In the opening text crawl for Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, it says, “During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star.” Disney, in its infinite wisdom to cash in on every potential resource of its lucrative cash cow, has decided to devote a whole movie to that one sentence in that initial crawl. I can’t wait for each sentence to get its movie. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (in case you’d forget) is the first film outside of any of the trilogies and much is at stake. Not just for the rebels but for Disney shareholders. If a wild success, expect future tales coming from every undiscovered corner of the Star Wars universe. And if Rogue One is any indication, that’s exactly the kind of artistic freedom needed to blossom. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) has plenty to rebel against. Her father (Mads Mikkelsen) was forced against his will by Orson Krennic (Ben Mendelsohn) to work on a fiendish death machine for the Empire. Jyn’s father is responsible for designing the Death Star. Jyn is broken out of imperial prison by Cassian (Diego Luna) for the Rebellion. They want her to track down her father, find out whatever she can about this new-fangled Death Star, and if possible, retrieve the plans on how it might be stopped. Her mission will take her to the ends of the galaxy to reunite with her father and to provide hope to the Rebellion. Finally after many films we finally get a war movie in a franchise called Star Wars, and it’s pretty much what I wanted: a Star Wars Dirty Dozen mission. It’s thrilling to go back to the height of the resistance against the Evil Empire and see things from a ground perspective with a skeleton crew working behind the scenes. We may know the future events of those Death Star plans but we don’t know what will befall all of these new characters. Who will make it out alive? The open-and-shut nature of this side story in the Star Wars universe brings a bit more satisfaction by telling a complete story. This film will not have to wait for two eventual sequels years down the road in order for an audience to form a comprehensive opinion. I welcome more side stories like Rogue One that expand upon the fringes of the established universe and timelines, that establish colorful new characters and tell their own stories and come to their own endings, and hopefully don’t feature any more Death Stars (more on this below). It seems like it was ages ago that major studio tentpoles just attempted to tell a single, focused story rather than set up an extended universe of other titles to nudge along their respective paths. Director Gareth Edwards (2014’s Godzilla) is less slavishly loyal to the mythos of the series than J.J. Abrams. His movie doesn’t feel like flattering imitation but its own artistic entry. The cinematography is often beautiful and the natural landscapes and sets provide so much tangible authenticity to this world. Edwards has a terrific big-screen feel for his shot compositions and achieving different moods with lighting. He knows how to make the big moments feel bigger without sacrificing the requisite popcorn thrills we desire. Rogue One has to walk a fine line between fan service and its own needs. While it’s fun to see Darth Vader on screen again voiced by the irreplaceable James Earl Jones, it’s also a bit extraneous other than some admittedly cool fan service. We don’t need to see Vader clear out a hallway of Rebel soldiers but then again why not? It’s the same when it comes to the inclusion of cameos from the original trilogy. Some are minor and some are major, achieved through the uncanny valley of CGI reconstruction. Gene Kelly may have danced with a vacuum cleaner and Sir Lawrence Oliver and Marlon Brando both appeared as big floating heads after their deaths, but this feels like the next step beyond the grave. There’s a somewhat ghastly feel for watching a dead actor reanimated, so your sense of overall wonder may vary. The cameos are better integrated than the Ghosbusters ones. There’s a great cinematic pleasure in putting together a team of rogues and rebels. The characters on board this mission have interesting aspects to them. Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) is a blind warrior and aspiring Jedi. He feels like he stepped out of a great samurai movie. He uses his connection with the Force to make up for his lack of visual awareness, and Chirrut demonstrates these abilities in several memorably fun instances. There’s a world of back-story with Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker), a dotty wheezing warrior who is more machine than man at this point. Whitaker gives an unusual performance that reminded me of a kindlier version of Dennis Hopper in Blue Velvet. The reprogrammed robot K-250 (vocal and motion-capture performance by Alan Tudyk) is a reliable source of catty comic relief and I looked forward to what he was going to say next. The first 40-minutes is mostly the formation of this group, and it’s after that where the movie starts to get hazy. We know how it’s all got to end but the ensuing action in Act Two feels a bit lost. This may have to due with the reportedly extensive reshoots that were done last summer to spice up the movie (much of the earliest teaser footage isn’t in the finished film). I’d be fascinated to discover what the original story was from Chris Weitz (Cinderella) and just what rewrites Tony Gilroy (Michael Clayton) performed so late into its life. For much of the second act, the characters feel a bit too subdued for the life-or-death stakes involved, and that translates over to the audience. We travel to different locations