Rogue One Review: And The Force is With Me

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I think I can speak for most, if not all, Star Wars fans when I say that before The Force Awakens was released, the overwhelming feeling was apprehension. We all still had a sense of PTSD from the prequels, and we were all a bit nervous that this was going to be a massive letdown. When TFA opened to positive reviews from critics and fans, we all breathed a sigh of relief. It was precisely the entertainment we wanted – it had the same style of humor, the same action sequences, the same quirky characters, the same… well, everything. If we’re all honest with ourselves, the reason why we loved TFA is that it was essentially A New Hope recycled, and the best parts were when we heard our favorite repeated lines or when the Millennium Falcon showed up.

Rogue One is not that movie. Rogue One is not a movie to make you long for your childhood, to highlight cool-looking lightsaber fights, or to remind you about the past glory of the Star Wars franchise. Rogue One is, quite simply, just a great movie about the power of hope.

Though the general plot is well-known to Star Wars fans, the nuances are what set this film apart. We all know from A New Hope that the Rebel Alliance somehow acquired the plans to the Death Star and launched an offensive, led by newly discovered Luke Skywalker. The details of how the Alliance got those plans were unknown to the audience until now.

THIS IS YOUR LAST CHANCE FOR SPOILERS.

Rogue One‘s heroine is Jyn Erso, played by Felicity Jones, who was separated from her father, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen), as a small child, when Galen was forced to work for the Empire. Turns out that Galen is a brilliant scientist, and the Empire recruited him to construct the first Death Star (which, as you may recall, was under construction at the end of Revenge of the Sith). Jyn hides from the clutches of the Empire and is rescued and raised by Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). When we meet Jyn at the beginning of the film, she’s locked up in a prison, though we don’t know for what. The Alliance breaks her out and takes her to the familiar Yavin 4, where they tell her that they want her to find Saw and Galen. If she does it, they’ll make sure she goes free.

In the process, we meet the rest of our cast of characters: there’s our captain, Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a snarky droid named K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk), an Imperial pilot turned informant, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), and our new favorite best friends: Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen), a blind warrior monk who is not a Jedi but clearly Force sensitive, and Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), his bestie who prefers to use a giant grenade launcher instead of the Force.

Our heroes all end up in the same place at the same time when Jyn, Cassian, and K-2 head to Jedha City on the moon of Jedha to find Saw Gerrera. Saw’s gone a little crazy and split with the Alliance. Bodhi came to Jedha to find Saw, bearing a message from Galen, which is seen by Jyn and Saw: he agreed to work for the Empire because he knew that if he didn’t do it, they would just get someone else. And he put a flaw in the Death Star – the same flaw that is very familiar to the audience. A direct hit to the reactor will destroy the entire structure (by the way, I love that they spell this out, because one of my biggest issues with the Death Star destruction has always been wondering how the Empire could screw something like that up).

Meanwhile, over on the Death Star, Commander Orson Krennic is overseeing construction and quite pleased with himself. Grand Moff Tarkin (in some pretty legit CGI work) wants to test the weapon and orders him to destroy Jedha City. This forces our heroes to come together and join forces. Our crew first heads to an Imperial site to get Galen, but he’s killed by a rebel strike.

Back on Yavin 4, Jyn wants the Alliance to go to Scarif, where the schematics for the Death Star are stored. The Alliance, upon hearing about the power of the Death Star, is cautious, and they can’t do anything without an unanimous vote. But, because that can’t be the end of the movie, Jyn and Cassian decide to go rogue (get it? It’s the title of the movie) and gather our heroes, along with a small but solid group of soldiers, to head to Scarif.

The crew goes to Scarif and successfully gets the plans and uploads them to the Alliance, but in the process, all of our new characters bite the dust, and we get some cool fight scenes, both on the ground and in space. The movie ends with a familiar face – Princess Leia, in not-quite-as-great CGI – holding the plans to the Death Star as her ship flees from the Empire.

Oh, yeah, and Darth Vader shows up a couple of times.

One of my favorite things about this movie is that it doesn’t have all of the cheeky references the same way that TFA did. We get a cameo by C-3PO and R2-D2, but it seems to actually serve a purpose – C-3PO comments that they’re going to Scarif, letting us know how they got on Leia’s ship. We get an appearance from Bail Organa (Jimmy Smits) too, but again, we need him to explain why Leia gets involved. We almost get “I have a bad feeling about this,” but Jyn shushes K-2 before he can finish the line. Again, this is not a movie that’s all about fan service. This movie is about telling a story – it just so happens that the story is set in the Star Wars universe.

