Movies

Movie Review: Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One

Rogue One

I now get to say this twice in a row: that? That was a goddamned Star Wars movie.

Dara and I went to go see this thing in 3D IMAX today, and when the credits rolled, we took off our glasses and looked at each other. We’d both been crying. And we nodded knowingly to one another as we realized that, and came out of the theater talking about how we both had ALL THE FEELS.

Because yeah, even more than The Force Awakens (which, let me remind you, I quite adored), this movie grabbed hold of everything I loved from A New Hope and brought it roaring back to life.

Open the shield for transmission because I am about to broadcast SPOILERS.

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As I did with The Force Awakens, I made a point of trying to avoid as much coverage as possible of this movie before I saw it–and I regularly follow pop culture hubs The Mary Sue and Tor.com, so that was a lot of articles I had to wind up skipping!

But I did know a few things going in. First and foremost that this was a standalone story and NOT part of the main storyline–a point which, I learned at a Christmas Eve party Dara and I went to, had not actually clicked with everyone as a party attendee lamented to us that she spent the first half hour of her viewing going “Wait what THIS MAKES NO SENSE.” As y’all know though I am a huge enough Star Wars nerd that I couldn’t help but pick this much up, at least.

I also picked up the general idea that this was going to be about the stealing of the Death Star plans, that it’d be set in the days leading up to the events of A New Hope, and that there’d be appearances by Darth Vader, Grand Moff Tarkin, and even a glimpse of Leia.

I knew that there was going to be no opening title crawl, and that John Williams was not doing the music.

But that was about it. And this time, at least, I was not actually spoiled for major plot reveals!

So yeah, let’s do this thing, with a chronicle of things that shot through my mind as we watched the movie.

The lack of title crawl and the familiar opening anthem was, admittedly, a bit weird. But I was actually willing to deal with that, given that I knew this was a standalone side story, and I’m actually kind of okay with keeping the crawl and the main anthem for the primary storyline films. It did however make the opening a bit more immediate than I’m used to with a Star Wars flick, but not in a bad way.

The aforementioned party attendee also told me that she had in fact taken note of the music, so I made a point of checking for that–and yeah, I’m glad to say that composer Michael Giacchino did okay walking in John Williams’ mighty footsteps. I was actually rather charmed that he showed up on this past weekend’s episode of Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me for the Not My Job segment–and that he in fact talked about how it was nerve-wracking having grown up with Star Wars and being tasked with the prospect of trying to live up to that soundtrack. I liked his work well enough that I will in fact be seeking out the soundtrack, so there’s that.

Something else I immediately noticed as the story started, and which went a long and giggle-inducing way to grounding me in the feel of “yes, this is a Star Wars story”: space looked like it did in A New Hope. Which is to say, not like space actually looks, as we know now, with a wealth of color in the stars and rich gaseous expanses of nebulae and the like. The space of Rogue One was monochromatic white stars on black void and it just looked right for the story we were seeing.

(And now I totally have to watch The Force Awakens again because I didn’t remember noticing this in that movie! Oh DARN.)

Then of course we go into Jyn Erso’s backstory. And I went “HEY WAIT isn’t that the same guy I just saw being the bad guy in Doctor Strange? And who was also Le Chiffre in Casino Royale?” Mads Mikkelsen, of course, playing Jyn’s father Galen Erso. It was weird and rather refreshing to see him playing someone who wasn’t a villain! Even if the Rebellion thought he was one, because of the long game he was playing against his Imperial masters.

I was a bit disappointed in Jyn’s mother dying off so easily, but then, this was after all backstory. And angsty backstories are part and parcel of Star Wars. I noticed her Jedi-like attire and the clear unspoken indicator that the necklace she gave her daughter was a kyber crystal, too. According to this post by the Mary Sue, Jyn’s mother was originally supposed to have been a Jedi in hiding–but apparently in what actually made it to the theaters, she’s a follower of the Church of the Force, which we also get a link to in The Force Awakens.

Which pretty much makes her, as Dara put it, one of the “Air Acolytes of Star Wars”. And I’m okay with that! I think the story would have been weakened if she’d been an actual Jedi.

The quick transition from “little Jyn being rescued by Saw Gerrera” to “grown up Jyn in an Imperial prison” might lead you to believe you’re about to watch a happy-go-lucky Guardians of the Galaxy type thing. Certainly for a little bit, once Cassian Andor and his droid K-2SO show up on camera, we do have a bit of that kind of snark. The droid, as voiced by Alan Tudyk, is pretty awesome in an anti-Threepio kind of way, though they did play up that anti-Threepio thing a bit heavy-handedly in his lines about odds.

