NOTE: This review will contain spoilers. If you haven’t seen the movie, don’t read it.
It was interesting to see a Star Wars movie at a time other than midnight. I have begun to associate the franchise with late night coffee at the Grind and schmoozing with fans in $7,000 cosplays. However, with a ticket price of five dollars and some change at the small local theater for the first showing of the day, I couldn’t argue with the appeal of going at 10 a.m. On a Friday, non-holiday, morning, I didn’t expect to see so many middle aged moviegoers crowding the theater. I severely underestimated the power of Star Wars, and its ability to drag people of all ages out of their mundane lives into a galaxy far, far away. Regardless, it was really nice to spend another two hours in that galaxy, especially only a year after the release of the newest main saga film.
Rogue One was the first in what Disney is calling the “A Star Wars Story” brand name. In between main saga episodes, fans will be treated to different stories from throughout the Star Wars timeline. This is probably the best approach Disney could have taken to cash in on their ripe franchise annually. It gives them time to work on the main trilogies, while splintering off different teams to produce these universe-building anthology films.
My expectation for the anthology movies (and specifically for Rogue One) was very simple. As long as it’s good, i’m good. In other words, as long as the film is entertaining and doesn’t disrespect the main saga, it’s fine in my book. It doesn’t need to be the next Return of the Jedi, it just needs to give me a good time. Rogue One did exactly that. It wasn’t amazing, but it was by no means bad.
I think the main issue I have with Rogue One is that the writers forgot one of the main factors that makes most of the Star Wars movies such masterpieces; great characters. Don’t get me wrong, the characters in Rogue One were good enough, but that’s just it; they were only good enough. To quote Jesse Wood, they were a “flock of stock template characters.” Jyn Erso- generic punk/badass chick protagonist. K-2SO- generic comedic relief. Baze Malbus- generic seemingly annoyed, but actually cares, friend character. I could go on and on, but you get the idea. Most of the characters in this movie weren’t particularly interesting, which is a stark departure from the franchise’s predecessors. Darth Vader, Han Solo, and now even Rey: some of the greatest fictional characters of all time. I can’t see myself thinking about any of the new characters in this movie unless i’m actually watching it.
However, it’s unfair to not give credit where credit is due. Although not too well written, there were some characters that I genuinely did like. I thought the primary antagonist, Orson Krennic, while somewhat generic, was very realistic. This is the kind of person that would exist and behave this way in a political environment like the Galactic Empire. He
was also very sympathetic; all the best villains are. Despite rooting against him, I understood his position, and genuinely felt bad for him. This was only aided by an occasionally over the top, but mostly strong performance by Ben Mendelsohn.
Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe was a conflicting character for me. He was by far the most interesting, but I feel as if he was wasted in Rogue One. A force sensitive that was neither Jedi nor Sith: what potential. I loved how he treated the force more like a religion, bringing the mysticality back to it. However, with a limited runtime, and many other characters to juggle, he was only able to have a few of the developmental moments he deserved. He could carry his own film to be honest; who wouldn’t want to see a movie about a man who either goes blind or was born without sight, and turns to the force for answers? Disney, can you please make Chirrut Imwe: A Star Wars Story? That honestly probably would have been a better movie.
Anyway, let’s get back on track here with Saw Gerrera. He was an intriguing character that was handled very well. I have come to understand that he was a somewhat important character in the Clone Wars TV series. I’m happy that Rogue One didn’t just expect you to know who he was. They explained just enough for you to understand his character, but left enough open to make you want to go back and watch his Clone Wars episodes. Although he didn’t have as much screen time as I would have liked, his presenc in the movie was still very strong. He added a lot of depth to the conflict dynamic of the rebellion and the empire, showing that the mainstay Rebel Alliance wasn’t the only revolutionary group in the galaxy.
Saw wasn’t the only veteran character to make his way into the movie. Darth Vader, while used very minimally, was handled perfectly. He obviously needed to be there, it wouldn’t have made sense if he wasn’t. However, the writers used him just the right amount. Both of his scenes were fantastic, especially the concluding scene of the movie. The reprise of James Earl Jones, and the absence of Hayden Christensen was pleasantly surprising.