I’ve read some reviews that say this is more of a war movie than any of the other Star Wars films, and those reviews are right. This film blends action and war terror in a wonderfully effective way. Nothing about this is cartoonish, in contrast to the terrible action sequences in The Phantom Menace or any of the Clone War scenes in the prequels. This movie shows us the struggle of the Rebel Alliance and the desperation of the planets affected by the Empire. Though I was not prepared for everyone to die, I think it works here, because, again, it’s showing us the realities of this war. It should make us appreciate how far the Rebel Alliance has come in the next few movies as it becomes even more organized and actually presents challenges to the Empire. We get the feeling that before the battles in Rogue One, the Alliance hadn’t really been fighting the Empire through actual combat. The Empire had been free to run around and cause havoc wherever it wanted. But no more.

Rogue One is not in the linear storyline of Episodes 1-7. That is made very clear to us right from the beginning, when we don’t get a scrolling text at the beginning of the film. This is a side story. But this story is one that exemplifies the heart and soul of the Star Wars universe. Ultimately, Star Wars was originally about a ragtag group of rebels battling a mighty, overpowering force that had the Dark Side at its advantage. It was a story about the underdog, a story about the little guy rising up, and yes, as was stated multiple times throughout the current film, a story about hope. It was about the hope of the Rebel Alliance to restore peace and justice to the galaxy, about the hope of Obi-Wan and Yoda to save the Jedi line through Luke and Leia, and about the hope that even the most evil among us, Vader, can be redeemed in the end.

Rogue One is unabashedly a story about hope – and more than that, it’s a story about hope when times are darkest. We know, as the faithful audience, that there’s going to be a happy (temporary) ending in a few movies when the Emperor is killed and the Empire is defeated. But our rebels don’t know that yet. All they know is that the war has just begun and that times are bleak. Despite that, our heroes don’t give up hope, even through the end of the movie. A friend who I saw the movie with said he didn’t understand the point of Baze reciting Chirrut’s line (“I am one with The Force, and The Force is with me”) as he crawls to his death. It’s all about hope. Baze has been dismissive of Chirrut’s repetition of the line earlier in the movie, and we get the feeling that Baze isn’t a believer in the Force the same way that Chirrut was. Nevertheless, at the end of his life, when he knows there is no way out – when he has to know that he’s about to die – he accepts The Force. If that’s not hope, I don’t know what is. Sorry to cross franchises, but do you remember Sam’s speech at the end of The Two Towers where he talks to Frodo about not giving up and fighting for what matters? The entire movie is just another version of that speech. And that’s exactly the movie we need right now.

Final Verdict: Do I think that Rogue One was more fun than TFA? Of course not. Do I think it’s a better film? Absolutely. And I think it’s questionable whether any of the Star Wars films are better than Rogue One other than The Empire Strikes Back. (Obviously, there’s no question that Rogue One blows the prequels out of the water.)

Dragons, what did you think about Rogue One? Are you as sad as I am that everyone died? (RIP, Cassian Andor, the newest and most fleeting love of my life.) Leave your thoughts in the comments!

 

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One Comment:

  1. While I love sci-fi in general, Star Wars is definitely at the top of my list, and while I loved this movie for a lot of reasons, one of them is because, to me, it was a Star Wars movie, with a Star Wars plot. Claiming its not because it was more heartrending or more violent, more of a ‘war story’ misses just how much of a Star Wars story it is. The movie is, first of all, set in a galaxy far far away, a galaxy populated by humans, aliens of every shape and kind, beings in shiny and dingy helmets, and semi-sentient and even totally sentient wisecracking droids (droids, of course, considered by George Lucas to be at the heart of the original Star Wars). It had the underdog rebels fighting a seemingly unstoppable foe, the Galactic Empire. It had space battles and land battles, and it had heart. All the makings of a Star Wars movie. And for those who were unsatisfied with its Star-Wars-ness, I draw parallels to the Empire Strikes Back (critically considered the best of the saga), which included a relentless Empire stamping out the rebels, who fought back, LOST, but managed to survive enough to regroup. Isn’t that exactly what happened in this movie? The rebels were losing, facing insurmountable odds, made sacrifices, but were able to regroup, or escape enough that they could keep the fight going. That’s the hope that the movie constantly refers to. keeping the fight going. Doing the impossible to save the galaxy.

    The movie was better than that though, because while it forcibly emphasized hope, it’s strongest theme to me was sacrifice, something we see very little of in the saga. In the original trilogy, all the good guys live, with the exception of Obi Wan Kenobi in Ep IV: A New Hope, who lets himself be struck down by Darth Vader for Luke, and then again, in Ep VI: Return of the Jedi, by Darth Vader, who sacrifices himself to save Luke.
    In this movie, we see sacrifice over and over again. Galen Erso sacrifices himself for his daughter AND for the rebel alliance. K-2SO sacrifices himself for Jyn and Cassian. Everybody sacrifices themselves to make sure the mission succeeds. If EpIV is about hope (it is called a New Hope) than this would be Episode 3.99: The Great Sacrifice. Rogue One does sound better though.