(Though hey, heavy-handedness is also part and parcel of Star Wars, so I’m kind of okay with that too. ;D )

I was amused by the entirely gratuitous appearance of the guy who hassled Luke in the cantina, and oh hey it turns out this guy’s actually got a backstory! And he wasn’t actually an alien, but a horrifically disfigured human! Just goes to show that there are still things I do not in fact know about Star Wars.

I am not sure what to think about Chirrut Îmwe. On the one hand, it was great to see another actor of color in a prominent role. On the other hand, he was also totally playing up the whole “blind warrior monk” trope, and it was pretty ambiguous as well as to whether or not he was supposed to be a Force-user. Only by googling do I find that he’s supposed to be a member of the Guardians of the Whills, which are not to be confused with the Church of the Force, apparently? I feel like there was a lot of information not really properly communicated about this guy and his connection to the plot in general. At most I was able to pick up that Jedha had a holy city with Jedi-related worship going on and this guy was involved. Above and beyond that, though, not so much.

On the other other hand, I rather liked his friendship with his big brawny protector Baze, and I do not appear to be the only one who totally saw a romantic connection there either. But I’d also be fine with an entirely platonic thing, too! Either way it was kind of adorable how Baze looked after him.

Among the Rebel leaders, it just made my heart glow to see Mon Mothma. <3 Much has been made over this being the same actress who played her in Revenge of the Sith, though me, I’m just partial to the character from having seen her be played on Star Wars-themed MUSHes.

And BAIL ORGANA! Deeply satisfying to see him as well.

And while we’re on the topic of the Rebel base OMG THE REBEL BASE AT YAVIN. They did such an excellent job with that set, making all the screens and the hangar and the ships and everything echo the feel of A New Hope so beautifully. <3 <3 <3

Let us also note that FUCK YES FEMALE PILOTS. \0/ I noticed three women in flight during the stunningly beautiful battle sequence over Scarif (not to be confused with Skaro from Doctor Who, lol), though I am not entirely sure if it was three different women or two with one of them shown twice.

And HOLY SHIT THAT BATTLE. Particularly the part with the hammerhead transport ramming the two Star Destroyers into each other. BEAUTIFUL. I was a bit afraid that seeing this thing in IMAX might make me motion sick, but was very pleased that not only did that not turn out to be a problem, but that screen made the entire battle sequence amazing.

Meanwhile, over on the Imperial side, how about that Krennic? I am ON BOARD with the Smart Bitches Trashy Books review of the movie, in which they point out quite correctly that the dude didn’t warrant a proper Bad Guy cape because he was really only a wannabe bad guy. Muahaha.

Because seriously, dude, you don’t stand a chance when you’re up against GRAND MOFF TARKIN and OMG yes let’s talk about Uncanny Valley Grand Moff Tarkin, shall we?

Reading around, I’m seeing reports that they actually got in a body double to do the general movements, and then grafted Peter Cushing’s likeness over him. I’m really rather in awe of that. I could tell it was a digital recreation of his likeness–something about the textures of the face wasn’t quite there for me–but it was still pretty spooky how they pulled it off. I’m also wondering how they did his lines, as well; it’s unclear to me whether the actor was a close enough vocal match that they could just use his spoken lines, or what. Because if they had to reconstruct new lines out of previously recorded Cushing dialogue, damn, that would be mind-bogglingly complex work. I will be very intrigued to see when Disney releases more info about how they pulled this off.

It does also make me wonder if they had to pay some sort of suitable royalty to Peter Cushing’s estate for use of his likeness. That had to be quite the interesting discussion!

And of course they did the same thing for Leia at the end, which was weird in a whole different way since Carrie Fisher is (fingers crossed, given her recent medical news) still with us. I think I didn’t quite buy digital Leia as much as I did digital Tarkin, though.

AND. AND. AND. We also get VADER. Which I also knew was going to happen, though the lengths they had to go to for Tarkin and Leia weren’t necessary with Vader since all they had to do here was get a suitably tall guy to be the physical wearer of the costume–and bring in James Earl Jones again for the dialogue. It was beautiful to hear that Mr. Jones still has the Vader mojo in him. 😀 And HOLY CRAP THAT LAST SEQUENCE WITH VADER as we see him mowing through the troopers on the ship. Just in case any of us forgot exactly why Darth Vader is supposed to be fucking terrifying.

