Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story REVIEW (SPOILERS)

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the least Star Wars-like Star Wars movie I think I have ever seen.  The emotional weight and tone share much less in common with Star Wars: A New Hope than they do with Saving Private Ryan.  Rather than exude the kind of hopeful optimism you see in every single Star Wars movie (even the darker ones—Empire Strikes Back and Revenge of the Sith—end with a hopeful note and contain all kinds of hope throughout), Rogue One contains very little in the way of hope and optimism for its own main characters.  In fact, of all the Star Wars movies so far, Rogue One is the movie that most closely fits into the category of a tragedy.

I say this not because Rogue One is a bad movie, but because the above actually makes it—after one viewing—perhaps one of my favorite Star Wars movies.  It is not the best by any stretch of the imagination, but all the non-Star Wars elements make it something of a breath of fresh air for someone as steeped in Star Wars lore as I have been.

Let’s start by talking about Saw Gerrera.  I was most excited to see him before the movie because of what he represents:  the first character introduced in the animated series to make a live-action appearance (Boba Fett appearing in the Star Wars Holiday Special does not count!).  In the movie, he represents a different kind of rebellion than we saw in the Original Trilogy or are seeing on Star Wars Rebels.  They say that the difference between a terrorist and a freedom fighter is one of perspective, but even the leadership of the Rebel Alliance considers Saw to be a terrorist.  He has been fighting his entire life, and it is clear that he has pretty well become the thing he was fighting against.  In his first appearance on screen, I was forcefully reminded of first Darth Maul—he has mechanical legs and walks with a cane just like Maul on Rebels—and then Darth Vader—his breathing mask actually makes the same sound as Vader’s.  He tortures potential recruits just on the off-chance that they are spies.  Saw absolutely represents the dark underbelly of the Rebellion.

The definite runaway star of the movie is Jyn Erso and her emotional journey throughout, from rebelling against everyone else’s plans for her to taking on what she knows to be a suicide mission because it will clear her father’s name and give the Rebellion a chance to destroy the Death Star.  I liked seeing her progression, particularly the way that losing both Saw and her father changed her attitude toward the Rebellion.  The love story element with Jyn and Cassian was telegraphed fairly early in the movie, but it was handled very well.  I think it’s a brilliant touch that the closest they ever come to romance tropes is having the two of them hold each other while they die.

Cassian may be my favorite character in this movie.  He strikes a good balance between the “good guys” like Luke, Han, and the Rebels characters, and darker Rebel characters like Saw Gerrera.  He has a moral code and hates the terrible things he has done in the name of the Rebellion, but he does them anyways because he believes in the cause.  The tension in him between his orders to kill Galen Erso and his desire to find out whether or not Galen was serving the Rebellion all along makes a good contrast to Jyn.

I really didn’t remember most of the side characters’ names (Chirrut Îmwe—the blind guy, Baze Malbus—the gun guy, and Bodhi Rook—the pilot), but I think that’s because Bodhi’s the only one whose name was used more than once or twice.  That doesn’t mean that they are forgettable, however.  I actually liked all of them.  They all have a very good reason for joining Jyn, Cassian, and K2 on the V-Wing (the planet’s practically blowing up), but even more they are given a reason for joining them on their suicide mission to capture the Death Star plans.  Then each of them is given both an important role in the mission and an emotionally-compelling death scene.

In terms of continuity, Rogue One fits well with the chronology of A New Hope and clears up at least one plot hole in that movie.  It shows the Rebel Alliance as more-or-less fully-formed but still relatively divided.  Some wish to fold in the face of the Death Star’s threat, while the military leaders wish to fight.  The concluding battle answers the question of how the Rebel fleet is so small that all they can send against the Death Star is a pair of fighter squadrons (that and the fact that only a starfighter can make it through the Death Star’s shields).  They also clear up exactly how the Rebels were able to transmit the plans to Princess Leia but she was unable to then transmit them to Yavin IV—it’s just too big of a file.

