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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Reviewed by Eliza Dolots

Note: Itís always a challenge to write a review without giving away too much. However, in this case, weíve already seen the sequel. Iím going to work on the assumption that anything that is in the sequel is fair game. Letís start with this: Rogue One is a good movie. Is it the best Star Wars movie since the 80ís? I donít know. Iím a big fan of The Force Awakens, but this is definitely a good movie. I found some of the Rogue One special effects flat, and there were a number of times I was completely pulled out of the movie. None of that is true of The Force Awakens. While very engaging, Rogue One is not as absorbing a film.

Being a standalone movie, Rogue One does not have any of the limitations movies hoping for sequels have. Other movies have to leave multiple doors open, but with the sequel already on screen, Rogue One only has to leave one very specific door open. It does that quite well. Freed from the need to leave all options open, Rogue One is very realistic about what happens to rebels who break into the secret enclave of the evil, militaristic government. While the movie ends on a positive, hopeful note (it is Star Wars, after all), it follows a very harsh, potentially upsetting path getting there.

The Star Wars story is not advanced in Rogue One. We do not meet a new potential Jedi, a new potential Skywalker, or a new evil Sith Lord wannabe. Rather, this is a story with a conclusion weíve known from the opening moments of the original movie. It was right there in the crawl 39 years ago: "During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empireís ultimate weapon, the†DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet." This is the story of those Rebel spies and how they stole the secret plans to the Death Star.

The film makers took great pains to recreate the Star Wars look. Everything is ďusedĒ to the point of being dirty, even broken. Despite being shot digitally, the color palette and depth of focus matches the original film. This is so true that they were able to seamlessly use outtakes from A New Hope to create some of the battle scenes. There are visual references to the original movies and several ďcameosĒ of characters from A New Hope. I know some people did eye rolls at these; but, to me, they donít feel forced. Rogue One quite literally hands the story off to A New Hope. Itís perfectly logical that these locations and characters are used.

There are important Rebel discussions around illuminated circular tables; froglike people who are in charge of Rebel assault tactics; dirt everywhere (this is not the sparkly clean universe of the ďprequelĒ movies) and a new, amusing, droid: K-2SO (referred to as K-2 or K). In that sense, it feels like home. Perhaps the greatest gift Rogue One gives the Star Wars fandom is redefining and refocusing much of what happens in the original trilogy. Rogue One gives us a picture of the Rebels that we lacked. We see that they are, indeed, a hodgepodge of characters held together by a common goal of defeating the Empire. There are criminals, defectors from the Empire, and other characters with questionable histories. Rather than recruited, they seem to be conscripted due to circumstances. "Hey, youíre with me now, grab that guy in the cell and weíll head for my ship" seems to be the way most of them get involved. This helps explain why Luke is able to walk into a rebel camp, grab a helmet, shake a few hands and be assigned leadership of a squadron. Thatís appears to be exactly how the other squad leaders got there.

Rogue One also gives us a glimpse into the workings of the Empire. Weíve seen Vader involved in power plays, but in Rogue One we see an Empirical General rip command of the Death Star from the person who spent a decade overseeing its construction and operation. Once it looks like the weapon is going to work, the General grabs command and credit. We get a brief look at what Vaderís life is like and itís enlightening. Iíve seen people suggest itís hellish and horrible, but my thought is: itís rebellious. He is using his off time to heal and regenerate. One can only think this is with the goal of defying the Emperor (who is, after all, the man that did NOTHING to try to restore Vader to health after Obi Wan chopped him up and left him in flames on Mustafar). Additionally, we see Vader fighting in this film with all the power and magic weíve come to know. That suggests his lackluster performance against Obi Wan Kenobi in A New Hope is a result of an unwillingness to kill his onetime master. Additionally, for the first time, we see a bit of Anikanís humor inside the Darth Vader costume. Vader is not in the movie much, but his scenes have implications for everything in A New Hope and beyond.

The biggest "explanation" though is why the Death Staróthis "technological marvel"Ėhas such a severe vulnerability. Thatís the major plot point of Rogue One though, so Iím not going to reveal it here. Still, itís nice to see a longstanding question answered. As usual, there is some weirdness whenever an unexpected movie is attached to an existing one. There are a couple lines in the original movie that seem to contradict what is said/done in Rogue One. But thatís what fan fiction is for. The fandom is busy writing stories to fill in the gaps even as I type. I find that very appropriate because, at its heart, Rogue One is fan fiction. Fans of the original movie saw a potential story in a bit of dialogue/scrolling writing and went with it. Obviously, having millions of dollars and the Disney marketing squad behind you can make for some very nice fan fiction.

Overall, the acting is solid. Felicity Jones is believable, if uninspiring, as lead heroine Jyn Erso. She doesnít seem as hardened as she might under the circumstances and pales a bit whenóinevitablyóshe is compared to Rey, the feisty heroine of The Force Awakens. Felicity Jones also triggers my first "hmmmÖracist?" feeling. Does every single woman of import in the Star Wars universe have to be fair skinned with brown hair? Look at pictures of Natalie Portman, Carrie Fisher, Daisy Ridley and Felicity Jones together and tell me if that looks diverse to you. Okay, Portman and Fisher play relatives, but as far as we know now, Ridley doesnít and we seem to know for a fact now that Jones doesnít. (Fan fic idea: galactic war wipes all blonde and Asian women out of existence).

