Some heavy SPOILERS within…
As I had NO TIME this holiday season to do it, I now have finally watched the first of the Star Wars spinoff movies, ROGUE ONE. My early thoughts are that I enjoyed seeing a different look into the Star Wars universe that had nothing to do with the Skywalker clan (well, except for one significant appearance and one fleeting one), and for the most part, I thought it was a solid movie. I’m not sure about it being all that kid-friendly (which we will discuss why further), but I legit enjoyed ROGUE ONE, even though I think there are one or two brief bits of fan service that seemed really unnecessary. But, how about we skip the long write-up, and break down the good and bad of this movie point by point?
That Death Star weakness. It’s kind of a masterstroke of the plot that we discover why that weakness to the Death Star in A New Hope even exists: because the man who built it, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) made certain it was there. Even while imprisoned against his will, he used his status to sneak in that critical design flaw behind the Empire’s back. Sure, actually discovering where and how to use it took a bit longer and cost way more lives that what he could explain in that hologram, but it’s an effective bit of retconning to that plot in the original Star Wars.
The Dirty Side of the Rebellion. You know from just considering it, the Rebel Alliance has had to do some dark stuff once in a while. And that’s what makes Cassian (Diego Luna) and his actions in the movie so interesting, because we see him in the beginning murder a source and eventually willing to sacrifice himself in that final attempt to snatch up the Death Star plans to make all that dark stuff worth it. This is the rough side of being the good guys in this particular part of the Star Wars timeline. A lot of the Rebels on the ground have had to do some nasty stuff to fight the Empire, and maybe even worse for guys like Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Heck, they use a disabled Star Destroyer as a giant battering ram to trash another Star Destroyer and that giant planet shield generator! That’s kind of awesome!
Star Wars (Is Hell). We’re used to seeing random Rebels get killed in the main saga, but its surprising to see a Star Wars film where all the main good guys die by the end. You would think in this current film era of wanting to spinoff characters into future movies by keeping them alive against all reason, one or two of our team would survive this suicide mission. But its refreshing to see our heroes succeed at their mission, but only at the cost of their lives. Its almost a downer end until you realize this mission eventually leads into the victory in A New Hope.
The Team. Admittedly this new batch of Star Wars movies has been surprisingly progressive in its casting, and more so here in Rogue One. Consider the only major Caucasian in this group is Jyn (Felicity Jones), and I guess you could count Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO, but hey, he’s a robot. You could argue you don’t get much characterization on any of them, but the little you get somehow works when the team gets picked off one by one in the climax.
Callbacks (Good and Bad). Let’s get the bad callbacks out of the way: did we really need C-3PO and R2-D2 to show up? The two thugs at that Mos Eisley cantina before they get slashed up by Obi-Wan? I’d argue “no”. On the other side of that coin, using those alternate takes of the X-Wing leaders from A New Hope in the final space battle was an unexpected surprise. I even appreciated Bail Organa popping in to set up putting his daughter on that secret mission we know will keep her from being on Alderaan when its blown up.
Vader. Lets ask the big question: did we really need Darth Vader in this movie? Shockingly, yeah. And the amount he was in it was actually perfect. It would have felt needless if it was only that scene at his castle with Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), but to have him appear at the very end in that chilling hallway massacre scene to cap his screentime off? That actually works.
The Look. You could tell director Gareth Edwards wanted a grittier looking Star Wars movie in Rogue One, and its effective on that front. And visually, there’s a lot of incredible visuals, like the giant destructive aftereffects of firing the Death Star at like low level power onto a planet. Pretty much all the CG, with two questionable exceptions, is top notch, and unlike the other prequel movies, feels like it was filmed outside.
Uncanny Valley. While young Leia’s very brief appearance was acceptable (and considering I saw it after Carrie Fisher’s death, I still got a bit misty eyed), Tarkin’s appearance was a little unsettling, especially if you knew actor Peter Cushing has been long dead. The CG on him isn’t bad, but it veers dangerously close to a current era videogame cut scene at its worst. I wouldn’t have complained about recasting Tarkin in this case (hell, they did for Revenge of the Sith), but its okay for what it is.
The Music. Okay, lets just be clear: Michael Giachinno has done better scores than this, let alone in 2016 with the other sci-fi franchise release, Star Trek Beyond. But considering what those reshoots and scheduling trouble for the previous composer caused for the schedule of putting this together, its not a horrible score either.
So, lets end this by pointing out some of my favorite lines:
“Are you kidding me? I’m blind!”
“I’m taking these prisoners. To prison!”
“Don’t choke on your own ambitions.”
“Then the ship will be destroyed and we’ll all die in the cold vacuum of space. But not me. I’m built to survive in space.”
“Rebellions are built on hope.”
Look, there’s probably a lot I haven’t covered here, so let’s chat below about your best and worst parts of Rogue One. And please, let’s keep it civil…