Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)
A year after last year’s The Force Awakens, we have our first movie of the Star Wars Anthology, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.
Rogue One follows a group of rebels led by Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as they fight to steal the Death Star plans. The basic plotline of this movie is the opening crawl from A New Hope.
Rogue One shows a side of the war between the Rebel Alliance and the Galactic Empire that we didn’t see in the original Star Wars trilogy. The scene that best summed this up was when Saw Gererra’s (Forest Whitaker) forces ambushed an Imperial patrol in the middle of a desert city. That scene made me think of Iraqi insurgents ambushing US soldiers in the Iraq War. The image that stuck out to me was that of the child crying alone in the crossfire. We get to see Imperial stormtroopers as guys just trying to do their jobs while we also see rebels making morally questionable decisions. We also see the rebels as truly being an alliance of different factions who don’t always see eye-to-eye on everything.
In that regard, Rogue One succeeded in not really feeling like a Star Wars film while being set in the Star Wars universe. Rogue One makes it clear the Empire are still the bad guys, but you won’t always find yourself rooting for the Rebels.
I saw the movie in glorious IMAX 3D, and the movie’s special effects warranted almost all of the time. The movie ended with what is probably the best space battle I’ve ever seen in a Star Wars movie with X-Wings and TIE Fighters duking it out against a backdrop of Star Destroyers and Rebel cruisers. Like J.J. Abrams did with The Force Awakens, Gareth Edwards struck a good balance between practical and CG special effects, again most of the time.
We get to see an appearance by Grand Moff Tarkin, the main antagonist of the first Star Wars film. Tarkin was in fact a fully realized CG Peter Cushing, complete with a voice actor who nailed Cushing’s distinctive accent. Unfortunately, CG Cushing shared all of his scenes with real actors. If he was in a fully CG movie, then it would have been great, but the fact he was not a real person was made all the more obvious when he was standing surrounded by real human actors. It was further exacerbated by the fact that Tarkin was a pretty central character to Rogue One, so the CG, while again, very well-done, was quite distracting. This may be a minor spoiler, but I think an appearance by CG Carrie Fisher was also completely unnecessary, especially when we saw the real thing so recently last year. One thing that was nice in the aforementioned space battle was that shots of Red and Gold Leader were made using archive footage from the first film, so we know Red and Gold Squadrons are the same as those that assaulted the Death Star, though I did notice those headshots were at a different resolution from the rest of the movie, which I suspect resulted from taking footage shot in the 1970s and trying to put it into a 2016 movie being shown in IMAX 3D.
Rogue One was also a little sloppy in how it handled its characters namely by having too many of them. Jyn was clearly the main character. As a result, none of the other characters had any real depth even though they were fun to watch. I was particularly hoping to see more of Donnie Yen’s character, but I left the movie only seeing him as the “Asian Jedi guy”. Rogue One, by virtue of being a movie, had a limited time to develop its characters. The first half of the movie ended up feeling very exposition heavy. While it did lead to a very thrilling latter half, I did notice the very uneven pacing of the film. To add insult to injury, Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso ended up feeling like a knock-off Daisy Ridley as Rey.
Overall, while the movie had its shortcomings, the things this movie did well, like showing the grungy parts of the Rebellion, making Star Wars feel like a story about war for the first time (yeah, really), and the eye-popping finale, more than make up for them and make this film worth a watch. I will definitely say I liked The Force Awakens more, but many of the issues didn’t come up there because The Force Awakens was a sequel to the original trilogy, where we were already introduced to the likes of Han Solo and Leia Organa. Darth Vader’s screentime is brief but worth seeing.