Rogue One: Self-Contained, But Solid

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Plot Spoilers Below. You have been warned. 

So hey, did anyone watch Star Wars IV: A New Hope and wonder how the Rebellion got their hands of the Death Star schematics in the first place?…Yeah, me neither. And anyone who knows me even a little bit will know that is saying something.

That said, I found Rogue One to be a welcome semi-deviation from the main storyline. I think I liked it even more than The Force Awakens. 

Jyn Erso is the daughter of an Imperial scientist-turned-farmer Galen Erso, and she goes into hiding when the Empire finds and forcibly re-employs her father to work on their latest weapon, the Death Star. Thirteen years later, Jyn is picked up by members of the Rebellion, who enlist her to help negotiate with Galen’s old friend Saw Gerrera, who is holding an Imperial pilot defector with crucial information about the nearly completed battle station. From the pilot’s message, they learn that Jyn’s father quietly incorporated a fatal flaw into the design that can potentially completely destroy the Death Star.

From there, it’s some planet-hopping and a suicide mission to retrieve the plans and transmit them into the hands of Princess Leia, effectively preluding the fourth movie down to mere minutes.

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I like that this movie is not a rehash, which was one of the main criticisms of Star Wars VII: The Force Awakens. It definitely feels like its own story, but unlike many spinoffs across many different genres, it’s not a much smaller story with small to laughable dramatic stakes. Look at something like The Hobbit series in comparison; Peter Jackson chose to tie those events in with The Lord of the Rings as much as possible, trying to make the conflict seem more epic, grand, and world-changing. But because the original work was meant to be a children’s bedtime story, much sillier and effecting far fewer races in the established world, any attempts to add Lord of the Rings-level weight came across as hollow, clumsy, and shoehorned, and it clashed with the movies’ lighter, downright childish tones.

Rogue One is a lot more balanced. It knows what it’s about and who its main audience is, but it hands out a few jokes that other viewers can laugh at just as easily. It is self-contained, but its impact (rather than the characters) can be felt more strongly now in the movies that it bridges.

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The characters are all pretty likable, although, similarly to my issue with Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, I couldn’t remember almost half of the main group’s names and barely heard them when they were first introduced. In my mind, I dubbed them things like “Blind Kung-Fu Jedi” and “Machete in Space”, and because they are one-shot characters who die at the end and only really impact this story in any significant way, I didn’t feel as bad as I usually would.

My only real issue is that no one gets very well fleshed-out, character-wise. Jyn’s motivations are pretty clear for the most part, but even Cassian Andor, her new rebel friend, quips at one point that she basically went from not caring much about the Empire to “This isn’t right! We have to stop them!” pretty much at the drop of a hat. She does mention that her father’s message and the destruction of Jedha put her in shock, however, so she could have been shocked into caring more and I just didn’t think of that at the time.

Everyone else has their past or character lightly touched upon, but it’s all really shallow, and if you blink or run to the bathroom mid-movie, you might miss it. Unless it’s Chirrut Îmwe (Blind Kung-Fu Jedi)’s piety, because he has to mention his belief in the Force at least twice in any scene he’s in.

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But hey, it’s a mini-episode with only so much time to work with, so I’ll give it a pass there.

I like the exploration of moral grey-area in a series that has often viewed power and morality in “light or dark” terms. While the Star Wars main series does frequently acknowledge that one side cannot exist without the other, the Dark Side is portrayed, at best, as misguided, and at worst, as pretty much evil.

Andor, neither a Jedi nor a Sith, talks about doing many bad things in the name of a good cause, and that the Rebellion giving up now will mean that he did all of that for nothing. We also see him struggle with himself when he is ordered to kill Jyn’s father, who may have actually done the Rebellion a huge service. Both Gelan and Jyn rationalize why Gelan didn’t fight back and allow himself to be killed, rather than contribute to a weapon of such destructive potential.

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You could still argue with him, but he makes an interesting point that is definitely worth discussing. It reminds me a little of the dilemma when Alan Turing and his team have to keep their breakthrough with the Enigma a secret in The Imitation Game. Do you save the lives of those most immediately in danger (in Rogue One‘s case by refusing to work and risking someone else being just as capable in your place), or do you allow for strategic sacrifices that could win you the war?

The effects in the movie are very good, particularly the digital face-superimposing on Ingvild Delia (Leia stand-in) and Guy Henry (Tarkin stand-in).

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The latter does an excellent job of imitating Peter Cushing’s original character (in all but facial expressions), while the former’s job is basically to stand still and then turn around, while an archived audio clip of Carrie Fisher plays one line synced to digitized lips. I feel a bit bad for Ms. Delia as an actress, but she and the production crew served this movie well, and the effect was unexpected, but pleasantly surprising.

Yeah, sorry guys, but we still have yet to master time travel. Maybe some day…

One a side note, when I saw Vader’s Fortress of Evil150px-u2122-svg, my first thought was, “Is that Mustafar?” Personally, I wouldn’t set up shop in a place with such traumatic memories attached to it.  My second thought, which I leaned over and whispered to my boyfriend in the theatre, was, “Meanwhile, back in Space Mordor…”

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Speaking of which, Vader is just kind of there occasionally. He gets a cool scene where he force-chokes the Death Star’s chief architect, and another where he disarms and slaughters a bunch of rebels, but while his presence isn’t distracting per say, it definitely feels like a fan-service first, plot service second type deal.

It’s nowhere near as useless and insulting something like this is:

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Wow. I keep bringing up Peter Jackson in this Star Wars review…but then again, he followed in the footsteps of George Lucas, whose best-known, best-loved property seems to be getting better without his grimy mitts on the reins. It’s funny in a bizarre sort of way.

The score is decent, although some chords are so similar to themes in past movies in the series that I found myself slightly distracted at times, hearing the notes that should have followed in my head. The ending is a bummer, but as I have said, the characters aren’t exceptionally deep, and the film does have a note of optimism amidst all of the death and explosions. I would have liked to have seen this before the original trilogy to feel its full suspense and drama, but that would be impossible unless I was born just recently…and didn’t have parents who might insist on watching the first-released installments first.

Even knowing what comes next, it still feels like Rogue One earned its right to exist. For any fan of Star Wars, casual or rabid, I would definitely recommend it. Some notable easter eggs are catalogued here.

 

7/10

*None of the images used in this article belong to me. They mostly belong to Disney and Lucasfilm. 

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