Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

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Release: Friday, December 16, 2016

[Theater]

Written by: Chris Weitz; Tony Gilroy

Directed by: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards (Godzilla; Monsters) has been given the none-too-enviable task of linking two of cinema’s most iconic trilogies. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story predicates the ultra-classic original space opera and follows on the heels of the considerably less classic trilogy that kicked off circa the turn of the millennium. With such weight on its shoulders it’s a small miracle the production doesn’t fully implode in on itself. Given what’s at stake and the immense hype building up to it, the “spin-off” saga still can’t help but feel like a comedown, especially when it stands in such close proximity to The Force Awakens.

This is a review from the point of view of a decided non-fanboy. Let us not get that confused with me not being a fan of the anthology at all. There are a lot of things I like about the universe George Lucas envisioned some 40 years ago — not least of which being the immense sense of scale and (cringe) epic-ness that has been established year in and year out. The mythos of Star Wars also brilliantly manifests as a thinly veiled critique of the way we earthlings perpetually endeavor to coexist on a single chunk of rock. Perhaps most critically, Lucas has established characters and character arcs that will forever live on in the annals of not only science fiction but in all of cinema. While you will never find me in a packed house fully dressed in Star Wars attire, I will always have time for Darth Vader. And if you have no interest in Luke Skywalker, Chewie, or Han Solo you basically have no soul.

Rogue One, not without a sense of urgency in its precursive structure, manifests as more a tale of two halves where one goes heavy on the exposition and the other overcompensatory with action. It is a decidedly unbalanced epic, unable to maintain momentum or genuine intrigue from start to finish. And it’s a damn long sit, clocking in at well over two hours. The film only seems to achieve greatness down the back stretch, where shit really hits the fan as a small cadre of rebels led by Felicity Jones‘ Jyn Erso finally puts into action a bold plan to recover the design schematic for the Empire’s megaweapon, the Death Star.

Erso, daughter of the reluctant architect behind said “planet killer” Galen Erso (Mads Mikkelsen — yay!), has lived a life of oppression and isolation. On her own since the age of 15 she’s the very definition of teenage rebel, but not like the ones you see in Nirvana’s music videos. Her journey to become a Rebel leader is built upon a sturdy foundation — the great Ben Mendelsohn gives us reason to be very, very worried as Imperial Director Orson Krennic — but it’s just not very interesting. The entire affair is dark (literally too dark in places, to the point where I couldn’t see what was going on) and sans humor (also sans Hayden Christensen-levels of schmaltz, to its credit), making that first half a slog for anyone who doesn’t subscribe to the infallibility of Star Wars.

After a brief introduction to Erso’s humble beginnings we are introduced to key role players who vary in personality from completely boring to vaguely inspiring. There’s Rebel officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and his android K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) — sort of a poor-man’s C-3PO; a defecting Imperial pilot by the name of Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed) who has smuggled a holographic message from Galen to present to the Rebel Alliance and a Rebel extremist named Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker) who was the first to “rescue” Jyn from Imperial forces. Also integral to the cause are blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and mercenary Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen).

These folks represent an ideological extremism festering within a faction of Good Guys who all have grown tired of being kicked around by the Bad Guys. The Rebels are the ones we should ultimately care about, except in the end we really don’t. (The perspective I’ve maintained throughout this piece has become pretty confused, I admit. Wasn’t this supposed to be from the point of view of a non-fanboy? I’m not intending to speak for all here because I assume my thoughts are not going to be shared by many. But I digress . . .) In the end, I didn’t really feel the feels. But my buttocks did; pins and needles set in circa the 90-minute mark and as I shifted around trying to get comfortable I also started to gain a greater appreciation of what had been accomplished in Episode VII. Jyn = a watered-down Rey; Rook = a not-fun Finn. James Earl Jones barely even sounds like James Earl Jones.

A large part of the problem I have with Rogue One stems from Chris Weitz and Tony Gilroy’s conservative screenplay, one in which narrative coherence is favored over character development. I suppose that, since the arc of the story is itself auxiliary to what comes later — most pertinently the events of A New Hope — the lack of personality or the subtly romantic textures we’ve become so accustomed to over the years is almost intentional. This is a very serious saga, and when humor does meekly surface it arrives absolutely when it is needed, and it doesn’t flow so much as spurt awkwardly; much of Tudyk’s input invokes irritation rather than laughter. In other words, character “growth” here feels more defined by action or inaction, rather than what characters say or feel. Simply put, Rogue One lacks the emotional heft needed to make this a truly memorable chapter in the ongoing saga.

It’s not all underwhelming, though. The aforementioned final third is nothing short of spectacular as Erso and her motley crew successfully infiltrate the highly secured Imperial database on the planet Scarif. The plan of attack is brilliantly devised and fascinating to watch unfold. It’s like the Normandy Beach landing set in space — so convincingly rendered we forget this is all being shot on the Maldivian atoll of Laamu. The contrast between the brutality of the attack and the tropical, utopian setting is, in a word, awesome. The sacrifices made herein also emphasize the ‘war’ in Star Wars. It’s surprising there is emotional resonance behind the losses given the characters are so blandly written.

But even this sequence is not entirely satisfying, insofar as what its execution suggests about the film preceding it. The nostalgia it generates for the past future risks making entirely redundant any momentum that was supposed to be generated in the events that precipitated it. Rogue One is kind of a big tease; it titillates through sheer force of association while never managing to become something that will endure the test of time on its own.

