Thursday, December 15, 2016

Star Wars: Rogue One review

    So, what did I think of Rogue One? Well, it was pretty good. This is one of those movies I suspect I'm going to feel like a traitor to my class (Star Wars nerds) and religion (I'm a theistic Christian Jedi) for having mixed feelings on. It was really-really good in many places but also didn't fill me with the kind of overwhelming joy I got from the other installments of the series.

    Indeed, if I had to rank the movies, I'd say this is probably the single most technically proficient of the films but probably the one I will re-watch least. I also believe this will be the single most loved of the movies for some after A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back. For me, it's just above Revenge of the Sith. Not because of the acting, the special effects, the likability of the characters, or the plot--all of that is great. Instead, my issues with Rogue One are entirely about tone and presentation. Also, the fact the movie is kind of creepy in its attempt to literally resurrect the dead on screen.

    More on that later.

The actors have great chemistry.
    The movie is an prequel (GASP!) or intrequal between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope. Indeed, it's really a kind of weird prologue to A New Hope as it's no spoiler to say the movie literally ends like minutes before the events of the first Star Wars movie. There's a few Prequel tie-ins like the inclusion of Jimmy Smits' Bail Organa, Coruscant, and Mustafar but no sign of the elements people disliked about them.

    Basically, Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the daughter of Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), the designer of the Death Star. In the place of Bevel Lemisk from the Expanded Universe, Galen Erso is an unwilling accomplice to the Empire's misdeeds and has sabotaged our favorite moon-sized space station with the whole thermal exhaust port thing.

    Galen's put a message with an Imperial pilot named Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) who has been captured by a bunch of anti-Imperial terrorists led by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). I use the term anti-Imperial terrorists because they've been kicked out of the Alliance for being too extreme, employ torture, and are made to visually resemble Middle Eastern insurgents in tactics as well as appearance. Jyn gets rescued from an Imperial labor camp by Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) so she can make an introduction with Saw as he was an old friend of Galen's.

I don't care what they say. I say he has the Force.
    Along the way they pick up a Force-wielding monk named Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and his atheist companion Baze (Jiang Wen). A lot of things happen which result in it becoming desperately necessary for our heroes to steal the Death Star plans from an Imperial library world. It's a fairly complicated plot but it actually works because the central idea is strong and everything stems from the heroes' failures. For example, Galen's message flat out says what the Death Star's weakness is from the beginning so they probably didn't actually need the plans. Unfortunately, the heroes' lose it and their subsequent attempts to get the weakness through other methods end up as colossal screw-ups.

    Which actually brings me to one of my first problems with the movie, in that the Rebel Alliance is a bunch of (to use a Star Wars idiom) karks. We see its members murder semi-innocent people, extort people into their service, plot assassinations, plan surrender to the Empire, and that's just the mainstream Alliance. 9/11 certainly changed American perception of guerilla warfare and there's always been jokes about the Rebel Alliance being a bunch of terrorists but it's kind of painful to watch their handling here. The Empire is much-much worse, what with numerous atrocities against innocent people, but the general tone brought me out of the movie.

More Admiral Piett than Grand Moff Tarkin.
    Next, the kinda-sorta main villain of Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) was a big disappointment as I'm stunned to realize the movie really doesn't need him. I was hoping for a new Grand Moff Tarkin character but he strikes me as more the fun-hating college dean. With Grand Moff Tarkin actually in the movie and Darth Vader, he's really just a bungling Imperial administrator who kicks over the occasional ant-hill without a trace of real menace. I really wish they'd deleted Tarkin completely and split the story between him and Vader.

    Speaking of which, I find the fact they CGIed Peter Cushing's face onto another actor in order to resurrect Grand Moff Tarkin for this movie to be positively ghoulish. I think its disrespectful to the actor and something which should be avoided. The actual effect is almost but not quite there and if Peter Cushing were still alive to approve it, it probably wouldn't bother me as much but I had the same problem when they inserted Sir Lawrence Olivier into Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow. Let the dead rest in peace.

    Beyond these complaints, the movie is staggeringly beautiful with the kind of battle scenes which we only saw the barest hints of on Hoth and over Endor. There's an amazing amount of action in the films with some of the most intense fighting, no, the most intense fighting in all of the eight films. The Rebel Alliance engages the Empire head on and they get their asses truly handed to them but that's not a bad thing as they're willing to sacrifice their lives to inflict as much damage on the Imperials as possible. There's also a single great "Vader as Jason Voorhees" moment which has to be seen to be believed.

