Rogue One: a Star Wars Story and Noble Sacrifice

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I hadn’t written a movie review in a while. Watched La La Land and hated it so much I felt like excoriating it, but then decided I’d rather talk about things I like, so here are my thoughts on Rogue One instead.

I want to preface this by stating a couple of things: first of all, you know I’m a big Star Wars nerd, but that I also don’t just love everything Star Wars across the board as a matter of course. I can be pretty critical, in fact, and continue to pretend that the prequel trilogy never happened.

So what do I think of Rogue One, the latest “non-saga” installment of this much-abused franchise? I think I might love it, even if it is deeply flawed.

This is a relatively spoiler-free rumination for those of you who didn’t hop out opening weekend for this one (I’m guessing that’s most of you). And yet here’s the thing: what could I possibly spoil? The movie is about the band of Rebels who set out to steal the plans for the Death Star–yes, those plans–the ones R2-D2 takes from Princess Leia to Tatooine, kicking off the original trilogy. So whatdaya think? Think they’re going to get the plans?  Think they’re gonna survive getting the plans?

Director Gareth Edwards does some wondrous things with the world of Star Wars. The took some chances. He should be lauded for that. He builds cities, he creates atmosphere, he films combat sequences that are beautiful and thrilling. Edwards also understands that a Star Wars film should not look glossy or clean and that the cgi effects need to be well-hidden (or at least try not to draw attention to themselves). He succeeds at many things.

But the script could use some shoring up. There just isn’t much of a plot here. Which shouldn’t be a fatal problem if our plucky heroes are engaging, bright, and you want to run alongside them. Unfortunately our heroes are a grim lot. Morally ambiguous in some areas, hopeful but resigned, lacking in the kind of inspiration that someone like Finn or Rey brought to The Force Awakens. This is a darker film aimed at an adult audience that in some ways lacks color (both literally and metaphorically).

The characters could be amazing but for all of its 2+ hours of runtime, we somehow don’t get enough time with them. Left dizzily wishing for more when this is a story whose sequel has already been told, I feel vaguely robbed. The original Star Wars was never planned as a trilogy and that first film pulled it all off (with a running time 8 minutes shorter). But this film wastes energy on fan service. A subplot with Grand Moff Tarkin and Darth Vader–if it can even be called that–isn’t even necessary. And this coming from someone who loves Darth Vader! I would have gladly sacrificed that for a chance to really love someone else more: Cassian Andor or Bohdi Rook or even Jyn.

Missed opportunities with the plot, missed opportunities with the characters. Myriad cool new alien designs that are horrendously underutilized. People can complain that Rogue One is depressing or that its characters aren’t always very heroic. Or they will nitpick continuity questions and the general Star Warsyness of it all. But none of those things should impact a good story well told.

Rogue One has potentially awesome characters and incredible cinematography, but the story pretty much gets you exactly where you knew you were going in the first place. Too much of its coolness comes from brand recognition.  All that said, despite these things, it’s got humor and heart, and an ending that will have your heart pounding. Not bad at all for a film with what should really be fatal flaws.

So no, the movie isn’t remotely a failure, even if it could have been more successful in some ways. It does a lot of things very well. I actually got emotional a couple of times on my first viewing. And it does add to the world many people already love. It’s highly unlikely you will see any of these characters pop up as paper dolls on this blog, but I do appreciate the aesthetic Edwards was going for and there are plenty of cool costumes in the film. Design-wise Rogue One is definitely an achievement.

And I would rate this easily above any of those alleged prequels. Without reservation.

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