Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Directors: Gareth Edwards
Reviewed: 12 January 2017
It took me two viewings to settle my mind, but the new Star Wars universe film Rogue One, much like the fiction that I read as a kid that dealt with alternate worlds, characters, and storylines tangentially related to the canonized trilogy, it is pretty good. Anytime you can have AT-AT's onscreen is a win, in my opinion, and although Edwards fails in some areas to develop his characters and has some clunky moments towards the end, the powerful cross cutting between battles ends in a spectacular fashion, making this a worthy film, albeit a humorless one at time.
There is not much to joke about here. A riveting opening scene introduces Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelson), Leire his wife, and Jyn (Felicity Jones), his daughter. Galen is being hunted by the Empire to return to his work as an evil mad scientist aboard the Death Star. Flash to twenty years later, Jyn finds herself in the hands of the Rebellion, eager to use her to communicate with resistance fighter Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who has an Imperial pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), possibly sent by Gaylen with secrets about the Death Star's destruction. Rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and robot K-2SO join Jinn on her mission to locate Saw Gerrera and the pilot and learn of the Rebellion's chances against such a weapon. A suicide mission ensues, a desperate attempt to locate Galen, an all or nothing plan to steal the plans to the weapon to transmit them to the Rebels.
Along the way, there is time to walk through a crowded marketplace, complete with distracting (to me) cameos from characters in previous films. Chirrut (Donnie Yen), a blind guardian of a sacked Jedi temple on Jedha and his crack shot companion Baze (Wen Jiang) have a rapport and gentle humor that I wanted more of in this film. There are a much better pairing than Jyn and Cassian, who work better as symbols than as characters; I just cannot get the sneaking suspicion that crucial character development between them and conversations ended up on the cutting room floor. There are breathtaking visuals here, particular the war above the planet with the see-through air lock. Imperial Star Destroyers always have a regal menace to them, but here, they do something quite wonderful and unexpected with them. There is a competent bad guy in Director Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn), but even he feels slight because of the insistence about getting in the references to other films and storylines. And my biggest distraction in the first viewing was the use of CGI to recreate deceased actors and insert them into the story; I would have far rather had a reimagining of a character that we know than a digital performance. Every time I saw this it took me out of the story, as did the insistence upon putting reference after reference in for the fans. I want them to tell a good story well, and the constant looking backwards prevents the film from truly soaring. There is a very good score, impeccable costumes and set designs, and the crisp battle sequences are very compelling. Everyone is working at a high level here.
Ultimately, the films strives for the camaraderie and brutal nihilism of The Wild Bunch or Aliens or even Predator, but it simply cannot live up to its own ambitions. I admire the direction it takes which is sure to upset little kids in the audience. The shame is that much of this world would have been a welcome addition to Star Wars: The Force Awakens. This film's very creation is a bold foray into more adult stories, more darkness, and more potential innovation. And hooray for the first Star Wars story of the Post-Trump Era to feature so many strong men and women from all over the world, not just white men. I remember how exciting it was to see Anakin playing with friends of different races for a few brief seconds in Episode One: The Phantom Menace. I love seeing the world expand and include so many wonderful performances from actors and actresses across the globe. That's a true Star Wars story.