The Peace Moon is almost completed.
    The characters are extraordinarily likable throughout with Jyn, K2-SO, and Chirrut as the stand-out characters. I would have easily watched multiple sequels with them tooling around the galaxy to fight the Dark Side. Cassian had an interesting character arc which fit into my view of a man realizing he's NOT in a universe where hard men make hard choices but a more idealistic Star Wars one. I also loved Saw Gerrera as it's very clear he threw everything at the Empire and then some, only to realize it wasn't remotely enough.

    The music of the film was unfortunately also a bit weak. I can't recall any real motifs which stood out for me and they didn't even reuse any of the classic movie themes in memorable ways. The music of the film is serviceable but I think it would have benefited from John Williams doing a couple of signature songs for it and making use of classic pieces like the original Star Wars theme.

    Still, when the credits finally rolled, I had mixed feelings about the film. The film didn't feel like Star Wars where the power of idealism and hope triumphed over cruelty as well as cynicism. There are a lot of sacrifices made in the movie and while that's a valuable lesson in real life, because change does require great sacrifice, it's perhaps a bit too much. I felt numb instead of elated and I don't think that's the direction Star Wars should go. I compare the feeling at the end of the movie to where Jaina killed Jacen Solo at the end of the Fate of the Jedi series. Yeah, the Sith Lord is dead but it's at a horrific cost which doesn't remotely feel worth it. It was a good movie but I wish they'd done several things differently to get that Star Wars feel.

    And why was there no opening crawl or Star Wars theme? BAD! BAD MOVIE!



  1. Even real life good revolutions had their seedy nasty parts. There is good reason why most High School history books skip over what happened in the Carolinas and Georgia during the Revolution. It was nasty fighting filled with guerillas, non-uniformed militias, and locals hiring themselves out as mercenaries.

    Probably not something for the Star Wars universe unless you remove it far from the movies like TOR.

  2. The last ten minutes of this movie were some of the best in any Star Wars film.

  3. I quite like this film for the way it ties into new hope and serves as a bridge between the prequels and the original films.

    I also liked this film for doing more of it's own stuff and not afraid to divert from the usual star wars stuff of using john's music, the opening crawls etc. While I love them I don't feel the need to see them in every star war visual work.

    As Force Awakens for me copied new hope too much and felt lazy at times in how it just took stuff from the expanded universe (like Revan's costume for Ren and basically jacen solo's character and fall).

    Same with overreliance on John's score for the other films, I love John's work but to just rely on it for every star works work for dilutes it.

    Same with Vader being in a big role, one of the big flaws I found with the legends continuity and other star wars work was overuse of Vader, it diluted the threat he posed and it led to him losing much of what made him a great character in the first place.

    This film used him in a way that fitted him perfectly without having him overshadow the plot.

    On the tarkin cgi stuff, yeah that creeped me out as well and felt uncanny. Though I will give props to the actor who got tarkin down well and matched Peter's take on him.

    Personally I liked that Tarkin basically took credit and control away from the new character and his actions here make his death in new hope much more fitting and ironic when his actions here caused them.

    Plus it's very believable for people like Tarkin to basically nick the credit for other people's work. It happens all the time in real life.

    The plot here was more interesting for the greyness of the alliance, no side ever has clean hands in war, change etc and it was time that Star Wars applied that to them. The black and white morality of star wars has longed held it back in many places.

    Overall Disney seems to be being more balanced in the idealism in places, more of reality ensues trope useage in many places. Though legends universe had that as well.

    Overall Rgoue One had it's flaws like some wooden acting, too quick pacing in the first third and not making use of Saw more considering his stuff from the clone wars animated series (would have liked to seen a bit between him and vader).

    But rebels hopefully will explore him and some of rogue one characters more.

    All in all I felt this film did justice to star wars and left me feeling more for it than Force Awakens did this time last year.

  4. My theory on Chirrut is that he's as close to force sensitive as a person can be without having the natural "gift" for it. Not everyone can be Luke Skywalker, but everyone can be Chirrut in theory.