On the subject of veteran characters comes what probably will be the most talked about component of Rogue One; Governor Tarkin. In Episode IV, Tarkin was portrayed by legendary actor Peter Cushing, who sadly passed away 22 years ago. Yet, Tarkin returns in Rogue One, played by “Peter Cushing.” Over the past decade, Disney has been working on a piece of technology that film buffs should have payed more attention to. In 2010’s Tron Legacy, Jeff Bridges fought against a younger version of himself. In Captain America: Civil War earlier this year, a middle-aged Tony Stark presented a younger holographic version of himself to an impressed audience. You may notice that both of these films involved the computer generated use of a younger version of an actor who was in the movie. However, these were simply tests of the technology: tests that succeeded. In Rogue One, this technology was implemented at its fullest potential, allowing for the deceased Peter Cushing to reprise his role, regardless of the physical presence of a fairly unknown actor. I find this very troubling. I would imagine that the Cushing family allowed this, and expressed that this is what Peter would have wanted (although there is really no way to be sure). However, this opens up a whole new can of worms with regards to film ethics. Can filmmakers just bring back famous actors from the dead for their movies? Do studios now have to copyright actors? What is perhaps most troubling about this idea is that all three films that this technology was implemented in were products of none other than Disney. Disney seems to be the only company with this technology, or at least the only one who has actually used it. Although I can see other studios studying Rogue One to figure out this technology for themselves, the fact still remains that Disney has an apparent monopoly on an extremely unethical piece of filmmaking technology. Again, this is all my personal opinion. Most of the audience may not have a problem with this technology. However, it disturbs me a bit, and I feel like that definitely impacted my opinion of the movie (how major or minor this impact I can’t say). To clarify even further, I had no problem with the use of A New Hope era Leia in the final scene. Carrie Fisher is alive and well; she clearly gave full permission for this. It’s only when an actor is six feet under, and has no way of expressing their desires, that I see an issue.
Now i’ve been hinting at my love of the final scene in this movie throughout this whole piece. The ending of this movie is one of the greatest scenes in the history of cinema. The movie concludes with a seamless transition from Rogue One into the opening scene of A New Hope. The slow build to this reveal was perfect; once I realized what was happening, I got literal chills. This scene also serves as the first time outside of expanded universe material that we see Darth Vader mowing down enemies in his signature suit. We obviously got to see his involvement in Order 66 in Revenge of the Sith, but he was still wearing his Jedi cloak when he took part in those actions. As a huge Darth Vader fan, and a lifelong Star Wars fan for that matter, this scene was a reward for my dedication to the franchise. It felt almost like a gift from Disney to me directly, thanking me for my die-hard love of the saga.
Despite what you may think, this final scene was not my favorite part of the movie. There are two more components that, to me, are even stronger. The first is a resolvement of a plot hole that has existed in the franchise since its 1977 debut. How did the empire fail to realise that there was such a huge flaw in their superweapon (the thermal exhaust port)? Rogue One follows the story of Jyn Erso, daughter of Galen Erso, the head architect behind the Death Star. Still sympathetic to the rebels, Galen purposely implemented this tiny flaw into the design of the weapon, hoping that the Rebel Alliance would one day use this knowledge to destroy it once and for all. This was a genius way to make sense of such a large plot hole, and this was the perfect movie tackle that task in.
Now for what I believe is the strongest part of the film. All of the main heroes die in the end. Not one of the protagonists we have followed makes it out ok. They truly sacrificed themselves for the rebellion. It is constantly restated throughout Episode IV that many rebels died to get the Death Star plans to the Alliance. As this was a movie about those very rebels, I’m so happy they didn’t just take the easy way out, and actually had the guts to follow through.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had its problems, but I definitely still enjoyed watching it. For me, it sits comfortably below the original trilogy, the Force Awakens, and Revenge of the Sith, but it still soars eons above Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones. Rogue One wasn’t amazing, but like I said, it didn’t have to be. It wasn’t disrespectful to the main saga, and that’s really all that matters for a Star Wars anthology movie.