Rogue One 😗 Film Review

Written by Thelonia

Like Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story had a lot of expectations to live up to. But by keeping the story focused and grounded by characters and tone, Rogue One is a welcome addition to the franchise that manages to create its own small universe while still holding true to the films that came before.

In what is beginning to be a holiday tradition, I saw the new Star Wars movie last week. And as I was writing up my reactions, Carrie Fisher died.

It took me some time to recover, but I think I've had time to put together my feelings towards Carrie Fisher (which I assume will get riotous once more when Bright Lights comes out in a few weeks), and am sort of ready to address my Star Wars holiday feelings.

Not to be confused with Star Wars the Holiday Special feelings, which are very different indeed.

The plot is deceptively simple. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story tells the story of how the Rebellion got their hands on the plans to the Death Star in the first place, a plot point from A New Hope people have been whining about for decades and yet, we were all sort of okay with in the grand scheme of things. To accomplish this, we have to assemble a motley crew of rebels to go from beautiful computer-generated planet to computer-generated planet, collected all the information and people needed before a single final push on an Imperial base that comprises about a third of the movie (and which is by far the strongest part). Because the plot itself is a bit lackluster (being a basic spy movie "we need to get the macguffin to save the world" plot) the strength of Rogue One lies in two places, the first being a great use of SPAAAAAACE as a location, and the second being the diverse set of characters.

This is a stone cold pack of weirdos and I love them.

The cast is large: the characters do not get much to work with, and some do better than others at making their characters not only three-dimensional, but genuinely sympathetic. even given some pretty simplistic stories. Riz Ahmed (who I really liked in the OA, and I'm so glad to see him in something, you know, good) plays Bodhi Rook, a defected Imperial Pilot who seeks redemption at the hands of the Resistance. Donnie Yen (whose martial arts skill come in very handy) plays a blind monk named Chirrut Îmwe who guards an empty Jedi temple with his friend Baze Malbus (a heavily armed soldier played by Wen Jiang). These actors manage to do a lot with what amounts to very limited dialogue and screen time (and sometimes a waste of screen time - I'm thinking of a scene wherein Ahmed is interrogated (?) by a squid-octopus tentacle monster for sort of no reason).

What I got from this movie is that Donnie Yen is just generally a badass and I need to watch Ip Man again.

Other characters, like the supposed main character Jyn Erso (a remarkably less excited than in the trailers Felicity Jones), or the roguishly cutthroat (at least at first) Cassian Andor (played by Diego Luna, whose eyes have already been written about by people more talented than I), have more to do, but often do not have anything to work with, and fall a bit flat (dreamy eyes non-withstanding).

Jyn in particular is an egregious waste of an interesting characters, as she seems to have been shot a few different ways, with the final version they went with in editing was "let's go as bland as possible." this not even counting the fact that her backstory feels like a lost draft for Rey's in The Force Awakens. Her father Galen (Mads Mikkelsen, looking as gauntly Scandinavian as ever) gets kidnapped to work on the Death Star, her mother getting shot in a rebellious move I don't really understand other than the fact that she had to die for plot reasons and her final mentor/subsitute father being Forrest Whitaker's Saw Gerrera, a merc who is more machine than man, and with whom she shares a few odd "dinner with relatives you haven't seen in years" tension-laden minutes with many years later when they reunite for plot reasons before (SPOILERS) he bites the dust (almost literally).

Just saying, it might help people stop noticing similarities between movies if you cast literally anyone but a white brunette.

The character who most people have seemed to gravitate towards is the reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO, who is the quippiest character by far (played by Alan Tudyck, one of the only actors who acts like he's having any fun, even if he is playing a robot). K-2SO, perhaps because he cannot read social cues correctly (or simply because he does not care to learn them), seems to have missed the "look solemn at all times" memo, which means that the audience gets some respite from the whole movie's dark tone and solemn plot writing at least for a few lines.

They're gonna make some killer toys out of this guy, and I will buy some.

