[Review] Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

written by George Hatch

EDITOR’S NOTE: This review was written and published before Carrie Fisher’s death on December 27th. May the Force be with you, Carrie.

SPOILER WARNINGS ARE IN EFFECT

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is the first Star Wars property to hit the big screen that doesn’t follow the Skywalker bloodline, instead focusing on the age-old question: how did the Rebels get the Death Star plans? It’s a topic that’s been covered multiple times in the pre-Disney Expanded Universe, so much so that each one contradicts the other. We’ve had Kyle Katarn steal them from a secret Imperial base (Dark Troopers), Rebel dissidents on the Death Star transmitting the plans to Polis Massa (Battlefront II), Han Solo’s ex-girlfriend lead a suicide squad to get the plans off Toprawa (X-Wing, Rebel Dawn )…it’s a confusing slog, and that’s not counting the other continuity gaffes that make Disney’s jettisoning of the old EU look reasonable.

However, all of that is gone now. In its stead, we have a story about Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), plucky space malcontent, assembling a small group to steal the plans and get them to the Rebel Alliance. Overall, this is a good and compelling story with a different tone than the usual Star Wars films. Director Gareth Edwards seems to draw inspiration from the old war movies of the ’50s and it really works well with the type of story he’s tasked with telling. He also does some fine world building (galaxy building, I guess), giving us a glimpse into those early days of the Rebellion and just how close to losing it all they really were. The action scenes are really well done, especially in the third act, and there is one scene near the end that is an amazing mix of awesome and terrifying.

Not to say that there aren’t some problems with the film – there are, and they will yank you right out of the film faster than an interdictor cruiser will drop you out of hyperspace. The characterization for all but a few of these characters is paper-thin, and there are times when I don’t think Jyn is supposed to be the main character of the film. I’ll go into more detail about the rest of my issues with the film in the spoiler section, but the movie did manage to pull me back in despite those problems.

I highly recommend going to see this in theaters, but if that’s not doable, pick it up on Blu-Ray once it comes out (especially since a good portion of the shots from the trailer aren’t actually in the theatrical release).

Jyn’s mother Lyra (Valene Kane) is an idiot. When the movie starts, Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) has taken his family into hiding because he’s a genius weapons engineer and the Empire has a genius weapon they want to install. The Empire, in the form of Ben Mendelsohn’s Admiral Orson Krennic, finds them and Galen tells his family to hide. So instead of staying with her daughter and continuing to raise her, instead Lyra goes and tries to kill Krennic and his company of Deathtroopers with only a small blaster. It ends about as well as you’d expect.

Am I imagining things, or does it feel like the film was meant to have Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) as the main protagonist rather than Jyn? I ask because his character growth is constant throughout while Jyn’s kinda stops. Also, he gets to shoot Krennic while I’m not sure Jyn shoots anything after Jedha. This film had a large amount of re-shoots, and considering what was taken out of the trailer (and Disney’s track record when it comes to portrayals of women), I think Cassian was repurposed into more of the hero role.

Lie To Me was a TV show on Fox which ran for three seasons between 2009 and 2011. Bear with me for a moment; I’m going somewhere with this. It starred Tim Roth as an expert on body language and micro-expressions – facial expressions lasting only a fraction of a second which occur when a person either deliberately or unconsciously conceals a feeling. One of the points of Lie To Me was that everyone could see these micro-expressions, but didn’t realize it on a conscious level. I bring this up because holy shit, CGI Grand Moff Tarkin looked wrong.

Everything about his appearance threw me completely out of the movie, leaving me staring in morbid fascination as if a surgeon had cut off the face of a long-dead actor, rejuvenated it using computer processing, then sewed it onto another person’s skull. I completely get why he’s here, it’s just that the technology isn’t quite ready for this yet (not to mention the questionable morality of using those who have passed away to act forever in a franchise, but that’s a whole other tangent). Leia, perhaps because she’s only in one scene or because her actress is still alive (despite 2016’s best attempts), comes off a little better. Still unnatural, though.

I’ve never seen The Clone Wars TV series, but taking Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) from there and putting him in this film and thus making The Clone Wars cannon was a nice touch. Apparently there are also straight-up references to Rebels, too. I like Disney and Lucasfilm’s plan of legitimizing their extended universe in a way that George never did with the old one. I would not want to be the continuity director, though, especially in ten years.

K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) is the real breakout star of this film, comic relief when necessary but not overshadowing the tone of the film. He’s what I imagine an R2 unit would be like if it could communicate in English (minus the profanity). Likewise, Chirrut (Donnie Yen) and Baze (Wen Jiang) are a real pleasure to watch as the blind Force monk and his heavily-armed BFF/husband (it’s intentionally vague, but I’m going to lean towards this eventually being confirmed as the first on-screen gay Star Wars pairing). Their chemistry is certainly better than Jyn’s and Cassian’s, who I think they try to pair off towards the end.

Let’s talk about the villains. Ben Mendelsohn does a fantastic job playing Krennic as middle management with delusions of grandeur. He chases status and power, prioritizing them even over his own well-being. He’s not a loyalist or schemer, but neither is he consumed by his basest whims. With regards to Tarkin, his presence here does make sense (Uncanny Valley aside) and he goes from supporting character to real villain at the end. As for Vader…Darth Vader finally gets the chance to be a slasher movie monster. It’s quick, but it’s probably the best scene in the film.

Of course, before that we find that Vader constructed a castle on Mustafar (the lava planet he was horribly burned on), spends his time out of the suit in a bacta tank, and has a butler. Yes, Lord Vader, who will Force Choke someone just to make a shitty pun (“choke on your ambitions” – god, that was awful), has a butler. Who the fuck takes that position? Asphyxia-nados?

Okay, after a pun that bad*, it’s best to close out this review. Go see Rogue One, and may you be one with the Force.

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