Complaining that the ideas in a Star Wars movie are cliched is like complaining that the hymns in church are old. They are. It’s great!
I’m a little late to the party with my review, so I’m in the comfortable position of knowing what most critics and fans already think of the film and that my opinion is not terribly controversial, so I can roll it here without worrying too badly about where my flame-proof underwear are. The people who’ve had issues with the movie say there are no surprises, it’s just rehashing 40 year-old material and so on. But for a Star Wars fan these are the things we love and expect. All those elements are why The Force Awakens was such a treat. Much of it is goofy and contrived and not too serious, that’s the nature of Space Opera, a genre basically created for the masses by A New Hope. Think of Rogue One as Behind the Music: A New Hope.
There are fans and there are fans… I’ve seen deep online discussions of details and what might have been retconned and what doesn’t work vs canon in the books, and I will out myself right here that I’m not that deeply engaged in that level of detail. My apologies to the Jedi Master quiz book fans: I’m probably going to get something wrong or leave something out.
One does not, or should not anyway, go to a Star Wars movie hoping the filmmaker has broken new ground in cinematic endeavor. One goes to see Star Wars. And not those abysmal Hayden Christensen / Jar Jar / Natalie Portman acting her ass off trying to bail out the sinking ship movies. I mean Star Freaking Wars. Which The Force Awakens was. As is Rogue One.
I love Rogue One and two viewings in find myself wanting to see it again.
Now all that said about seeing what we expect and the old itches being scratched, Rogue One does have some differences. I expect there are some folks who haven’t seen it yet who will want to on streaming so I’m going to stay away from spoiler territory, but I will say that without A New Hope this movie could not exist. It would be a sad and sorry experience at the theater if the only Star Wars movie you ever saw was Rogue One. Edwards bends basic rules of narrative for the genre here. So maybe he did break new ground. It’s a bold move.
In Rogue One we get a trip on the wayback machine to an even longer time ago and even farther away before the Death Star when Imperial scientist Galen Erso (Mads MIkkelsen) helping design the weapon becomes a conscientious objector and hides from the Empire before the planet killer device is complete. The Empire finds Galen and forces him back to finish the work, but his daughter Jyn escapes, the little scamp, and is taken in by militant Saw Gerrera (I love a character named for a power tool and war). Years later Jyn is found by the resistance and sent to speak with Saw about an Imperial Pilot who’s reportedly defected and has crucial information in the form of a message from Galen Erso. That’s all you really need know, plot-wise and that’s where the fun starts.
There’s a fascinating answer here to something that’s gnawed at me since Episode IV. A morbid curiosity about what it looked like from the perspective of Alderaan when it was destroyed. What would one have seen on the ground in the few seconds before the planet blew up? “Oh shit, what’s that?”
There are winks at the fan base everywhere… everywhere! The blue milk in the Erso’s kitchen. Saw Gerrera, as much machine as man basically in the process of becoming a Vader-like version of a freedom fighter, perhaps because his militancy had taken him too far over to the dark side (as Yoda warned). The computer interface plugs (same as R2!), and a very brief actual cameo with R2 and C-3PO and so much more.
I love the fact that there is exactly one lightsaber in this film, and it’s not a blue one.
Rogue One features fine performances from a dizzying number of actors, but standouts are Felicity Jones as Jyn, Diego Luna as Cassian, and Riz Ahmed as Bodhi the cargo pilot. A moment about Riz Ahmed: if you haven’t see The Night Of on HBO do yourself a favor. Ahmed is an impressive actor and I expect we’ll be hearing from him again. He is perfect as Bodhi. Alan Tudyk as the voice of K2SO is perfect snarky counterpoint to the action. Plus we miss Wash.
The film does suffer from a slight bit of “uncanny valley” in attempting to bring back two characters from the past as CGI. I’m not sure if that’s a technical limitation or a budgetary one, but it seems like they could have possibly done that just a little bit better. It’s not so jarring as to ruin the movie, but everyone I’ve asked about the film has brought it up, and it is not something you can ignore.
I’m very excited for The Last Jedi at Christmas this year, but for now, I recommend seeing Rogue One at least a couple of times!
Rogue One (2016) Directed by Gareth Edwards. Written by Chris Weitz, Tony Gilroy Starring Felicity Jones, Forest Whitaker, Diego Luna, Riz Ahmed.
9 out of 10