Speaking of that ending… oh god oh god.

I told Dara on the way out that yeah, this was pretty much the ending I was expecting–i.e., that this was NOT going to be a happy ending, because we KNOW going in that the Death Star isn’t destroyed. That said, expecting a “rocks fall everybody dies” ending is not quite the same thing as experiencing it.

And once the plucky squadron of Rebel volunteers does indeed start dying, that’s when I started crying behind my 3D glasses. And all of them went out in various blazes of glory. K-2SO, not even bothering to look as he shot charging Stormtroopers with one hand and continued his work with the other. Imperial Defector Dude, the one leading the effort to get outbound communications active. Chirrut and Baze and their prayers about the Force.

Cassian, falling to what looks like his death before he makes that one last valiant comeback to help Jyn in the final hour… and the two of them holding one another on the beach as the Death Star destroys the base.

WAUGH.

I really appreciated that they didn’t actually have the Death Star blow up entire planets here. It was dramatically appropriate, not only in how we establish in this story that the weapon is still being tested, but also in that this story can’t take the full-scale planetary destruction away from Alderaan in A New Hope. But even more importantly, seeing the destruction from a planet-level view makes it a lot more personal and in some ways all the more wrenching. Seeing that wave of fire coming at Jyn and Cassian in the end…

WAUGH.

But of course then we get to see that their efforts were not in vain, and that the transmission of the plans makes it out and into Leia’s hands.

So hail the victorious dead of the Rebellion.

And now I feel a rewatch of A New Hope coming on. Not to mention another very probable viewing of Rogue One. I am greatly pleased to see that twice now, Disney has succeeded in not fucking up Star Wars. And in fact, with this new movie, they’ve even improved it–sealing the plot hole of “why the FUCK did the Death Star have such a fatal flaw in it”.

BEAUTIFUL. Dara’s been going “BEST STAR WARS MOVIE” at me since we got home. 😀 I’m not sure yet that I’m going to commit to going that far, but yeah, it was still pretty freggin’ awesome.

MORE LIKE THIS PLEASE DISNEY KTHX.

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11 Comments

  • Reply Yngvar December 26, 2016 at 2:51 am

    I agree with most of what you say, except that I thought that Rogue One in many ways was a lot *better* than The Force Awakens, which I felt was hamstrung by overly blatant attempts to please the fans, at the cost of an actual plot. I think the fact that this is of part of the main series might have helped, ironically because it wouldn’t have mattered that much if it had failed.

    Did I see Biggs during the battle? Continuity buff that I am, I had to think about the fact that if he’d already joined the rebellion at this point, he couldn’t have met Luke in the beginning of ANH, as he did in the deleted Anchorhead scene which nevertheless stayed in both the novelisation and the comic.

    I’m also wondering if all the stories about the construction of the Death Star hang together. Episode 2 suggested that it was originally designed on Geonosis. In the Clone Wars series, the battleship Malevolence seemed like a prototype to test the weapon. And this film makes Mads Mikkelsen’s character, Galen Erso, important to its construction.

    I remarked once that in A New Hope, the vector diagram of the Death Star during the attack briefing didn’t look right. The giant dish is straight across the equator, while on the actual Death Star, it’s at an angle above it. I think the reason was that Lucas hadn’t finished the design when that scene was shot, but I noticed that when we see the plans in this movie, they have stayed consistent with the look in the ANH briefing.

    Dont forget that Mads Mikkelsen also put on Sir Anthony Hopkins’ shoes as Hannibal Lecter. 😀 Between him and other Scandinavian actors like Sweden’s Peter Stormare, it seems like whenever they go to Hollywood, they go eevil! I don’t see it happening much with Norwegian actors, though our own Bjørn Floberg became the nasty prime minister in “Kingsman.”

    But the rumour mill did start running regarding Norwegian actress Ingvild Deila. I must admit that I hadn’t heard about her before, but I now know that she was in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” in the scene that supposedly took place in Oslo (and I’m still annoyed that with all the other location shooting, they didn’t have a single shot that actually was from there), so there was the Disney connection. And right after the premiere, we got the confirmation. She was Princess Leia. Not that we got to see her face, but she says that it is her actual hair. 🙂

    Anyway, I’ll certainly see it again, maybe after watching ANH again first. 🙂

    • Reply Angela Korra'ti December 26, 2016 at 7:39 pm

      There are ways in which I liked this one better than The Force Awakens, definitely–and I’ll certainly say that this one had more weight and gravitas for me than TFA did, even given what happened to Han in TFA. I wasn’t in tears at the end of TFA the way I was with this one. :~)

      I didn’t notice a Biggs! Something to doublecheck! Let me know if you verify it before I do.

