Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Review

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Posted December 21, 2016 by Alden Diaz in Movies

 


Director: Gareth Edwards

Writers: Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy 

Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, etc.

Genre: Sci-Fi/Fantasy/Space Opera

For nineteen years, darkness has spread throughout the galaxy far, far away. Times are the hardest they’ve ever been and hope has been nearly extinguished. It is a time of heroes without heroism and victims of all backgrounds and species. This is the world of Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first non-saga film coming out of the House of Mouse. It’s an ambitious film that sets out to transport us back home in the same way that 2015’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was able to, but
without the familiar cast of characters there to welcome us or a single lightsaber duel to light up the screen. This film’s essence exists within the mission statement of putting the “war” in Star Wars. After almost forty years since we first stepped into this world, we finally get to see the story of how the Rebellion acquired the Death Star plans. It’s a high pressure scenario for this crew, and it was equally high pressure for LucasFilm. Ultimately, it is certainly not without its faults, but for fans of this lore, it’s hard not to smile from ear to ear.

Director Gareth Edwards makes some bold choices throughout this film that are implemented to either separate the film from the mainline episodes, or to add a layer of connectivity to the original trilogy of films. The biggest example of the former is the now famous decision to nix the iconic text crawl for this film and the story films going forward. This choice’s inherent abruptness lends a quality to the first act that’s similar to how the other seven films begin in medias res, while also carving out its own identity.

It almost feels as if to manipulate the experience tonally, Edwards is intentionally depriving us of that John Williams music blare so we feel the tension from the get go. Edwards and his team do other excellent things to establish this dour tone. We have a very methodical and grim opening reminiscent of the beginning of Tarantino’s Inglourious Basterds which does a great job of presenting this as a unique piece and serves to characterize the “middle management” of the Empire more so than we ever saw in the original trilogy.

However, the film is not without its attempts to cash in on nostalgia or establish connective tissue. We see the filmmakers implement some controversial CG face technology that Disney has experimented with before, and while I do understand why they chose to go that way, it doesn’t really work for me. While the inclusion of the CG characters is important for the story they’re choosing to tell here, the technology just doesn’t seem to be there yet. The film struggles during the scenes featuring their “resurrected” character because the dialogue and plot purpose are just fine, but there’s an inherent distraction on screen the whole time.

The characters in this film are mixed bag in terms of depth, but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t enjoy them. Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is a standout and provides what I think is the best comedic relief we’ve seen in the series thus far. His dry delivery slayed me every single time. Other characters, like our lead Jyn Erso, portrayed by Felicity Jones, and Cassian Andor, portrayed by Diego Luna, provide what I think is a stroke of brilliance: The moral greying of the Rebel Alliance. Through them we get a sense of dread and desperation that just goes to further emphasize the hope of Luke Skywalker’s journey. They have paralleling character arcs that I personally think are on par with that of Han, Leia, Rey, etc. It was interesting to see similar archetypes come from unfamiliar places of ignorance, denial, complacency, etc. In this universe, we have plenty of heroes aspiring for more in life, while in this film, we’re given realistic heroes living day to day. Disney’s handling of these characterizations has me truly hopeful for their upcoming Han Solo film.

Some characters, like Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe, aren’t very well fleshed out, but still provide some great moments and present good ideas. Some ideas are more touched on than they are explored, but when we do dive in, I think the film does a great job. I would have liked to have seen more exploration of the crisis of faith idea presented through Jiang Wen’s Baze Malbus, but it’s also difficult to give everyone a full arc in an ensemble piece of this nature and I believe they do the best job they can. For me, it hearkened back to another Disney film, 2014’s Guardians of the Galaxy. Darth Vader, despite being a film icon, is only given two scenes, but I think he was used brilliantly. His “show off sequence” is one of the most thrilling things I’ve seen
in genre fiction.

One of the film’s biggest strengths might also be one of its biggest weaknesses: It is a film made for the fans of this franchise, to the point of almost feeling like an old expanded universe novel or game. There are callbacks to things from unused drafts of the original films, visual references to animated adventures, and cameos from characters from throughout the saga. It’s hard as a fan to not have these things enhance the experience.

For example, I personally think that the first act of this film is pretty slow, but being in the world and having this film speak directly to me and my fellow fans helped me experience it in a different way, almost like reading article after article on Wookieepedia. Of course, it is totally understandable that many more casual viewers will be taken out of moments or will experience scenes in a lesser fashion, so it really depends on each viewer to come down on this as a strength or a weakness. For some, the slower first act won’t be saved by latching onto anything extra. It’s easy to decide what could have been cut and what could have been expanded upon. It isn’t an unenjoyable first act, but viewers will be surprised how far in we get before the mission actually becomes “get the Death Star plans.” It feels like the reshoots that this film famously underwent are most noticeable while we’re getting the team together (though if you payed attention to marketing, you can see that the ending was obviously changed, and I think for the better).

On a minor note, I do have to say that I think this is the weakest score in the franchise thus far. In a franchise full of memorable themes and musical moments, there isn’t anything that I find sticking with me outside of one piece toward the end. It isn’t that Michael Giacchino does a bad job, it’s simply that the unfortunately rushed timetable for the compositions shows and can’t reach the high bar set by John Williams.

Ultimately, the strongest aspects of this film are the themes, specifically the theme of hope. “Rebellions are built on hope” is a quote thrown around in the film and with each passing scene, it rings more and more true. Not only does the film brilliantly recontextualize a major plot point from A New Hope, but it recontextualizes that title completely. In terms of the excellent performances and brilliant action direction, we see what used to just be “the good guys” learn what you sometimes need to do to
be the good guys, and I found all of that to be brilliant. Edwards is often praised for his ability to implement scale, going back to his success with 2014’s Godzilla, but I think his skills are on display here in an even deeper capacity. Edwards understands how to convey theme within the action. There were several times where I felt like the central arc of the film was being shown to us brilliantly on large and small scales, be it in space battles, ground battles, or what can only be described as a slasher film scene.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story can best be described as, well, a rogue. It’s the first film in the franchise that’s been given the liberty to do its own thing and I think it succeeds. They approached the adventure in a mature way and took some huge risks. Despite pacing issues and other minor problems in characterization, I couldn’t helped but be wowed by a story getting me to the edge of my seat despite my having known the result of its conflict my entire life.


About the Author

Alden Diaz

Alden Diaz is a WTN writer whose roots go back to the site's two predecessors. So basically he has a seat on the Council AND the rank of Master? Right? He's a geek with lots of opinions on film, comics, TV, etc., a graduate of broadcasting school, a smark, and a shameless collector of Funko Pop figures. Ask him why pigs are the best animal.