Rogue One Review

After I saw Episode VII: The Force Awakens I took some time to analyze the film before launching into a  review. I was initially committed to doing the same thing for Rogue One, but since I got back I have been re-watching any scenes I can get my hands on, visiting IMDB and fighting the urge to watch Episode IV. I figured I would put this mood into something more productive.

I liked Episode VII, especially since it showed us the old cast again, but was disappointed that it was a rehash of a New Hope. Rogue One could have been a rehash as well. A prequel can seem like a money grab but the film may be my favourite Star Wars film, showing us new characters and new worlds that we don’t see anywhere else in the trilogy. Episode IV began with an opening crawl that tells us that rebels stole the plans for the Death Star, which is what led to the rebels knowing about the Death Star’s weakness.

Rogue One takes place only a few days before (with the exception of flashbacks) and tells us how the rebels acquired the plans. Firstly, I will say that the squad of new characters do not get that much development. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) is the central figure and gets the lion share of backstory. Diego Luna’s Captain Cassian Andor comes the closest to Erso’s level of backstory. With that said, the film still managed to make me attached to this new crop of characters. Donnie Yen’s Chirrut Imwe is sure to become a fan favourite and is one of the highlights. Alan Tudyk’s K-2SO is also a scene-stealer and is my favourite droid in the Star Wars universe. After his performance as Sonny in I,Robot it’s pretty clear that Tudyk is a chameleon. Riz Ahmed’s Bodhi Rook and Wen Jiang’s Baze Malbus bring up the flank for our main rebels and are both highly competent in their roles, even if they may not be as memorable in comparison to their partners.

Jones and Luna both carry the film well as two morally grey characters attempting to navigate their mission. They are also supported by Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the villainous Krennic.

Krennic reports directly to Grand Moff Tarkin (Guy Henry), which brings up one issue with the film. Peter Cushing originally played Tarkin in Episode IV but since he passed away, his face was digitally added to Henry’s body. The friend I saw the film with didn’t realize Tarkin’s face was digitally created but since I knew going in, it did bother me at times. The film did a much better job with this task than Tron: Legacy did with Clu, but it could have been improved as well. Most of the special effects in the film are amazing, with Tarkin and one scene in particular being the only stand out for subpar effects.

Forest Whitaker plays Saw Gerrera, a militant rebel who is at odds with the rest of the rebel alliance. He is also a central figure in Erso’s backstory, which makes him a pretty important character for the film. Whitaker’s performance is somewhat hampered by an accent that affects his line delivery, making some lines clunky and harder to make out. The character was also in the Star Wars: Rebels series and the character doesn’t have a similar accent in the show. With that said, I will say that the film left me wanting to find out more about the character.

Saw was involved in over a decade of combat with the empire, and this film brings some exciting combat of its own to the screen. Yen’s fight scenes are an obvious stand out but the film also creates great aerial and ground battles throughout. The last act is especially riveting and helped to clear up one of my biggest concerns about the movie.

When there was news of rewrites, it was rumoured that the rewrites were being done to lighten up the script. I wouldn’t be surprised if Disney truly did that since Thor 3: Ragnarok was changed for that same reason. The last act makes it clear that the writers didn’t care about making the film light-hearted. Since the old trilogy never showed us the characters who stole the death star plans, you can guess what happens to them. Rogue One shows us. One issue from the rewrites is that a lot of scenes appeared to have been cut. Some of my favourite shots from the trailer were conspicuously absent from the film. There may be an extended cut but it is likely that some scenes were simply removed all together.

The Death Star’s weakness has been lampooned mercilessly, but Rogue One actually clears up the reason for the weakness. Rogue One also has several easter eggs and nods to the rest of the franchise. At one point Erso bumps into the same duo who accosted Luke in the bar in The Cantina, and we see Erso’s parents drinking the infamous blue milk. By the end of the film you’ll also want to watch Episode IV since Rogue One ends right where that one starts.

Speaking of the franchise, we see its most famous character in all his glory once again. Darth Vader is in the film for less than ten minutes, but every minute is glorious. There has been some criticism online for one of his lines, which many people saw as a corny joke. Maybe I was just happy to hear James Earl Jones again, but I didn’t mind the line at all. One thing that definitely wasn’t cheesy was Vader’s final scene in the film. It is filmed like a horror movie and deftly shows why he is such a feared figure.

Rogue One may not give us the most fleshed out characters but I give the film credit for making me care about the characters anyway. I also appreciated how well it tied in with the series’ continuity. I enjoyed it from start to finish and it leaves me wanting to watch the old trilogy all over again.

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I have missed out on seeing Arrival, which was one of my most anticipated films due to the director’s previous work with Prisoners and Sicario. A big issue has been my schedule so far but I am hoping to have more free time later this month to see Rogue One, ideally during opening weekend.

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The original Star Wars trilogy wasn’t perfect by any means, with episode IV featuring some weak acting from Mark Hamill. However, his and Harrison Ford’s skills developed as the series progressed. The story was creative and executed better than the prequels, with less time devoted to a tepid love story between Anakin (Hayden Christensen) and Padme (Natalie Portman), played terribly by both parties. The effects for the original trilogy have obviously aged, but many of them were groundbreaking for the time. With the prequels, we got cartoonish special effects in many places where sets, actors and makeup would have been better. I have no problem with special effects, but the prequels overused them and also had poorly rendered special effects in numerous places.

The special effects were much improved in Star Wars: Episode VII and the filmmakers made better use of motion capture to create more realistic CGI characters. Episode VII was also aided by better performances from its entire cast. Less Jake Lloyd, less Hayden Christensen, less Natalie Portman. Portman has been great in other roles but Star Wars was not one of them.

Getting to see the original cast and characters again was pretty much worth the price of admission for episode VII and was probably the greatest appeal. I also loved Daisy Ridley and John Boyega’s performances. Kylo Ren wasn’t as great as Darth Vader but I did like him as a villain, even if he was slightly disappointing. I expected the world, and the character fell short of that, but was still a good villain. As I look back on the film, or watch parts of it on Netflix, I empathize with one of the main criticisms: It is a rehash of a New Hope. Finding a young orphan on a desert planet (Rey) who comes to grasp with her Jedi skill to help defeat an evil empire. We even got our third death star and another revelation about unexpected familial bonds.

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Once I finally quieted the fanboy in me, and looked at the film more subjectively, I was disappointed by all of the rehashed material. Rogue One could obviously end up being the same since it is a prequel, but the trailers already show us some interesting new characters and new worlds. There are also other star wars spin-offs in the works such as Han Solo, with Donald Glover cast as the lead. Initially, I saw these films as a sign of greed and excess by Disney. They still could be, and obviously money is a factor even if it isn’t the main one. After Episode VII I do appreciate the chance to see a new crop of characters, new villains, new plots and new worlds. Maybe even some heroes and villains who aren’t related to one another.

I won’t begrudge Disney their profit if they hire a team that brings new, exciting and skillfully crafted Star Wars stories to a hungry audience.

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