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There are also a couple of relatively-small Easter eggs for Star Wars Rebels.  The first comes right after the briefing when there’s an announcement for “General Syndulla” to report to the briefing room.  That could be a reference to Cham Syndulla, the Twi-lek rebel leader who appeared in Star Wars: The Clone Wars and is the father of Hera on Star Wars Rebels, but it could also mean that Hera is due for two promotions between now and when Rebels intersects with Rogue One (possibly the season finale).  The second Easter egg is a lot harder to spot (I was looking for it but still almost missed it):  near the end of the space battle over Scarif, you can very clearly see a hexagonal freighter with its engines in a Y-configuration as part of the Rebel force.  That, coupled with the presence of multiple Hammerhead cruisers, suggests that at least part of Phoenix Squadron was present at the battle.  The more telling indicators of that would have been seeing a handful of A-Wings and an Imperial Light Cruiser with the Rebel fleet (in addition to the Hammerheads and Ghost) and having Hera as part of the squadron roll call, but I can accept why they didn’t do that.  Hopefully this means that we will see a little more of the space battle on Star Wars Rebels at some point, but I’m not calling that a certainty.

That concluding battle sequence was easily the highlight of the movie for me as far as action scenes go.  The Rebel assault on Scarif serving as a distraction so Cassian, Jyn, and K2 could find the plans was amazing, both seeing the Rebels with the upper hand and in retreat.  I think my favorite part of the space battle was when the Rebels used a Hammerhead cruiser to ram the disabled Star Destroyer into another Star Destroyer in order to smash them both into the planetary shield.  The surprise appearance of Vader’s Star Destroyer the Devastator at the end of the battle to cut off the Rebel retreat was unexpected, but I really shouldn’t have been surprised by it; it’s a tactic that both Vader and Grand Admiral Thrawn have used on multiple occasions on Star Wars Rebels.  The Devastator disables a number of ships, including the Rebel flagship Profundity, which leads to Vader’s best action sequence in the live-action movies as he boards the Rebel flagship.  I love the reveal as the doors open and you expect waves of stormtroopers but instead you just hear Vader’s breathing as his lightsaber ignites.  That whole sequence reminded me of Vader’s various appearances on Star Wars Rebels.

Watching the Rebels try to get the stolen plans to the Fleet and then off the doomed flagship was a powerful sequence.  Everyone watching already knew that the plans were going to get to Tantive IV, but the level of sacrifice required of the Rebels to secure the plans was huge.  And it didn’t feel like an army of disposable characters being killed off (even though it was).  Unlike the faceless stormtroopers, we could see the terror on the Rebel soldiers’ faces as Vader was cutting them to pieces.  I thought it was quite clever of them to set up Tantive IV as something of a giant escape pod from the Rebel flagship with the surprise of it pulling away from the Profundity with the stolen plans.

Not everything about this movie worked for me.  Saw Gerrera’s role in the movie does not stand out as well as it could have.  I do think they could have done without the scene when he tortures Bodhi, especially since it only takes about a day for Bodhi to completely recover his mind.  Some of the special effects were not up to the standards that I expect from Star Wars.  The first shot of a Star Destroyer in front of the Death Star did not look quite right, but other than that the ships all looked good.  The worst effects issue, to be honest, was with Grand Moff Tarkin.  Something seemed just slightly off about his appearance in many of his scenes—especially the one time that he smiled (I don’t think Tarkin has ever smiled in his life!).  I think he was best used in small doses; when he isn’t on-screen for very long, I have a better time believing that he’s actually there.  They did a much better job with Leia than with Tarkin, but Leia is only on-screen for a minute and speaks a single word.  To be honest, I think they would have been better off either limiting Tarkin’s role in the movie or recasting a new actor.

Of course, with those being the worst parts of the movie, this was a huge success, and absolutely deserves the billion or so dollars it is probably going to make at the box office.  I’m definitely going to see it at least one more time with my (Star Wars fanatic) family, and possibly even more than that.  I was very excited to see this movie, it lived up to my expectations, and now I can’t wait to see more Rebels after New Year’s!

What did you think of Rogue One?  What Easter eggs did you see?  Let me know in the comments!

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