Guess what I finally got to see.
While I still have yet to see The Force Awakens (hey, I got it right!), this movie took place just before the original Star Wars so it doesn’t matter. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story doesn’t quite feel like a Star Wars film until the last act. I’ll get more into that in the review. But because Gareth Edwards did a story set in the Star Wars Universe, and one of the complaints about the prequels was that some of that was missing (I’m not sure I agree, although the prequels do have plenty of other flaws) I’ll be judging this movie on its own and how it connects to the six movies I have seen as well as the two TV series, The Clone Wars and Rebels (although I’m really behind on both…missing the last season or two of TCW and only seeing the first few episodes of the latter) to see if it is a good fit in the franchise.
Edwards, you may recall, thought we wanted a Godzilla movie where you didn’t get to see the monsters fight. He’s more interested in characters in extreme situations than actually showing us those situations. Did he do a better job this time? Note that there will be some spoilers here, and Wookiepedia is my best friend to check spellings and a few facts. I’m not a big enough nerd to do this without it.
The movie follows Jyn Erso, whose mother was killed and father kidnapped to complete the Death Star. 13 years later, Jyn has become a criminal, but has hidden who her father is. That is except for the Rebels, who say they want to rescue him after the senior Erso gets an Empire pilot to reform and seek out Saw Gerrera, a friend of Erso who raised Jyn until she was 16. Fans of The Clone Wars may actually remember him as that hothead from Onderan (which I thought was pronounced Alderaan for a long time, and now I know why Bail wasn’t used in that arc) whose sister became leader of what could be a prototype of the Rebellion to reclaim the planet from the Separatists. Fun fact: The plan was created by Anakin Skywalker. Kind of shot yourself in the foot before even loading the gun, didn’t you Vader? Since we’ve last seen him Saw has gotten worse, probably because Steela is no longer around to keep him in check. I like that they connected this to the series, thus making it canon, although he really doesn’t say anything that connects to that story arc. Also, someone found the Ghost, the ship used by the heroes of the Rebels cartoon, among the fleet in one scene, so those shows are now canon.
Anyway, the Rebellion (or at least one general) wants Galen Erso (the scientist) killed, believing him to be a sympathizer, but he’s actually responsible for the famous flaw, an attempt at revenge for his wife’s death and being forced by the director, Orson Krennic, to work on the very thing he abandoned the Empire to not do. The mission falls to Casssian Andor and his reprogrammed Imperial Droid, K-2SO, to find and recover the pilot, Bohdi Rook, and learn the location of Galen, both of which Saw has. Along the way they pick up Chirrut Imwe and Baze Malibus (it’s like they’re purposely avoiding any kind of normal sounding name), a blind warrior and former guardian of the Jedi Temple who comes off like some kind of monk, and his fallen fellow guardian respectively. Together they will end up finding the plans to the Death Star…but none of these characters are making it out alive.
I said that most of this doesn’t feel like a Star Wars adventure, and that may be on purpose. Like in the 2014 US Godzilla, Edwards doesn’t follow the normal structure. Here he wants to give the Rebellion a dark side (no pun intended) as he has the General lie to Jyn about wanting to rescue her father, and they only get up off of their backsides when the heroes find a crew of Rebels seeking redemption to go after the plans, after the General pretty much ordered the one man who already knew the secret hole in the Death Star after Jyn gets a recording from her father talking about it. Edwards wanted to look on the darker nature of war, but that’s not what Star Wars has ever been about. It’s about good guy rebels and the bad guy empire, a fun movie that goes beyond being a “popcorn flick” with good characters, amazing battles, and a lot of good action. For most of that this seems to be missing.
It’s only in the final act where we get to see any of this, as the group calling themselves “Rogue One” (hence the movie’s title) go after the plans on Scarif, that this starts to feel like a Star Wars movie, especially after the Rebels finally join in and we get a huge space, air, and ground battle. K-2SO even gets the “I’ve got a bad feeling about this line”, which in this franchise usually means “things are about to go down the crapper but somehow we’ll still win”. But even that leads to everyone we’ve cared about dying at the end like the Magnificent Seven, which is one of George Lucas’ inspiration, or at least the same movie that inspired the movie of the same name. My friend Sean wasn’t bothered by this because, as he noted, spies did die to get the information out, but it still misses some of what I like about the movies. Obi-Wan was the only character to die and that was an important plot point in the first, while Yoda only dies of old age so Luke will be the last of the Jedi. When you kill off every character you made me like, it’s not what I tune in to this series for. It’s a personal complaint, mind you. We also get an R2-D2 and C-3PO cameo in there, so at least the best part of the series gets to show up. There’s also an appearance by Bail Organa, Mon Mothma, Princess Leia, Grand Moff Tarkin, and Darth Vader (who even gets to choke Krennic at one point) and even those guys Luke and Obi-Wan saw at Mos Eisely that started messing with Luke, so it’s not like he doesn’t try to connect it. He even has the Death Star powered by Kyber crystals, which was from an earlier draft of the first ever movie, which I just learned from a recent SF Debris history piece (seriously, watch this video series, it’s amazing trivia and I learned a lot) and it’s mentioned that they power lightsabers, which was only mentioned in the cartoons. But until the final battle the feel of the franchise is lost here even more than the prequels.
I should also point out how Peter Cushing (through a stand-in actor and the same kind of effect used in Forest Gump to have Tom Hanks interact with famous people) and Carrie Fisher are altered via computer editing, Fisher made to look like her younger self like Jeff Bridges in Tron: Legacy so that Clu would look like young Kevin Flynn. (I need to see that movie, too.) I’ve heard mostly negative reactions to this, not because of complaints of disrespect to the late Mr. Cushing but because the effect doesn’t look that good. I could see that slightly whenever Tarkin was on-screen but most of the time I didn’t notice it. Maybe it’s more obvious closer to the screen than Sean and I were sitting.
Okay, so it’s place in the style is…questionable until the last act, but is it a good movie overall? Yes, certainly more so that Edwards’ last foray into my territory. We finally see the action, something lacking in Godzilla unless the soldiers were involved or people were running in panic. The final battle is amazing. There’s a comment in the beginning of the movie where K-2SO is complaining he doesn’t get a blaster, so when Jyn gives him one, it’s a good character moment as Jyn kind of says “I trust you now and you’re on the team”. (I was just seeing a commentary on that sort of “Checkov’s gun” in the last Mad Max movie–which I don’t care to see, so it stood out a bit more to me than it would have otherwise. Timing!) Krennic is understandably upset when Tarkin takes over the project but Vader has a point about him not being brought down by his own ambitions…which in the end he is, so that turned out to be not-so-subtle foreshadowing. They’re all good characters, which is Edward’s strength, but tarnishing the Rebellion still tarnishes the movie with me.
In the final analysis, would I encourage fans to see this movie? Yes, actually. What it lacks in some of the feel of the original movies and even the prequels it makes up for in good characters and a fantastic battle, plus it bumps up nicely right up against A New Hope, the first movie. I have my problems with it, but most of them are personal taste issues and it is a decent first shot of doing one-shot stories outside of the trilogy structure of George Lucas and J.J. Abrams to flesh out the Star Wars Galaxy, and somehow got me to actually enjoy a darker story, a rarity for me. And that’s really what we wanted. I just hope future one-shots are closer to the tone and spirit of the franchise that makes me a fan.