      I’m not sure yet about how all the backstory of the Death Star’s design hangs together. But now I totally want to read Catalyst, the new officially canon novel that’s supposed to get into the backstory of the Erso family in particular and how Galen got to the point of wanting to back out on the Empire.

      And yeah, Dara called out for me on the way home that Mikkelsen was also Hannibal! But I haven’t watched that show so that didn’t immediately register for me during the movie. 😀

  • Reply desertdragon42 December 26, 2016 at 6:45 am

    Yes! ~high five~

    I remember reading something about Cushing’s estate making an agreement with Disney regarding the use of his likeness.

    • Reply Angela Korra'ti December 26, 2016 at 7:29 pm

      Yeah, and Dara pointed out to me that there’s a callout for that in the credits, which I think I missed!

  • Reply Stickmaker December 26, 2016 at 7:53 am

    No, see, Peter Cushing if a Force Ghost and got a posthumous check!

  • Reply catbunny December 26, 2016 at 8:33 am

    Starting to think I’m the only one that liked digital Leia better than digital Tarkin. He creeped me out, but I got totally different shivers from seeing Leia.
    It felt to me like they probably spent about as much time rendering the 5 seconds of Leia as they did rendering the minutes of Tarkin.

    *shrug*

    • Reply Angela Korra'ti December 26, 2016 at 7:28 pm

      Interesting! I’m pretty darned sure I’ll need to see this movie again while it’s still in the theaters, so I’ll be doublechecking my reactions to the digital characters just to see how they hold up.

  • Reply Stephanie December 26, 2016 at 9:54 am

    Oh man, I was honestly expecting Jyn and Cassian might make it out. I was expecting heavy casualties, because isn’t there a line in A New Hope about the plans being acquired “at great cost” or something like that? But there was a moment during the battle when the thought hit me like a sledgehammer: no one is getting off this planet alive. Ugh. It was beautiful and awful and perfect.

    • Reply Angela Korra'ti December 26, 2016 at 7:27 pm

      Part of me was kind of hoping they’d make it out, yeah. But on the other hand, I was genuinely surprised to see Cassian show up again at the end, after he fell. I’m glad that they did that, though, since it meant that they were together at the end. WAUGH.

  • Reply The Cinema Gamer February 8, 2017 at 10:15 pm

    Angela,

    I know this is coming waaaaaaaay too late, but I just read your Rogue One review and had to leave a comment. You seemed to sum up perfectly how I felt while watching the movie. Honestly, it felt good to watch a Star Wars flick again, and one that I felt fit in with the original trilogy fairly well. However…

    A friend posed a question to me the other day that got me thinking: Would this film work as a standalone Sci-Fi action movie? If all of the Disney© Star Wars™ LucasFilm™ stuff was taken out, and we had the same story and characters, would people still praise this film as highly?

    Hope to hear your thoughts, I know it’s been awhile since you wrote this.

    Cheers
    -The Cinema Gamer

    • Reply Angela Korra'ti February 9, 2017 at 7:17 pm

      Hi there Cinema Gamer, thanks so much for dropping the comment and for the kind words. 🙂

      And that’s a very interesting question. I am not entirely convinced it would stand alone as a non-Star-Wars movie, just because so much of its worldbuilding is part of an already well-established universe. So well-established that the movie doesn’t have to do things like, say, spending time explaining who the Empire and Rebellion are, why the Rebellion is happening, and such.

      So a non-Star-Wars-universe version of the story I think would have a greater job of worldbuilding to do, which would make the film longer. Which is not necessarily a bad thing, but still.

      I would also have to wonder about how, if you kept the notion of “all the main characters die as part of their mission, even though their mission is successful”, who would be the characters to do that counterbalance of “and yet there’s still hope”. Those glimpses of Leia as well as the droids at the end are brief, yet have impact because we know those characters and we know how their part of the story starts. In a non-Star-Wars-universe version of the story, I feel like there’d need to be time spent on giving us some characters to care about who would actually survive the story and pick up where the doomed strike team left off. So more time that would have to be spent on character building as well as worldbuilding.

      So, doable, but that’s a lot to pack into a single movie!

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