    So I loved the movie, its sacrifice, its battles, its dialogue. That’s the overall. Now, some of the nitty gritty.
    Loved the film’s connectivity to the saga. Having a movie set in the same universe as a 30+ year old film is hard enough (See Ep I, II, III, VIII). But this movie took place within days of Episode IV. Which means you not only needed the same characters, but they had to look the same age – not older or younger. Rogue One pulled this off with a mix of CGI and spot on look alikes, as well as aliens in masks and makeup that could be recreated. Mon Mothma could look 5 years younger than her first scene in Episode VI, so that worked. Jimmy Smitts played Bail Organa 20 years after his last scene in Episode III, and appropriately aged. But it was Grand Moff Governor Tarkin who was the most remarkable. Of all the returned characters, he was most central to the plot and had the most lines. I saw the movie and was amazed they had the face and voice of the actor who not only played the part 30 years ago, but died in real life in 1994 And it worked. and it was amazing. Leia at the end of the movie, also amazing, but the one line was significantly easier to replicate Than Tarkin’s dialogue. But they went even further. Red Squadron and Gold Squadron had the same actors/characters from Episode IV, thanks to leftover footage from the original and masterful digital editing, including the ill-fated Red-Five who will be replaced by Luke Skywalker in the cockpit. They also had a few cameo references for fun, like “I don’t like you either” Dr. Evazan and Baba in the market place. that was unnecessary but fun to see. And of course, Darth Vader in his two scenes (more on those later).

    I loved K-2SO. He brought a mix of comedy, sarcasm, and tactical benefit (C-3PO had little tactical benefit to him). And while all of the deaths/sacrifices had meaning and were sad, It was K-2’s death that was possibly the saddest moment in the movie. Has there ever been a droid that evoked that kind of emotion?

    And I loved that the movie gave an explanation that critics of Episode IV have long had, and Star Wars fans have long joked about: how firing proton torpedoes at an exhaust port could set off a chain reaction that would blow up the entire station.

    Because I loved the movie, and because it was made 30+ years after the original, I am willing to forgive certain inconsistencies:
    1) In Episode IV, the death star is just made operational. In Rogue One, it appears as though the station is operational, but not used to its full power until Alderaan.
    2) In Episode IV, Vader says to Leia that the plans were beamed aboard the Tantiv IV, when in this movie, it appears they were actually beamed aboard a Mon-Calimari vessel that happened to be holding the Tantiv IV.
    3) In Episode IV, Vader says that he traced the rebel spies to Leia, but Rogue One seems to indicate there wasn’t much time for Vader to investigate – he just followed Leia to Tatooine
    4) Episode IV says this was a “spy mission”, but the way it played out in Rogue One, it looked like it was more of “sacrifice the entire rebel fleet” mission. In the original trilogy, it also seems as though the rebels never had an actual fleet until they reached the Rendevouz Point, end of ESB. That may just be my recalling the Expanded Universe books, which, as of now, are relegated to fan fiction. Also, after this battle, the fleet may have been devastated and needed to be rebuilt. The books also show that the Mon Calimari (Admiral Ackbar, etc), didn’t join in until long after the first death star was destroyed, but again, that is no longer canon.

    Now, Vader:
    Vader’s attack at the end was awesome. Set aside nostalgia for a minute. In the saga, we see GOOD guys face off against overwhelming odds and be awesome. We never see the same among the BAD guys. Vader is, without a doubt, one of the greatest villains of all time, even without the complexity of him ultimately becoming good. We know he is ferocious and can choke imperial officers, but this movie gave us the first time he was faced against attackers and fought them, no, crushed them, all by himself. It was a show of how amazing and ruthless Vader is.
    Vader’s scene in the middle of the movie was less impressive. It wasn’t necessary for the plot, but I’m ok with that. It was that apparently, Vader set up his base of operations on Mustafar. Seriously? If there was one place Vader would never, ever, ever, ever, ever want to see again, I’m pretty sure it would be Mustafar. The planet served little to no tactical advantage, so why put the most powerful imperial agent there, when all it will do is recall that “hey, this is where my body basically burned me to death”

    I didn’t understand the importance of Forrest Whitakers character, Saw Gerrerra. The movie could have cut him out, and saved about 20 minutes. Maybe.

    I loved that the Corellian Corvette rammed the star destroyer and pushed it into another destroyer to take down the shield. rebel ingenuity.

    Finally, there is the standard Star Wars fare: I missed the crawl at the beginning of the movie (though I didn’t mind it cold-opened). I was grateful for the John Williams’ score that closed it off.

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