Another person who seems to be enjoying himself immensely, even if his character certainly isn't, is Ben Mendelsohn, who plays the central (if slightly less important) villain of the piece, aggravated middle management Imperial officer Orson Krennic, who you may remember from kidnapping Jyn's dad and shooting her mom from the first five minutes. Krennic's exploits dealing with his showy higher-up Grand Moff Tarkin (played by uncanny valley-ish recreation of a deceased Peter Cushing, who would probably be passable in a single scene but keeps showing up, as if taunting us with his plastic skin), as well as his boss, Darth Vader, who he might have a sort of work-crush on, at least if that force-choking scene was anything to go by. It is definitely fun to watch Krennic get road-blocked at every turn if only because he's just so much fun to annoy. And we don't like space fascists, even if they're kind of just an annoyed general manager kind of fascist (and in spaaaaace).

But he gets a cool cape, so it's all good.

Rogue One's cast of characters is kind of genius: no matter who you are, there's probably a character you will like a lot. This means you will have an emotional connection come that finale, in which things explode, people get blown to bits, and the space guns go pew-pew-pew a whole lot! (There, that's relatively spoiler free, I feel like that's all a given).

At worst, because some of the characters just aren't particularly interesting due to a heavy reliance on past stories in the Star Wars Universe and a lack of screen time for each character, you will feel neutrally towards some of the characters once you hit that final third. But really, the whole movie is just a set up for one of the most satisfying climaxes in the entire franchise.

It was so good you guys holy shit.

During this last climactic fight sequence, here are so many pieces in play, it would be so easy to get lost, but the movie is shot and paced so as to guide you through different locations as you follow different characters and plot threads. But as is, not only are you following the crew of characters you've (sort of) come to know on foot throughout the battle, you're also following the Rebel and Imperial members as they duke it out in space, leading to a scene wherein every Darth Vader fan's deepest hopes and dreams come together in one of the greatest scenes of the entire series.

I have never been so happy to see a light-saber.

The entire climax brings to mind the excellent if frenetic Mad Max: Fury Road in terms of sheer stuff happening but still being centered around the characters as they move through. And as things come to their inevitable conclusion (SPOILERS well, let's just say there's a reason you don't see any of these new heroes in the original trilogy), you feel like that was where the story needed to end, and not just because it's a prequel with a foregone conclusion, but because sometimes you can't save everyone.

The final shot, (AGAIN, SPOILERS, BUT ALSO NOT REALLY IF YOU'VE SEEN A NEW HOPE) comprising of Princess Leia receiving the Death Star plans, as she sets off through space (presumably to go get Obi-Wan? No one knew they could get the plans, so what else would she be doing and I've thought too much about this moving on), and into the beginning of A New Hope. Her line in response to the question of what are the plans going to bring, as well as the final line of the film "Hope." might be a bit on the nose, but after the past week (well, the past year really), it feels more needed than ever.

Rogue One is an excellent addition to the series, and one that not only plugs up some plot holes, but manages to introduce a whole new swath of characters. And apart from its really great climax that uses all of its characters and chess pieces ingenuously, as well as an excellently rendered large scale that helps keep the film grounded, even in space, one of the main draws of Rogue One is its further widening of who can be a hero in the Star Wars Universe (even though on the female side things tend to look remarkably, and somewhat distressingly, similar).

As a white brunette woman, I guess it's nice to know we're so well represented in space?

But if the reaction to Carrie Fisher's death has shown me anything, it's that diversity in on-screen representations is important, not only for those seeing themselves in the characters, but also for others who can broaden their definition of 'hero.' And even if it seems like it'll be a while before that privilege gets extended to women of color, it is a step in the right direction (though Emilia Clarke's casting in the upcoming Han Solo spin-off is more of a misstep in that regard).

And no matter what happens, we'll always have creepy CG 19 year-old Carrie Fisher, so there's that.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in theaters now.

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