Diego Luna does a lovely job with a surprisingly complex character. As Cassian Andor, Luna portrays a hero of the Rebellion, a man raised to fight from infancy. Luna gives us a man who is conflicted about the things he must sometimes do; a man who grows to care for those around him even if they are made of metal. For me, Cassian is the standout character in the movie. Riz Ahmed as defecting Empirical shuttle driver Bodhi Rook is another standout. His motivations are so clearly rooted in affection and goodness that he shines. I really wanted to dislike Donnie Yenís character, Chirrut őmwe. It seems every Star Wars movie must have its Force sensitive mystic and Chirrut serves that role here. However, I thought it bordered on racist to have the two Asian characters be the martial arts experts. As the Force sensitive mystic, Chirrut is capable of martial arts that seem magical. Also, he has a weird habit of chanting to himself (because Asian monks chant to themselves, maybe? Thatís not at all a racist stereotype [right?]Ö.maybe Iím just seeing problematic decisions because Iím overly sensitive, but these characters are straight out of Kung Fu and I wish they could have avoided that.) I grew to appreciate Chirrut, largely because of his relationship with "other Asian" Baze Malbus played by Wen Jiang. Baze also feels stereotypical, but the open affection and devotion between the two men made me forgive it.

Forest Whitaker is just weird as Saw Gerrara. Iím not familiar with the character, but his apparent hysteria needs clarification. As affection and history exists between Saw and Jyn; I would have appreciated a brief explanation of how he got from the man we see in flashback to the man we meet later. Mads Mikkelsen must have some appeal that I donít get. I appreciated him in Hannibal because "totally creepy" seemed like a good thing for that character; however, I find the actor continues to be creepy regardless of the role. I did not enjoy him though Iíve read other reviews which call him "transcendent." Jimmy Smits is under used but enjoyable as Bale Organa and James Earl Jones is serviceable voicing Vader.

As with all Star Wars movies, much of the buzz is about the droid. In this case, itís well worth it. K-2SO is unlike any previously highlighted droid. He is far from cute. Tall and somewhat gangly, he looms over every scene heís in. His matte black exterior is a departure from the colorful, shiny droids favored by the rebellion. Voiced by Alan Tudyk, K-2 is often sarcastic and whiny. The funniest, most engaging of the Star Wars droids so far, he provides a nice "audience voice" to many scenes.

There are two CGI human characters in Rogue One. Eliminating human actors was once a stated George Lucas goal and the fact that Lucas Films did use full CGI for humans might be disturbing to some. However, there are very good reasons for both characters to be CGI. In both cases, the first view of the character took me out of the movie but my experience says that this is a one-time thing. Like the much maligned "youthening" of Alan Rickman in the final Harry Potter film, I believe these characters will cease to be jarring on future viewings. I also suspect that the way you watch Rogue One will affect how you feel about the CGI characters. Friends who saw it in 3-D did not report the same "oh, CGI" experience I had.

The main CGI character is General Tarkin. Lucas Film had a problem going in. Tarkin is very much in command of the Death Star in A New Hope. The Death Star is the scene of a significant portion of Rogue One. But Peter Cushing, who played Tarkin with obvious delight, died. Not having Tarkin onboard would require some scriptwriting legerdemain as well as denying us a major subplot. Instead, they chose to create a CGI Tarkin; a complex character who interacts with individuals and large groups. Itís an impressive piece of CGI. My biggest issue with Tarkin (and the main reason I felt pulled out of the movie) is his voice. Itís strange that they were able to create such an excellent visual representation of Cushing but so completely fail to capture his voice and style of speech. The second human CGI character can only be considered a huge spoiler so Iím not going to discuss them much. I did feel pulled out of the movie but in this instance, it was so satisfying it was immediately forgiven.

Rogue Oneís PG-13 rating is well earned. I would urge any parents thinking of letting their young children see it to go with them. The realisticómilitary?óthemes of "Sometimes good people do bad things for the right reason" and "Good people sometimes die so good things can happen later" both benefit from an adult perspective. I would also caution parents of any young child who has embraced Jyn as a successor to Rey in their Star Wars play. Jyn does not have the hopeful ending that Rey got so if you do take your child, please prepare them accordingly.

Rogue One is a very nice addition to the Star Wars anthology. I hope Disney and Lucas Film continue to think outside the box (meaning: donít just focus on the popular characters!) to give us an even more complete universe.


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Gareth Edwards

Chris Weitz
Tony Gilroy

December 16, 2016

Felicity Jones
Diego Luna
Alan Tudyk
Donnie Yen
Wen Jiang
Ben Mendelsohn
Guy Henry
Forest Whitaker
Riz Ahmed
Mads Mikkelsen
Jimmy Smits

Full Credits at IMDb

On DVD & Blu-Ray
April 4