Star Wars: Rogue One Review
By: Justin Jasso (@jjasso007) and Haylee Fisher (@haylee_fisher)
Justin: Really, Disney is just THAT good. I started this speech in my intro for my review of Moana, and now I’m continuing. I mentioned how they bought the rights to Marvel, and have made it one of the most successful film conglomerates in modern history. But, when they obtained the rights to Star Wars, they basically inherited another money tree that would only blossom and produce bundles of cash, setting them above everyone else in the film game. And Disney will go back to that well until it is absolutely bare, as they should. Last year they brought us Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and now, almost exactly one year later, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. And, just like one year ago, Haylee Fisher is here to collab with me on another Star Wars review. Is this like our new thing, Haylee?
Haylee: Apparently so! Same time and place next year?
Justin: Sounds good! Ok, so, let’s get to the story. It takes place immediately before A New Hope (like, maybe a couple of hours before A New Hope begins…at least where it ends), the Rebel Alliance is gaining strength, but the Empire is on the verge of finalizing its ultimate weapon: The Death Star. Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen) tried to escape the Empire, as he knew the devastating power it would possess, but is pulled back in against his will. His young daughter, Jyn (Felicity Jones), grows up to be a smuggler and a thief, soon finds herself a pawn for the Rebellion, tasked with gaining the favor of rogue warlord, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) and to track down her father. She’s paired with a cocky soldier named Cassian (Diego Luna); his droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk); as well as blind warrior Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen); Chirrut’s personal guardian Baze Mulbus (Wen Jiang); and Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), a shuttle pilot who defected from the Empire. They must track down Galen and get the Death Star plans into the Rebellion’s hands so they can find a way to defeat the universe’s ultimate weapon. But will they be able to get through Empire controlled territory with such a rag tag team? The universe can only hope…
Justin: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is just like it says, a Star Wars story, and that’s something that sets it apart from all of the other films in the narrative. For starters, there is no opening dialogue crawl explaining what has been happening in the world of Star Wars since we’ve been gone. So, for the slow readers who can’t keep up with that opening scroll, this one’s for you! There’s also no John Williams Star Wars intro score that everyone has come to expect. Sorry, if you were expecting that. Another thing you will not see are Jedis. Yes, Jedis are awesome, they have colorful laser swords (aka lightsabers), they wear costumes that just exude a “Don’t. Mess. With. Me.” vibe, and they have kick-ass powers that we all, high- or low-key, wish we had. Well, again, sorry, no Jedis here. And, because there are no Jedis, there are also no lightsaber battles. All of these aspects make the film feel a little more raw, a little more like rugged, a little more real. For me, this was something that really set it apart, and that aspect worked for me. What about you, Haylee, did you love these changes to the Star Wars mythos or were you wanting ninja Yoda flipping lightsaber fights again?
Haylee: The lack of all of those things disappointed me about this film – it made it not feel like Star Wars to me. C’mon, it’s not Star Wars without an opening crawl! I’m glad you enjoyed it, but honestly, it took me out of the film. I’m not saying I wanted CGI Yoda twisting and flipping around in a fight as in his battle with Count Dooku or even an all-out lightsaber battle of good vs. evil, but to me, these films have always been about the Jedi lore set against a background of John Williams music. I did appreciate we got to see a different style of fighting with a different kind of weapon, which continued the tradition of action-heavy scenes in a traditional sci-fi world, but that didn’t make up for the fact that I wanted more Star Wars in my Star Wars, even with the Easter Eggs and cameos, which I’ll discuss later.
Justin: I hear ya, and I think a ton of people are going to miss those lightsaber battles and Jedi telekinetic powers, but this is a Star Wars story, not actual Star Wars. But being a Star Wars film, you come, in large part, for the action, and that action doesn’t disappoint. There’s a marketplace scene in particular that brings up moments like something found in Zero Dark Thirty or the TV show Homeland. These are rebels in hostile areas, and violence is always a hair-trigger away. And, in these areas, there are so many innocents who are involved, against their own volition, and collateral damage does happen. Again, it’s more raw and real when compared to other films in the series. Donnie Yen brings a martial arts element to the film, but he fights with a bow staff basically, against Storm Troopers with projectile weapons, so it’s a little weird to see him taking out groups of enemies with a stick. I watch the scenes and think, “How is that doing so much damage?” But he does walk around saying the Force is with him, so maybe it is?
Haylee: I hate to say it, but Yen’s Chirrut was probably my least favorite character. I know, I’m sorry, and please put down your pitchforks. The most disappointing element of the film to me was a lack of character development, Chirrut included. New characters are not a bad thing, as witnessed by The Force Awakens and the fervent fanbase it has acquired, but that’s because viewers felt emotionally invested. I guess we were just supposed to root for these new characters solely because of nostalgia, knowing where the story would eventually lead in A New Hope, but nostalgia can’t carry a movie. If Chirrut isn’t a Jedi, just a guardian, how was he able to use the Force? Does that mean he is actually Force-sensitive? How did Chirrut and Baze become partners? And those are just some of the questions I have about motivations for those characters! In the group of friends I went with, one cried the entire third act of the movie because she was so invested in the characters. I wanted to feel something and just…didn’t. I wish there could have been more world-building and character backstories to benefit the film more, though that would have made it way too long. Instead, I left feeling not underwhelmed or overwhelmed, just whelmed.
Justin: On a positive note, the special effects overall are pretty good, and I really couldn’t complain. What was really amazing to me was the fact that the character of Grand Moff Tarkin plays a prominent role in the film, but Peter Cushing, the actor who played the character, died in 1994. So they used a voice actor and someone providing the physicality for the character, and digitally implanted Peter Cushing onto the screen, and he looks amazing!