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3-5Recommendation: Fan service to the extreme makes Rogue One a pandering but occasionally enjoyable outing for those who aren’t diehards. It’s visually spectacular and suitably grandiose, but for those wanting to latch onto classic characters it will leave something to be desired. Not even the great Felicity Jones is a true stand-out. Still, there’s something to recommend about the film — namely its reverence for the ever-expanding universe in which it takes place, and when the action is on — boy is it on. Ultimately I’m confident this will still end up breaking all sorts of box office records. 

Rated: PG-13

Running Time: 134 mins.

Quoted: “Be careful not to choke on your aspirations, Director.”

All content originally published and the reproduction elsewhere without the expressed, written consent of the blog owner is prohibited.

Photo credits: http://www.joblo.com; http://www.imdb.com

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25 thoughts on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

    • Wow, that is surprising! I knew you were a Star Wars fan so I figured you had already seen this. (And I’ve been bad about checking out Sporadic Chronicles lately so I figured it is already up and I just haven’t seen it yet 😉 ). Any who, this will be worth the wait for you no matter what format you see it in. At least, I hope it is! I got something out of it. I wish I were a bigger fan of these things though. There’s so much fan service going on that i tend to get left out of it every now and then

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  2. Nice review Tom. I actually ending up catching this movie on opening night and right as the film was approaching its climax the fire alarm went off. From what I saw of Rogue One though I thought it was just okay but it did feel rough around the edges, probably because of the recent reshoots.

    • Thanks Charles. You know, I did have some fun with this but I’d be lying a little if I said that fun didn’t really kick in until about midway through. The actual enactment of the plan felt like vintage Star Wars to me. The rest, not so much.

  3. Hmmmmmmmmmmm!! I’ve been told that this was great in that it is more original, whereas I found the new one to be only a little more than a remake. That said, its been a year since I saw it! I was surprised at the score you gave it after reading a not-so-positive review, I’ll be checking this one out with my Dad, much like we did with the last one last year 😀

    • As with all blockbusters there are positives and negatives but for me the latter outweighed the former. I just couldn’t end up caring about these characters but the action that takes place for much of the last third or quarter of the film actually helps bring the thing back up again. Hope you and your dad enjoy it when you get to see it.

  4. I found it…enjoyable. But since I’m not a fan of the series and I barely even know what’s come before, I’m not invested. It didn’t make a huge impression.

    • That fits my experience with this to a tee. I was left a little numb to it all. Good stuff at the end, though. Really good.

    • Pretty sound thing to do I think man. The crowds really seem to be all over this. For the first time in what feels like decades this blog has generated a 20-person Like count. For whatever that is worth haha

    • Yeah, unfortunately something was kind of lacking for me but I definitely had a good time with it! That last showdown and all that was spectacular. Made up for a lot of the rest that I found slow and less interesting

  5. Gonna pass. Probably even less of a Star Wars nut than you are. So much stuff would probably fly over my head. Sure TFA could be ridiculed for being a retelling, but it basically did stand on its own too.

    • Yeah I wouldn’t describe myself as a Star Wars nut lol. I do see a lot of the merit and the value in these stories and the universe as a whole. But i think Rogue One is a good example of the film franchise now really pushing for more niched audiences because I largely felt “left out” of this one. Although, i guess the audience can’t be *too* niched because the theater was 3/4s full when I showed up a half hour early for an 11:30p showing on Thursday night . . .

  6. Great review. I’m not overly excited about Rogue One, if I don’t end up seeing at the cinema, I won’t mind too much, but it still sounds pretty good regardless.

    • There are definite strengths to the film. and in my view most of them were reserved for the final half hour to 45 minutes. I certainly enjoyed myself but it won’t be something I’ll rush back to I don’ think

  7. Pretty much in agreement with you here Tom, although I think I enjoyed it a little more than you. It is fan extremo isn’t it and the cameos, nods, etc bogged it down but that final act was awesome and the down and dirty look of the film is gorgeous.

    • I enjoyed it when it entered into the thick of the plot, when they actually went after the plans for the Death Star. I mean, from the invasion sequence onward that was just classic . . . CLASSIC . . . Star Wars to me. The movie that preceded it was more of a slog though and I wasn’t left with a sense that these characters are among the best. Thought it was also weird what they did with Peter Cushing and Carrie Fisher.

    • Thanks a lot Cindy. Totally understandable position, as there has been so many of these things I’m sure there’s a sense of fatigue towards these films for many. While a lot of this maintains a vintage Star Wars “feel” I still couldn’t help but notice Rogue One suffers from the same problem so many of these big time event movies do. The writing tends to let the story down. I feel like the rebooted Star Trek films are worse in terms of generic writing but it’s still present in these new aeditions. Plus I’m just not that big into Star wars so maybe I was just numb to a lot of it

      • Fatigue is the perfect word. I enjoy the rebooted Star Trek. Since the original series/New Generation all have generic writing, the strength has always been the charm of the personalities. This reboot has a lot of it–I Iike everyone’s character. I thought Simon Pegg’s writing, the funny bits, made them seem more human and less action hero. There are moments when the writing is just fine for any genre (whenever Leonard Nimoy showed up as himself) that was an interesting story line, time leaps. Anyway, Star Trek fans and Star Wars fans are pretty specific and loyal as much as their critics. I think I tend to skip one and focus my energy on Star Trek because it is all I have left to give.

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