Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

"We have hope. Rebellions are built on hope!"

Disney has a lot riding on this film. As the first stand-alone Star Wars movie, it needs to work as a solo outing, but also as a part of a greater whole. From the first moments, it's clear this isn't a normal Star Wars film: gone is the familiar yellow crawl and the opening music. Yet there is so much connective tissue that makes it flow perfectly into the rest of the series that it works on several levels. But it isn't perfect.

First the good. Our main characters are all likable, although some could benefit from a bit more backstory. I found myself emotionally invested in the characters at least, and that goes to show how well written and acted they are. The stand outs for me are Alan Tudyk as K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid, who basically steals every scene he's in, and Donnie Yen as Chirrut Îmwe, a blind non-Jedi force user who personified what the force is all about. Of course, the film wouldn't have worked without Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), who basically held everything together as the plot raced by. Although the first act is a bit jumbled and the characters introduced very quickly, things never feel rushed. Jyn is given the bulk of the character development, and it's impressive how much I ended up rooting for her to succeed in her quest to fulfill her own personal destiny.

Then there is Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) who is kind of the heroic lead, but with an edge that I don't think Star Wars has really tackled before. Actually, every character has an edge to them, and that darker element when boiled down to the basics touched on the motivations of every character throughout the movie. The Rebellion is a reaction to the Empire, a deep and desperate fear of an Empire who will destroy an entire planet if it gets out of line.

This fear forces several characters to cross ethical lines that are common in real life war, but are generally glossed over in fantasy. The more kid-friendly main sequence movies never really address the often intangible lines people have to cross in war. Who is really a monster is often a matter of perspective, especially when the victors end up writing history books. Because the film isn't afraid to have our Rebel characters make dark choices, it isn't always easy to like our heroes, even though it made for compelling drama to watch them struggle with those choices.

There is more than just drama and character, though. The special effects are fantastic (well about 90% of them are). The numerous references to the rest of the franchise are almost all on point except for a couple of minor unnecessary ones. My favorites involved minor characters, including the leaders of the X-Wing squadrons that lead the attack on the Death Star in 'A New Hope', and some of the Rebel leaders like Mon Mothma.

The only major flaw I can think of centers around the choice to use a character from the original film played by an actor that died nearly twenty years ago. The use of CGI to replicate the character isn't quite up to the level of photo-realism and it made the performance feel off. Thankfully the same cannot be said for a certain major villain's return which I won't detail here, except to say it is probably the best use of the character I've ever seen.

Rogue One is darker than 'The Empire Strikes Back'. It is impactful to the universe, beautifully made, and wonderfully realized as an immediate prequel to the original Star Wars. It stands alone as the tale of how the Rebellion stole the plans to the first Death Star. It isn't what I thought it would be, and because of that I'm a bit conflicted about it, but I imagine those conflicts will be put aside when I see it again.

For now I'll say this is a well made film that feels like Star Wars, and had more than enough to tide me over until next year when Episode VIII comes out. I think Disney's gamble is going to pay off.

This review is spoiler free, but the comments are not. Feel free to post spoilers in the comments!
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J.D. Balthazar is a confirmed nerd who loves most things sci-fi or fantasy-related.

8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I for one loved the movie. I made a point to go into it ice cold, without really even watching the trailers. In my opinion it was the best Star Wars film since Empire, and could be the best of all the films.

The biggest complaint I have seen online is about the CGI, and the funny thing is, it caught me off guard to the point where I was wondering at first where they found such a dead ringer (no pun intended) for Peter Cushing. It took a minute to realize what they had done. I loved that he was in the film, and that rather than taking me out of the movie(which so many people complained about) it made the movie that much more special and felt of a time with the original Star Wars. More than one person who I spoke with after the movies had no idea that he was a CGI character. All the crap I have read about his scenes being "ghoulish" or whatever made no sense to me. Like I said, loved seeing Tarkin again.

