Bullet Points: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
It was an odd time, during the lead up to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story it is not that I have not been excited, it’s more that it didn’t hit me. I am a giant Star Wars fan and in my circle of friends and family I am the go-to “Star Wars Guy”. During the lead up to The Force Awakens I changed my profile picture every day for 2 months counting down. The week before TFA I could not contain myself, but I had felt that before many times. Typically the wait for a new Star Wars movie has been 3 years at least all the way up to 15 years so the shaking with anticipation is a feeling I know how to handle. Getting another movie a year later is not.
You will be pleased to know however once it got to be a few days away and the reality that I would sit in a theater and see a new Star Wars movie sank in I was off to the races and boy was it some race.
Just some quick backstory in case you are unaware, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story essentially takes the opening crawl from Star Wars: A New Hope and spins it into a movie. A very young and struggling Rebellion finds out the oppressive Empire are building a big bad battle station that may or may not be confused for a moon. They embark on a dangerous mission to find out if there is a weakness and how to exploit it.
This puts Rogue One in an interesting spot. It is the first of many planned “Side stories” that Disney plans to make outside of the numbered films, so it holds the burden of setting a tone that these movies are not only worth being made but can carry the level of quality and importance the “Main films” do. At the same time the movie is inevitably tied to A New Hope in that without understanding a movie that came out 40 years ago you are missing a very large piece. That means all those nostalgic feelings fans have of that first Death Star, X-Wings and Stormtroopers have to be part of this movie in an era where “Destroyed my child hood” is a common phrase. To put it simply Rogue One delivers on all of these levels and dances a very thin line that was laid out for it. It manages to present new characters and ideas, planets and set pieces but tie to a classic tale that is not only untouched from a nostalgic perspective but is enhanced by giving some context to issues that have been around since 1977 (You’ll see what I mean).
- The Director: This dubious task falls on Director Gareth Edwards who recently directed Godzilla back in 2014. Gareth is a huge Star Wars fan and often said making this movie was like playing with Star Wars toys when he was a kid. That enthusiasm shows as he brings a unique style and take to the Star Wars formula. For instance there is no trademark text crawl at the opening, the score while safe to most ears does subtly have a more modern action feel than the traditional scores of past films. The movie carries a real “in the trenches” vibe to it, many have said it is like a War movie set in the Star Wars universe and that is an apt description as the grit and muck of a war torn world and a tired struggling rebellion is a stark contrast to the clean shiny armor usually seen in Star Wars. Another element Edwards has brought over tremendously is his sense of scale. In his Godzilla movie the way Godzilla was shot and framed gave a great sense of scale and that is played masterfully in Rogue One. The AT-AT’s (or AT-ACT’s) are shot from a ground perspective which makes them look incredibly foreboding and menacing, this is something back during The Empire Strikes Back they just could not do as shooting models that way was not an option. This scale is also handled well in regards to the Death Star, it is often shown in relation to a planet, moon or Star Destroyer that really helps you grasp just how massive this battle station is.
- The Effects: This feeds into a large element of not only this film but every Star Wars film and that is CGI, it is top notch as to be expected here. It really seemed to be a passion project for the folks at ILM. The CGI in The Force Awakens was great but the big difference is in Rogue One the team are not taking any liberties, they are attempting to accurately recreate ships and models that again many have very fond memories of. ILM took this challenge to heart and scanned as many of the original models as they could get their hands on. They did such a great job they shared an internal video with the team after the first trailer of reaction videos where people were swearing they were using real models again, it’s that good.
- The Cast: A Star Wars movie is only as good as it’s characters and in Rogue One we get a ton of new people to buy action figures of, chief of which is Felicity Jones character Jyn Erso. She plays the plucky new Rebel whose tragic past provides valuable insight into the mission. She is a new addition in a long line of strong female leads in Star Wars films but does a great job of differentiating herself from the Regal Leia or the Naive Rey. The rest of the cast round out a great ensemble movie with the standouts being the former Imperial droid K2SO played by Alan Tudyk and Donny Yen’s character who while not a force user does understand and worship the force which adds some depth to a element that in movies we’ve only seen presented in a binary light and dark method. The Clone Wars and Rebels TV shows and some of the books have done a great job of fleshing out how the rest of the universe see’s and deals with the force and it is nice to see this translate to the movies. Unfortunately if I had to choose a main downside of the movie it also resides with the cast. It seems to be a rule that with large cast ensemble films you can only juggle around 4 that get properly flushed out and get a decent amount of depth and purpose. That is true here as well, while all the characters have their moments and are given some great lines and moments there are times when characters would have been better served to get a little more time and backstory to optimize their effectiveness on screen. This is especially true with Yen’s character and his close friend Baze played by Wen Jiang who have the groundwork for an interesting relationship it’s just a victim of time.
- The Dark Lord of the Sith: The other polarizing element I can see coming out of this movie is the appearance of Darth Vader. Specifically the duration he is used in the movie. From the very beginning when they announced he would be in the movie I had the sense he would be used sparingly. I did not get my hopes up and came in with the understanding any Vader I get is better than nothing. While I may have had a logical expectation this is not something the internet is great at so inevitably the way Vader is used in Rogue One will be a point of contention for many. My advice if you are coming into this expecting Vader to really leave his fingerprints on the movie you may want to dial back those aspirations. When he is there he is great but it a strictly icing on a cake and the movie could probably stand on it’s own without him.
Rouge One sets a great tone for the future of stand alone Star Wars movies and with a Young Han Solo movie coming soon easing anxieties from fans was a lofty goal for this film but they not only delivered a great spin off Star Wars movie but a great Star Wars movie in general. It stands apart as something different but not so much it cannot stand with its episodic brothers. So in short breathe easy my fellow Star Wars geeks, Rogue One is awesome.