throughout the first two acts but I can’t tell you much about them other than some intriguing mountainous architecture. The plot is a bit too undercooked and still obtuse for far too long, requiring our team to bounce around locations to acquire this person or that piece of information. Rarely do the characters get chances to open up. It all comes together in the final act for a 30-minute assault that makes everything matter. It’s a thrilling conclusion and the movie finds a way to keep escalating the stakes, bringing in powerful reinforcements that force our Rogue One crew to alter their plans and placement, while still clearly communicating the needs of each group and the geography as a whole of the multiple points on the battlefield. It’s what you want a climactic battle to be and feel like where each player matters. It’s also a welcome addition to the Star Wars cannon, as we’ve never seen a beach assault before. It feels like a new level that was unlocked in some video game, and that’s no detriment. The ending battle has different checkpoints and mini-goals, which allows for the audience to be involved from the get-go and for the film to jump around locations while still maintaining an effective level of suspense. Many of these characters make something of a last stand, and you feel the extent of their sacrifice. I read in another review that the reason Jyn and her rogues win is because they accept that they are replaceable, and Orson Krennic fails because he made the mistake of believing himself irreplaceable. I think that’s a nice summation about the nobility of sacrifice. I won’t get into specific spoilers but I was very pleased with the ending of the film even though it’s not exactly the happiest. It feels like a fitting ending for the darker, grittier Star Wars tale and it provides earned emotional resonance for the setup of A New Hope, which this movie literally rolls right into. With as many fun and potentially interesting characters aboard for this suicide mission, it’s somewhat surprising that they are also the film’s weak point. Beyond simple plot machinations like Character A gets Character B here, I can’t tell you much more about these rogue yet noble folks other than their superficial differences. Take for instance the Empire turncoat, pilot Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) What personality does he have? What defines him? What is his arc? What about Cassian? He’s supposed to secretly assassinate Jyn’s father if given the chance, but do we see any struggle over this choice? Does it shape him? Does his outlook define his choice? Can you describe his personality at all whatsoever? What about the villain, Krennic? Can you tell me anything about him beyond his arrogance? What about Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), who carries a big gun and is close friends with our blind wannabe Jedi. Can you tell me anything about this guy beyond that? Even our fearless leader, Jyn Eros, feels lacking in significant development. She wants to find her father, get vengeance, but then changes her mind about sacrificing for the greater cause of hope. Many of the character relationships jump ahead without the needed moments to explain the growth and change. The original trilogy was defined by engaging characters. When you have a ragtag crew of six of seven rogues, you better make sure each brings something important to the movie from a narrative perspective, and not just from a pieces-on-the-board positioning for action. Look at Marvel’s Guardians of the Galaxy for tips. If this was going to be a powerful and emotionally involving war movie, the characters needed to be felt deeper. All too often they get lost amidst the Star Wars debris and then they become debris themselves. Ironically enough, Rogue One has the reverse problems of The Force Awakens, a movie that benefited from engaging characters but sapped from an overly familiar and cautious story. It’s telling when my favorite character, by far, is a sassy comic relief robot. Let’s talk about the Death Star in the room, namely the fact that over the course of eight Star Wars movies there have been Death Stars, or the construction thereof, in five of them (63% rate of Death Star sighting). We need a break. You can call it a Star Killer Base whatever in Force Awakens but it’s still a Death Star in everything but name. I can’t even put a number to the amount of money it cost the Empire/First Order to build these things, plus the review process to try and correct design flaws that never seem to get corrected. At this point it feels like this model just isn’t cost-efficient for its killing needs. What about a more mobile set of multiple mini-Death Stars? I hope that the filmmakers for the new trilogy (Rian Johnson, Colin Trevorrow) refrain from putting another similar planet-killing space station-type weapon into their movies as we’ve had enough. However, the use of the Death Star in Rogue One was perfectly acceptable because it already fit into the timeline of the first film. I also greatly appreciated the clever retcon as to why the Death Star had its fatal flaw. It took a bothersome plot cheat from 1977 and found a gratifying and credible excuse. Now when Luke blows up that sucker it’ll have even more resonance. Rogue One is a Star Wars adventure that feels like its own thing, and that’s the biggest part of its success. By being a standalone story relatively unencumbered by the canonical needs of hypothetical sequels, the movie opens up smaller stories worth exploring and characters deserving a spotlight. This is an exciting and entertaining war movie, and the kind of film I want to see more of in this multi-cultural