Rogue One (2016)
Starring: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelsohn, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, Jiang Wen, Forest Whitaker
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla)
Synopsis: Taking place shortly before the events of Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, a rag-tag group of rebels must complete their mission to seize control of the Death Star plans.
What works: The Story. Despite the fact that we know the outcome of their mission, the movie gives us enough thrills and action to satisfy even the casual Star Wars fan. The space battle finale alone is worth the price of admission. But there’s plenty of other scenes to enjoy. This is first and foremost a war movie, more than any of the other Star Wars flicks in that it feels like the mission alone is the focus of this movie. If you ever saw an old WWII action movie like Guns of Navarone or Ice Station Zebra, this is what it feels like to be in the Star Wars universe.
The Cast. While I feel like the story/mission is the main focus of the movie and that the characters really weren’t fleshed out or developed like other Star Wars movies, the cast themselves did a fine job in their acting. Felicity Jones especially joins the ranks of terrific tough heroines like Ripley, Princess Leia and Furiosa. The other stand-out for me was Donnie Yen’s blind monk who was a Force faithful. Alan Tudyk’s voicing the surly droid K-2SO also stole a lot of the scenes.
The Music. While I have bitched about how mediocre Michael Giacchino’s scores have usually been in the past, I liked his blend of old Williams’ cues with his own new Williamseque motifs. The score felt very old-school Star Wars enough to actually make me notice the flourishes and emotional weight to some scenes. So I guess all it takes for me to like Giacchino’s film scores is for him to imitate better composers. Sorry to admit it but the guy always leaves me cold.
The Fan Service. Now usually this is an area that doesn’t work, especially now The Force Awakens being a year old feels like too much fan service after the few times I’ve watched it. However, and this could be the same feeling after only just one viewing, but I enjoyed the nods, cameos and harkening back to the original classic Star Wars. And that could simply be because this takes place in the same era as the original but I feel Edwards and team only gave us a tiny amount to whet our fan-boy appetite when it came to the fan service. I don’t think there’s too much to spoil in a prequel like this but Grand Moff Tarkin plays a major role in this installment and they actually CGI’d Peter Cushing’s face over another actor and it looks amazingly realistic. Like how Marvel de-aged Michael Douglas in Ant-Man and Robert Downey Jr. in Captain America: Civil War, we are at the stage in computer animation where facial manipulation is near-perfection. And Tarkin isn’t the only actor getting the CGI mask work in this film either. Soon, death will not be a problem with making movies. Peter Cushing was essentially back from the grave to perform one of his pivotal roles and it didn’t look too shabby and it especially didn’t look cartoony like The Polar Express. If they ever wanted to make more Star Wars prequels they can simply CGI young Harrison Ford or Mark Hamill’s face over some other actor and have those actors do the voice-overs. Hell, now I’m thinking we may see Sir Alec Guinness play Obi-Wan again if they ever make a stand-alone film about him. It’s a brave new world.
What fails: Character development. I stated this above and it needs some more addressing because to me, this is the weakest aspect of this other-wise very well-made installment of the Star Wars franchise. There’s virtually no character development or arcs for most of these new characters. Even Jyn Erso gets a very rushed back story and her progression and conflict isn’t fully fleshed out enough. Sure, her dad is the chief engineer for the Death Star and she wants to save him as well as get the plans to destroy it but we also know that she’s been living a very sordid life before fully joining the rebellion. We never really see her main motivation for wanting to help them other than save her dad. But the other characters also have such a paltry backstory or proper motivation other than common rebel. They just join up with Erso and Diego Luna’s Cassian Andor. Riz Ahmed, who plays defecting Empirical pilot Bodhi Rook never really gets his scene where he explains the reasons for defecting. And the other thing that kinda bummed me out was all these new rebels are fully trusted without any doubts by the full-blooded rebels like Andor, who takes them at their word and lets them help not knowing their histories. If they had more character development then this film would be a grand slam. Bear in mind that we all know going in to this story that they are not going to make it back alive, you’d think they would have better character development to make us emotionally invested in them but sadly, not enough care is given to them and the stakes kinda fall flat as a result.
But then again, is character development that important for a movie such as this? Predator is considered a sci-fi/action classic and that has zero character development. Take that comparison for what you will.
Overall: When it comes to Star Wars movies there’s a huge sense of overwhelming of sorts. What I mean by that is Star Wars was and probably forever will be my favorite cinematic franchise. It’s as old as I am and I grew up with it. After every single new film there’s a mad rush of excitement and joy for that kid inside of me to be back in that Lucasfilm universe. I remember, even after Phantom Menace and Clones, I liked it enough shortly after seeing them and was grateful to see another Star Wars flick. It always takes me some time to fully grasp and wrap my head around the overall story to critique it completely. Doesn’t matter how old I am, I think I’ll always be that kid I was sitting in the theatre the first time watching a new Star Wars movie. The Force Awakens, same thing, after the 3rd viewing, then my adult brain makes the nitpicks. I’m sure the same will happen to Rogue One, however, with this being, essentially the first real adult-themed Star Wars movie, (like I said, this is a war movie and sadly doesn’t have much going for it for the younglings this time around—I’m debating even taking my kids to see it because most will go over their heads) I have the adult brain already turned on so I’m thinking this may be my 4th favorite Star Wars movie out of the 8 so far. Crazy I know, but I’m curious to see if my opinion changes after more viewings. But I would say it’s mostly because there’s no Skywalker or Jedi vs. Sith baggage hindering this new story. It’s way more grounded in that there’s one mission and one vision for this story. A mission with no myth or magic tying it together. I think that makes a difference. I would also say that this movie can totally cater to non-Star Wars fans out there (all 7 of you) because of the lack of connection to the other movies (except for the ending of course). This film can stand on its own despite being a prequel for a larger trilogy story. But again, there’s only a handful of people on this planet who haven’t seen the original trilogy by now so this point is moot. Is Rogue One a perfect film? Not even close. Is it a fun and entertaining one? Absolutely. Will the Star Wars fans like it? They should. I look forward to seeing it again in the near future.
Score: 9 “Planet Gates (like there’s only one way into a planet’s atmosphere)” (out of 10)