Haylee: Yes, that CGI was amazing! I’ve read elsewhere that people were creeped out and knew it was fake, but compare those effects to similar ones employed on Tron: Legacy just six years ago. Talk about fake-looking! I loved Tarkin’s prominence and that we learned how he became the person he was in the original trilogy. I also loved the Leia cameo and thought the ending couldn’t have been more perfect.
Justin: Now, I’m a big fan of acting, having done my fair share prior to saving lives, so I’m always critical of performances. Star Wars really isn’t known for having Oscar-worthy performances, and Rogue One isn’t going to change that. One of the problems is that there are just so many characters, and you can’t give them enough screen time nor flesh out their back stories enough for us to really love them. Outside of Felicity Jones’ Jyn and Diego Luna’s Cassian, the characters are a little flat. By that, I mean they play the role they need to progress the film, but there isn’t a whole lot of substance beyond the superficial. Jyn’s motivations are explained through her backstory with her father from childhood to the film’s timeline and because she then grew up as a smuggler and a thief, yet there is still that underlying deep love for her father, that girl who is an adult but yearns for her father to be back in her life. And this really comes through late in the film during a crucial moment. She puts on this tough exterior, yet beneath that mask she wears for everyone is a young girl who would probably love to cry and be hugged by someone who cares. Luna, on the other hand, has his own level of complexity, being tasked with missions that may go against his personal beliefs and morals. It is in the conflict of a character, whether it’s man vs. nature, man vs. man, man vs. society, etc., that we find the drama, and from that conflict comes the depth of performance. Luna expresses this conflict not only through his dialogue, but through his facial expressions and his body language. It isn’t always on point for him, but it’s there. The other characters may have a nice scene or two where we can learn a little more about them, or see a new side or an act of bravery or determination which exemplifies this war or what the Rebellion really means. This was most likely done to get us to have some more emotional attachment, and the score can help, but, deep down, did we really care? For characters who were only going to be in one movie, it’s hard to develop those deep feels for them. And we have a couple of little cameo appearances, principal of which is Darth Vader, with James Earl Jones returning to voice the Dark One. Yet, even he felt slightly out of place, like he was thrown in to garner more reaction and love, maybe some nostalgia. But it does coincide with the story arc, so I get it. Oh, I also really enjoyed K-2SO; he had some nice moments. Ok, I’ve been jawing away enough here. Thoughts on the acting, Haylee? Am I too critical here or being too nice?
Haylee: No, I’m right there with you, as witnessed by my tangent above. Jyn and Cassian were the highlights of the film for me and I loved Cassian’s struggle of what was right vs. what his command was. Doing the right thing isn’t always the easy choice, and that’s a lesson reiterated throughout all of the Star Wars films, as is love for family and hope, which Jyn demonstrates. She had faith and knew her father wasn’t a traitor and knew it was up to her to redeem his name. Even in his limited screen time, Mads Mikkelsen was amazing, but is he ever bad? And Alan Tudyk gives another great voiceover performance as K-2SO and got some of the biggest laughs in my theater. I was truly sad when he died, but in my head I was going, “Really, Tudyk? Again with the dying?” You are correct in saying Star Wars will never give us award-worthy performances, but the job got done and you will likely leave the theater satisfied, but not moved by greatness.
Justin: Let me just say that I agree: I was actually sad when he died also. Anywho, are people going to love Rogue One: A Star Wars Story? The box office will probably say so, and I think, for the most part, people will. Is it a perfect addition? No. But I did like the overall story better than The Force Awakens. It felt fresh, it felt new, it felt human, and a lot of that has to deal with there being all new characters, no Jedis (ok, Darth Vader is in the film, so fine, ONE Jedi), a new story that puts the puzzle together between Episodes Three and Four, and also explains long-glaring problems with the Star Wars universe. For example: why is there a hole in the Death Star that, if you shoot it, will destroy the whole thing? Did someone not notice that design flaw? Was there not enough in the Empire budget to cover that glaring need, or was there a sudden worker’s strike at the end? Yeah, that little nugget is resolved here. And while some things are resolved and there are some nice moments, it kind of feels like a stop gap, like something they put together to hold the legion of Star Wars fans over until Episode Eight is released. It’s good, but it’s not great. Final thoughts, Haylee?
Haylee: I loved that the Death Star flaw was resolved. It was one of those, “Finally, everything makes sense!” moments. However, I disagree with you that it was better than The Force Awakens. I know many thought it was just a re-hash of A New Hope, but it felt like a new Star Wars for a new generation for me. This just felt like a way to bring in more money from Star Wars fans. I’m definitely going to see it again, though, and perhaps will be less motion sick this time around. (Did anyone else get motion sick, too? It really took me out of the movie.) Maybe that will change my opinion, but for now, my bottom line is this: I thought the first half to two-thirds dragged, I thought there wasn’t enough character development, and I wish it had just felt like Star Wars to me. The times I felt the most joy were during the throwbacks and cameos to characters we already knew: the appearances from the red and gold leaders (and their subsequent deaths, which is why Luke’s call sign becomes Red Five), Cornelius Evazan and Ponda Baba from the Mos Eisley cantina making an appearance in the Jedha marketplace, seeing R2-D2 and C-3PO, Bail Organa and Mon Mothma’s sly discussion of Obi-Wan Kenobi, and that the ending directly led in to A New Hope with Vader’s hallway battle (though everything else involving Vader was comically bad – what was that dialogue and delivery?!) and that glimpse of Leia. However, those were not enough to compensate for what was, to me, a mostly disappointing movie, but has in turn made me even more excited for Episode Eight where we get to go back to a world we are invested in with characters we love.