universe. It’s not a faultless production as the lackluster character development definitely hampers some audience investment. I wish more could have been done with them before they started being permanently taken off the board. While Rogue One is looking to the past of Star Wars it still makes its own independence known. I hope this is the start of a continuation into exploring more of that galaxy far far away without the required additions of every Skywalker and Solo in existence. It’s a far bigger universe and it needs its close-up. Nate’s Grade: B This review originally ran on Nate’s own review site Nathanzoebl. Check it out for hundreds of excellent reviews! — Nate Zoebl The Breakdown: 3.5 out of 5 stars. In the latest round of ‘take my money already’ by Lucasfilm, we are treated to the story of how the Death Star plans made it into Rebel hands. Following an intrepid band of shady characters we are brought deep into the heart of Empire space to bear witness to the previously untold story of bravery and friendship that led to the destruction of the most powerful space station ever built. Like everyone this weekend I went to see the new Star Wars movie Rogue One. Taking place between awful prequel number three and the amazing original, Rogue One tells the story of how the Rebels stole the Death Star plans. It also plugs a couple plot holes while inventing some new ones so let’s dive right in. Galen Orso (Mads Mikkelsen) is the best scientist in the galaxy, and the Empire needs his help. That is, they need his help to build a super-weapon so they can dominate the galaxy. Of course there are people who don’t want the Empire to have a superweapon, such as the Rebels, and they will do whatever it takes to stop Erso and the Empire. Now, the time period of Rogue One is awesome, it’s in-between Episodes III and IV, it takes place in a galaxy fully under the thumb of a shadowy Empire, and there are no rays of light in the forms of long-lost jedi anywhere on the horizon. It is the perfect setting for a story about long odds and stealthy spy stuff. It’s so perfect for it I don’t really know why the stealthy spy stuff doesn’t take front and center. Mostly we get a lot of military engagements between the Rebels and the Empire with our characters caught somewhere in the middle. These engagements are gorgeous, and it’s really cool to see the classic X-Wings and Tie Fighters go at it along with some new ship models in the mix. Where these scenes fail is in how they serve the larger narrative. That narrative, the one about the search and stealing of the Death Star plans, is mainly about stealth. Naturally that information is kept in highly guarded Empire outposts, and if the Rebellion had the numbers or the technological power to face off against the Empire there wouldn’t be a scene full of Rebel bigwigs telling me how they don’t. There are tons of scenes telling us out outgunned and outmanned the Rebels are, and yet their first response to many of the situations of this movie are to mount large-scale ship offensives against prime Empire targets. By the time we get to the cool spy stuff we are still getting a lot of screen time devoted to the troops on the ground directly engaging the Empire. While the lack of awesome spy shenanigans is disappointing, it is a refreshing change of pace to have the ‘War’ in Star Wars highlighted more directly. The casualty count is high, and the combat is as chaotic and explosive as any war movie. People mowed down next to their friends, ships blown out of space, and impressively large set pieces make this a treat for the eyes. We even get the hint of some force battling, with Chirrut Îmwe’s connection to the force helping him in a number of impressive fights. Still, even with the shaky battle logic, the story of how the Empire lost the plans to their great superweapon can be carried with great writing and amazing characters. It would also be nice if any of those were devoted to the main character Jyn Erso. Instead the show is generally stolen by the plucky robot sidekick K-2SO played by the amazing Alan Tudyk, and the militarily gifted duo of Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang) and Chirrut Îmwe. They get the bulk of the witty lines, the keen observations, and meaningful conversation. For someone who is supposed to carry a film Jyn Erso falls very flat. Oh Jyn Erso, I wish you had been more interesting. Unfortunately there is literally nothing about her character that I couldn’t have learned from watching the trailer. It’s filmmaking 101, show, don’t tell. Everything that’s supposed to be interesting about her is a list of offenses rattled off by a Rebel officer. She goes from sulky rebellious teen to Rebel Alliance cheerleader in the span of two scenes, and the cheerleading is very nearly literal. None of her change of heart is shown through some complex emotional narrative. She is given a directive, and without questioning or thinking, decides to follow it in direct opposition to her original decision. Despite all its flaws, Rogue One is a welcome return to a galaxy far, far away. Five minutes of new Darth Vader footage, and the return of other notable characters from Episode IV make this movie worth the price of admission alone. Even though the main character isn’t the main attraction, the supporting cast is entertaining enough to get you through to the end. Whether you’re already a fan, or you just wanted an answer as to how some backwoods moisture farmer was able to take out the greatest weapon ever built, Rogue One delivers. — Jeffrey Roth Share this:TweetShare on TumblrLike this:Like Loading... Related Leave a Reply Cancel ReplyYou must be logged in to post a comment.