone dies. I’ll give Disney credit for the ballsy move in letting Edwards and his writing team off everyone. It was kind of in line with what Edwards wanted to do, making this a war movie. Not only that, but what would’ve been an easy moment of forced romance between Jyn and Cassian was put off for a friendly embrace of fate.
The music in the final moments. This is the only time I’ll give Michael Giachinno a pass, if only because he does his best John Williams impression in these moments.
HE END VADER SCENE. The English language lacks the requisite words to describe the nerdgasm that takes place in this all too brief scene. Is it enough to save the rest of the picture from all it’s faults? No. But it does wipe away some more lackluster elements.
Leia. Sure, it’s probably nostalgia mixed with tragedy, but this was a nice scene that makes you want to go pop in ANH immediately to watch a better, if older, story. And the CGI is noticeable, but not terrible.
I’ll just say it. I liked this movie a lot more the first time than on repeated viewings. It’s not a disaster, but it leaves a lot to be desired. There was a lot of footage left out of the final film that was in the trailers – a trend becoming all too familiar these days. It didn’t leave me groaning, but it left me a little less optimistic about the future of spin-off movies. Let’s be honest: this was the fourth prequel. And it feels like it, without emo Anakin. There is enough fan service in there to make it enjoyable and it does take some risks, but other things it plays too close to the vest or writes off altogether. But that Vader scene at the end, right?
I know it doesn’t really rank as an “episode” per se (maybe “Episode 3.9” would be applicable?), but here’s where it falls in the franchise rankings:
- Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back
- Episode IV: A New Hope
- Episode VII: The Force Awakens
- Episode III: Revenge of the Sith
- Episode I: The Phantom Menace
- Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
- Episode VI: Return of the Jedi
- Episode II: Attack of the Clones
Yes, I felt like I just wrote an episode of Cinema Sins.