I saw the first Star Wars in the theaters in 1977 when I was 9 and have been a fan ever since. This movie felt like Star Wars, so much more than the Force Awakens or the prequels. I also think the fact that all of the main characters die in the finale gave the film a gritty feel and a real sense of peril that is so lacking in our sequel driven movie business these days. I wasn't totally expecting to lose everyone, and when we did, it impacted me. And Darth Vader was a Boss. Incredible.

Thanks,
Mike

Anonymous said...

Those CGI scenes were pretty rough...Definitely best Star Wars film since Empire and there were no Jedi..Except for that beautiful Vader scene.
It's a shame they killed the characters off. It was a fitting end but i would have liked to have seen them again

Dustin said...

The problem with Tarkin was that the camera stayed on him too long. He would have looked more convincing in smaller pieces. The longer he was in the shot and the more he moved, the more CGI he looked. Same with Leia. Both voices sounded like the real actors though.

I am shocked that they killed off almost every new character we met. I didn't think that Disney would have the intestinal fortitude to allow more than half of the team to die. I do wish that at least one of them survived though.

My favorite character was Chirrut. I loved how joyful he was in many of his scenes.

I also liked the Red 5 call out and the reappearance of Red and Gold Leaders.

Lamounier said...

I really liked. I didn't mind about the CGI, but I agree that it would've worked better if they hadn't featured Tarkin so much, or so close. A friend of mine went nuts when he appeared. Happy nuts. I'm not a follower of the saga, so I was like "oh, ok, that must be someone important". I did recognize Leia, and even though she was there for five seconds, her CGI was somehow worse. It was a cool moment anyway.

The first twenty minutes or so bored me, but boy did the movie pick up after that. At some point, I think it was when Jyn gathered the group to what was basically a suicide mission, I wondered if they would make it to another chapter. It made sense, considering this was a fill the gaps movie, that the reason we didn't see these characters in previous movies is because they were dead. I liked that they all died. It added power to their story. Every rebellion demands sacrifice, and this was the story of those who were essential to the victory but didn't live to see it. I think that's beautiful, especially because most of them died at peace, accepting their role, understanding that their mission in life had been accomplished.

We know what happened to Death Star, but I was nervous about that freaking disk surviving Darth Vader's attack. That's good storytelling. Darth Vader was terrific. There is a reason he is such an iconic villain.

Lei said...

I feel for Tarkin it would've been better if they kept hi in the shadows or kept his backto us and we just see his reflection in the glass, like some of the scenes. My sister also didn't recognize the character but immedietely knew he was CG. With Leia, wasn't sure if she was pure CG or Carrie Fisher de-aged ala RDJ.

But overall loved the movie. The last 1/2 was the best. I didn't think I'd get attached to characters, but had to hold back tears at the end of the planet being destroyed with them watching it approach.

Is it just me or was the Death Star's destruction slow compared to Alderaan? I feel like they mentioned that it wasn't at its top strength, but not sure

William Russell said...

These are my exact feelings. Almost word for word. Loved this movie.

mazephoenix said...

Loved this. CGI Tarkin and Leia were so bad, I would have preferred recasts or hiding in the shadows. Loved Jyn's hero's journey though it had a tragic end, at least she had Cassian there in the end. Chirrut got to go out in a badass way and be with the force(and Baze).
It made me sad, but loved that it ended with Leia and hope for the rebellion.
The sarcastic robot was great, kudos to Alan Tudyk.

Patryk said...

I don't know if anyone will agree with me, but this movie's biggest success is making A New Hope an even better film by provinding a lot of context and believably plugging some minor plot holes (like the Death Star design flaw).

My one gripe might have been the fact that Darth Vader for some reason has gone all Sauron on Mustafar with a towering fortress build on lava... Maybe too tongue in cheek from the writers there. But Vader makes up for it in the final scene tho.

All in all I'm so much more impressed then with The Force Awakens.