Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, directed by Gareth Edwards
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directed by Gareth Edwards
Screenplay by Chris Weitz & Tony Gilroy
Story by John Knoll & Gary Whitta
Produced by Lucasfilm, Ltd.
Distributed by Walt Disney Studios, 2016

I finally saw Rogue One: A Star Wars Story this weekend and I’m very happy with it. I enjoyed it immensely and I have many thoughts about it now.

I should point out that I never had much to do with the Expanded Universe—I read a couple of the novels but I never paid much attention to it. I’ve also never watched any of the animated series (“Star Wars: The Clone Wars” or “Star Wars: Rebels”). My reactions to Rogue One come purely from the perspective of how well it fits in with the other movies.

**WARNING: SPOILERS**

I think it’s a wonderful entry in the new Star Wars universe, well-written and well-performed. I like that it had the guts to end the way it does—anything else would be a disservice to the story. I like that it had the guts to change the standard opening and do away with the crawl (although it retained the opening camera pan of planet-space-ship)—it’s appropriate to differentiate it from the core trilogies.

And I’m going to go on record stating that K-2SO is now my favorite droid of all time.

I like that the story was so deeply grounded in the characters and in Jyn’s family history. This has always been the formula which works best in the Star Wars universe. (In any storytelling universe, for that matter. Character is story, after all.) It forges a visceral connection to this part of the larger story. I enjoyed all of the characters central to this movie—it was a good variety of quirky folk. Luke, Leia, Han, and Chewie aren’t the only heroes in the Rebellion, and that’s a good thing.

I appreciate that it paid attention to the details and made effort to make everything (technology, uniforms, weapons, droids, etc.) match with A New Hope. The continuity impressed me.

I loved how it showed the Death Star in different orientations. I don’t know why this detail struck me but it did—it’s space, after all, there’s no “up” and the weapon would need to change orientation to point the gun at its target. Of course people on the planet’s surface would see the gun pointed down at them.

I admit: I read all the spoilers for the movie before I went to see it. And I wasn’t sure how I would react to the idea that the flaw in the Death Star was intentional sabotage. I’ve never had a problem with the fact that the Death Star had such a major flaw: that sort of thing happens all the time in the real world—especially when projects are rushed, especially when you have a massive bureaucracy overseeing things. Human history, military history, are rife with examples of flawed products, products that go into production with significant issues that somehow—bizarrely, unbelievably—no one noticed during development. That’s normal.

It’s part of what made the world of Star Wars so believable to me. It’s the “used universe” concept. Knowing that people screw up, that they overlook things, do a sloppy job—that’s what makes the world very real. I wasn’t sure that I liked the thought of retconning the flaw in the Death Star to make it intentional sabotage.

I had no problem with it. Because they grounded it in Galen’s character. Because it was necessary for his redemption and, by extension, Jyn’s redemption. It works because they needed it. That’s smart writing. And Star Wars is all about redemption stories.

I like how big and open the universe felt in Rogue One. One complaint I heard about The Force Awakens was that it made the Star Wars universe feel small. Decades of work expanding the universe through novels and comics was all reduced to a tiny little piece of space. It lessened things. Rogue One felt more expansive to me than The Force Awakens. It felt expansive in the same way as the original trilogy. That was welcome.

I like that it gave me a better sense of how the Jedi fell—not just how they were killed off but how their legacy and influence waned. The original trilogy talked of the Jedi as if they were long gone, but then the prequel trilogy showed the Jedi at the height of their powers less than one generation earlier. That timeline didn’t make much sense to me—there were big pieces missing to get the trilogies to match up. I appreciate how Rogue One fills in more information, shows the decay of the Jedi legacy.

I love how they incorporated side characters from A New Hope: rebel pilots and squadron leaders, Imperial captains, faces in the background, etc. And they did it without calling too much attention to the fact that they did it—these characters are simply where they should be. I love that several of the rebel pilots this time around were women.

And I adore that in one of the scenes on Yavin 4, you can hear someone in the background calling for “Captain Antilles”.

But as well as I liked Rogue One there are definitely some things that I think could have been done better. I don’t want to give the impression that I enjoyed the movie less than I actually did, though, because I really liked this movie.

1) The pacing wasn’t quite right. The movie could have been edited a little tighter.

2) My biggest complaint, by far, was Darth Vader:

  • Vader DOES NOT PUN! He would never be that cheesy and undignified. Dignity was always his strongest character trait (after being evil). Compare him to the other Jedi and Sith in the original trilogy: Obi Wan was perpetually amused by the people around him, Yoda was a straight-up comedian, Emperor Palpatine relished sarcasm. Compare him to the rest of the cast: Leia, Han, Luke, Chewie, 3PO, R2—they all displayed a capacity for amusement and decent comic timing. But Vader never showed any sense of humor at all. That—as much as his suit, as much as his breathing—is what defined his character. I cannot accept that he would ever throw around puns like this.
  • The character moved wrong. He walked wrong—his gait was off: it was too fluid, too sinuous, far too much sway in his hips. David Prowse imbued the character with a solidity that was missing here. The actor they stuck in the costume this time around did a poor job of replicating the character’s physicality. I didn’t feel like I was watching Vader—I felt like I was watching someone cosplay Vader.
  • James Earl Jones’ voice is showing its age. He’s not as effortlessly resonant as he used to be, his diction is less precise, and I could hear it. It’s anachronistic for Vader to sound older in Rogue One than he does in A New Hope.

3) I also had a problem with the CGI Tarkin and Leia—they were so obviously fake. Way too uncanny valley to work. Every time I saw Tarkin, I got so distracted by how clearly fake he was that I was thrown out of the story. It bothers me, too, because it was unnecessary—with a bit more creative staging and camera work, a teensy bit of rewriting in those scenes, they could have filmed all of them with body doubles and avoided the whole issue.

Think about how effective it was in the original trilogy when you didn’t get to see the Emperor’s face until the very last film. Consider how effective it could have been if we never saw Tarkin’s face in Rogue One—the sheer disdain that would show toward Director Krennic. That would have been far more sinister and effective than shoving Governor Fakey McFakerson in our face at every opportunity.

4) C-3PO and R2-D2 deserved so much better than a throwaway cameo. Seriously, either make them part of the story or don’t bother. This was pathetically lazy.

5) I have no idea what to think of Forest Whitaker in this film. He’s one of my favorite actors, and he’s a rare actor who can give an over-the-top performance but still keep it grounded and believable. This time… His performance wasn’t grounded and I didn’t see any need for that level of bizarre. It was just… weird. I have no idea what he was doing with it.

All of these criticisms are born from the fact that Rogue One is more than good enough for me to want it to be even better.

Overall, as I said—I’m very pleased with it.

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