Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (2016)

As an opening ‘conclusion’ type remark, I’ll echo what many have said regarding how “Rogue One,” by design, doesn’t feel like the other “Star Wars” ‘saga’ films and that makes it hard to me to stack it against the others in some sort of ranking. Frankly, I don’t see myself studying “Rogue One” to any great degree like I did even the prequels, which gives them credit for having a certain power despite the things about them that I dislike.

I enjoyed “Rogue One” on the whole but it seems like an oddity that will perhaps fade away in a few years, especially since the spin-off potential is limited and not necessary.

 

What I liked

There were some nice bits of retroactive patching up of longtime plot holes that worked pretty well, such as explaining the reasoning for why there would be a major ‘design flaw’ in the Death Star. Once you learn about its design history that makes much more sense.

Echoing what virtually every reviewer has said, the final act was where things came together nicely and it finally felt like a ‘Star Wars’ movie. I’ll add that I liked that it was epic but not TOO epic. I’d seen some reviewers call it the ending of “Return of the Jedi” ‘on steroids’ and I have no idea what those people were talking about… but that’s a good thing. There is some epic space action but it didn’t rob from the scope and climax of “Episode 6.”

I liked Cassian having a secret of sorts and some conflict to what the might do with Jyn’s father.

K-2SO was amusing even if a few of his jokes were derivative of C-3PO’s best lines.

The Donnie Yen character was built up quite a bit in the international talk about the film and he came out nicely if under-used. His schtick about the force was memorable.

Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen) had a few nice moments but I’ll admit that I probably just remember him as ‘the guy with the cool gun bits.’ There some debate online about Baze and Yen’s characters being the first on-screen gay couple in “Star Wars” but I didn’t pick up on any of that at all. If anything, some no comments on the question by the creatives at recent press junkets seems more like pandering than anything intentional.

Certainly people die and you got a reminder in the opening of how much of a stakes-raising shock it was in “Episode 4” when Luke’s aunt and uncle were killed. That was crazy stuff as a kid and it sent the message that all bets were off. Now it felt like a formula at first but the filmmakers did go beyond the predicted norms by the end.

 

Needed Improvement

As was hinted to us by those who saw early preview footage of the film, the opening of the main story after the prologue was hard to follow. I knew enough about the film going in that I was fine following along but I wasn’t used to needing on-screen location text to guide me around a “Star Wars” film. It was necessary though.

Jyn Erso sort of got lost in her own movie in a way that Rey somehow did not in “Episode 7.” I may not worship “Episode 7” but I liked Rey’s character and could articulate things about her that made her interesting in a way that I couldn’t with Jyn. All I think of with Jyn was tragedy – she lived a tragic life from the start and her ending only amplified that tragic description.

If you were to make me take a quick quiz that asked about the character motivations at the end, I couldn’t give you answers for a few or even most of them. I’m guessing that there were little details that I missed but the key motives needed to be amplified. In general, it’s just repeating what many others have said, but the film had too much going on too quickly. I’d probably pick up more on the characters with re-watches but beyond the first 4 or so major heroes I got lost.

I very nearly forgot to mention the music because it was very drab to me. I’m not planning on seeking out the soundtrack and it was serviceable at best. We’re in an odd spot with music being such a big part of “Star Wars” films yet I fear that a trend toward music being de-emphasized in all films and risk aversion by composers will mean that stepping out of John Williams’ shadow will be hard… even if Williams hasn’t delivered classic music since “Episode 1.”

The cantina guys showing up as Easter Eggs was was too winky and was more likely to take me out of the film than enrich it for me in the future. It was just another case of making the universe too small.

 

Mixed Emotions

I go back and forth as to if the team should have ever snuck into the Death Star to get the plans. That was always my assumption regarding how the story would unfold and the presence of the Death Star kept teasing us that some major sequence would happen. But the tropical location that was introduced was similar in design inside the main building and that location didn’t rob from the later visit to the Death Star in “Episode 4.”

The Orson Krennic character wasn’t horrible but he never felt particularly threatening as the main adversary. If anything, you sort of felt bad for the guy getting screwed over in middle management. Jyn was more tragic but this guy got crapped on by his bosses in every possible way.

A certain restraint was applauded in not giving Jyn and Cassian an explicit romance but I was surprised that the filmmakers held onto the tease all the way to the end. I mean, geez though, really depressing in a way but I’d have probably not bought the idea of them making out before they died. So, it was what it was meant to be, some sort of tragedy.

I’m fine in general with the notion that all of the main heroes died at the end but I was troubled by how quickly it happened and, in many cases, seemingly occurred to get it over with because the end of the film was coming soon. In an ideal world, I’d have gotten to know the characters better and their deaths might have meant something more to me.

I might have felt more tension leading up to the end if I’d actually felt like everyone might die in a studio tentpole film but we’re just not trained to think that way. Perhaps other films will benefit by this ‘anything can happen’ reminder.

Like many, I wasn’t quite sure what to make of the CGI-‘classic’ characters. I’d seen more than one person say that Tarkin looked like something out of 2001’s “Final Fantasy: Spirits Within” and I’d suggest that pundits need to go back and re-watch that film before hurling such insults. Tarkin, in particular, didn’t look that bad BUT you also knew that you weren’t see the same old actor on screen. It was a no-win situation though and a re-casting would have been just as distracting. Maybe this will be a case where tinkering in the future with the CGI on video releases will be a good thing?

Leia struck me as looking fake too but then I was reminded of how Carrie Fisher looked in that era. She did indeed have the same ‘puffy’ face at that age but the whole time you know that it isn’t really her in the shot, so you end up distracted.

I didn’t share the cheering aloud sort of enthusiasm for the re-used/cut footage cameos of the Rebel pilots. It was a nice touch but these were very minor characters that I never had a strong connection with in the original film.

On a similar note, the couple of Vader scenes were a mixed bag. It was fun to finally see the un-used “Empire Strikes Back” production design for his castle on screen but the mish-mash costume design that used pieces from different eras was distracting. The castle scene didn’t add much to the story and the choke bit came out of nowhere like ‘Geez, does he just choke everyone who works for him?’ I’ve seen many people talk about the ending bit with Vader being his best moment in all of the “Star Wars” films and I have no idea how someone could make such a hyperbolic statement. It was a tense, interesting scene with good momentum but lets not get carried away.

 

Conclusions

The re-shoots obviously had a big effect on the film and some pundits have already started trying to figure out what was changed at the last minute over the past few months. The first trailer gave a lot of clues and it seems like most of the final act was radically restructured even if the location and general situation was left the same. I’d be interested in a non-fluffy ‘making of’ book or detailed article that someday explains what happened but such material will take time to leak out.

Ultimately the film did add many little things to how I’ll re-watch “Episode 4” in the future without sullying anything in that film and that’s a pretty cool accomplishment.

I’d admit that I already began to recognize that the ‘power’ of “Star Wars” is fading with me as it becomes an annual tradition for Disney. I’m looking forward to giving Disney my admission price every year for such films but the excitement has diminished in terms of anticipation if only because I know that I’ll be getting a new “Star Wars” big-budget film every single year for at least the next few years.

I have to assume that some manner of audience fatigue will take hold but so far that hasn’t happened with the Marvel films and their 2 times per year schedule. Then again, “Star Wars” needs to show that it can broaden out into such a degree by having off-beat or varied offerings like Marvel has done. There isn’t enough risk taking happening in the upcoming slate.

 

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