The Rebellion makes a risky move to steal the plans for the Death Star, setting up the epic saga to follow.
Directed by: Gareth Edwards (Monsters, Godzilla (2014))
Written by: Chris Weitz (screenplay), Tony Gilroy (screenplay), John Knoll (story), Gary Whitta (story), George Lucas (characters)
Cast: Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Alan Tudyk, Donnie Yen, Wen Jiang, Ben Mendelsohn, Forest Whitaker, Riz Ahmed, Mads Mikkelson, Jimmy Smits
Wow. Rogue One – A Star Wars Story has been released, and I saw it last night. I’m going to try to stay away from any major spoilers, but there’s a problem with that approach, which I’ll address by comparing it to another movie from the vast Star Wars galaxy.
Star Wars Episode I – The Phantom Menace (keep your groans to yourself, please; there’s a point here) was met with great fan expectation and the weight of the existing franchise on the ten –year-old shoulders of its pint-size hero, Anakin Skywalker. It told the tale that Star Wars fans knew so well: the fall of the Jedi, the corruption of Anakin by the Dark Side, and the birth of the Empire. What the audience got, of course, was, well, a bit less than they’d been looking for in the story, and Episodes II and III provided little relief from the near-universally accepted failure that was Episode I. In the end, the fans got the story they thought they knew and thought they wanted to see, but not necessarily the story they believed they were getting. And that was the difficult lift of the prequel trilogy: to tell a story everyone knew the ending of without mucking up what they believed about the beginning and middle.
And so, as I waited in the theater for the film to start, I was reminded of a scene near the end of a little film called Fan-Boys, where the friends sat in the theater, just as The Phantom Menace began to roll and one asked the other, “what if it sucks?”
FIRST NON-SPOILER: Rogue One doesn’t suck.
I make this comparison to help try to explain why some critics and die-hard fans might have problems with it. Which means that there may (will) be spoilers, because we discuss the story we all know.
Like The Phantom Menace, then, Rogue One is being met with great expectations, and telling the audience a story they know (or believe they know) all too well. It is the tale of an intrepid group of loyal rebel/Alliance fighters, risking their lives to obtain the plans to the Empire’s newest weapon, the Death Star, in the hopes that some weakness might be found to help defend themselves from its destructive power.
But do we really know this story? Perhaps in the broad strokes, but not so much the details, and here is where criticism will come.
Galen Erso (Mikkelson), former chief weapons scientist for the Republic/Empire retires during the earliest days of construction of the Death Star (last seen in the closing moments of Episode III). Fifteen years before Episode IV, he is “kidnapped” back into service to help save the floundering program. His daughter, Jyn (Jones), is sent to Saw Gerrera (Whitaker), an Alliance operative.
Flash forward fifteen years, and the Death Star is nearly complete. A defector from the Empire claims that Galen Erso has given him a message for Saw in order to aid the Rebels/Alliance (or whatever they’re calling themselves, as Jyn says). Jyn Erso is broken out of an Imperial labor camp in order to contact Saw and perhaps find Galen and stop the Death Star from being completed. In the course of all this **SPOILER ALERT** Galen is killed, but tells Jyn that he designed a flaw into the system that can be exploited and used to destroy the Death Star. Needing the blueprints to find the flaw, Jyn leads a rag-tag group of rebels to the central storage facility to steal the appropriate set of plans, against the will of the Alliance council.
So, that’s the plot in a nutshell.
Now, onto what I thought of the movie.
First, let me just say that I did, in fact, enjoy Rogue One. Very much, actually. More so than The Force Awakens, if the truth be told. It felt, for me, to be a bit different visually than even TFA, at least in the non-space scenes. I thought the acting was good, overall, with a shout-out to Alan Tudyk as droid K-2SO. Too bad—well, that’s a spoiler. Sorry.
Anyway, the movie is chockablock full of nods to the future of the franchise. I especially like the “recycling” of some previous (future?) characters for this film during the climactic battle scene. It really sounds hokey, but **SPOILER ALERT** seeing Red and Gold leader back in action (pre-action?) from the Battle of Yavin in Episode IV was cool.
The re-animated Grand Moff Tarkin was more than a little unnerving. Played on set by a living actor (Guy Henry) whose face was then digitally replaced by Peter Cushing’s features and an almost-good-enough voice actor, the effect was jarring, and, unfortunately, completely noticeable every time he was on-screen.
Tarkin had to be there, certainly, but this was just creepy.
There was a bit of comedy to be had, as well. K-2SO’s penchant for speaking his mind often made for some straight-man comedy, while blind monk, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen) made more than a few jokes about his sightlessness. But when Darth Vader made a force-choke pun, Gareth Edwards went too far… almost.
We did get to see Vader in action in this film, mostly in the final act, and the tie-up/tie-in to Episode IV was well done, and should appease most of the hard-core fans.
I’d tell you more, but I feel like I’ve spoiled and danced around as much as I can for those who haven’t seen it yet. If you’d like more, make sure you subscribe to the Visually Stunning Movie Podcast on iTunes (or the website, VSMoviePodcast.com), where you will hear us go into great detail discussing all sorts of stuff about the movie.