My initial reaction to Rogue One – MAJOR SPOILERS!!!
Just in case you missed the all-caps warning in the title, please take note:
This post contains MAJOR SPOILERS to Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
…so if you want to avoid them, stop reading and get the hell out of here!
Okay, you’ve been warned…
Still here? Okay, well first off you may be wondering why I’m posting about Star Wars in my Denver Nuggets blog. Well, the answer to that is simply that I wanted to post them someplace and this is about the only place I’ve got to do it which (unlike, say, Facebook) allows me to include spoilers and give fair warning about it. That’s it.
Okay, so on to Rogue One… Where to begin?
I guess with the obvious, which is the bang-up job they did with Tarkin and Leia. As I myself was trying my best to avoid spoilers, and I just got done watching my first (but certainly not my only) viewing of the movie, I still don’t know the details of how they did it. Obviously, it was some combination of computer graphics, audio editing, live acting on the set, studio voice work, and probably other things. But all that is secondary to the fact that both characters were entirely convincing, and I think on future viewings after the initial surprise factor has worn off, will mesh seamlessly with their Episode IV original counterparts.
Sticking with visuals, that same seamless flow between this story and the next is really made possible by the exquisitely detailed work done on this picture to get the look of practically every visual element in absolutely perfect accordance with the original Star Wars. From the costume and ship design, to the look and feel of Yavin Base and the Death Star and Star Destroyer interiors, to the kinetic action of the X-Wing and TIE Fighter battles, to the Rebel pilot and Stormtrooper banter, they really nailed it, and clearly a ton of work went into making sure that they got just about everything along those lines just right. Throughout most of the movie, it did, for the most part, feel like that beloved Star Wars galaxy far, far away that the prequel trilogy largely failed to recapture.
For the most part, but not entirely. And the most outstanding reason for that was the glaring absence of a John Williams score. Now that is certainly not to knock the work done by Michael Giacchino, who obviously had Rancor-sized shoes to fill, and did as commendable a job as could be expected. Still, it just wasn’t the same atmospherically. Which isn’t his fault, as it is to be expected – and respected – that he wasn’t just knocking off Williams but instead worked to create his own original compositions. And the movie was intended to be at least in part a departure from The Saga in both storyline and tone, which is consistent with having a different musical environment as well. But in so many ways, John Williams’ music defines the texture and feel and emotional quality of what Star Wars is, and so the difference was palpable at times.
But man, it is hard to make too big a deal out of that when we were getting full-on balls-to-the-wall Star Wars action with blasters, Star Destroyers, AT-ATs, X-Wings (and I have to say the U-Wing is perhaps my favorite ship design of any of the post-OT movies), cool aliens and droids, new planets and worlds that looked lived in and worn… For nearly the whole movie, I felt like I was very much at home in the familiar Star Wars universe, just with a few tweaks here and there.
The story itself was solid and tight. I did have the benefit of reading Catalyst, the Rogue One pre-story novel, prior to seeing the movie, which definitely helped flesh out the details of the Erso family history and a subtext of motivations and psychological profiles of Galen Erso, Orson Krennic and Governor Tarkin. But even without that the movie did a good job of presenting them all in a way that made reading the book unnecessary, and the plot didn’t get bogged down with, say, trade negotiations or political disputes. The pace moved along quickly and the dots connected logically and neatly. I imagine some might consider it too neatly, but it worked for me.
My biggest criticism with Rogue One is that the dialogue got a bit rough at times. Chirrut Imwe’s incessant Force incantations were laid on entirely too thick; the theme of HOPE was sappily reiterated to an almost eye-rolling degree; and Vader’s “Don’t choke on your own aspirations” line was way too corny and on the nose, undercutting the more potently dramatic effect that scene might otherwise have had. It wasn’t all bad, and sometimes the callbacks worked, as with the aforementioned classic banter (it was nice to hear the T-15 get a hat tip), and in parts of the movie the light, sarcastic back-and-forths were effective in capturing a Star Wars-ian feeling. But in a movie in which much was done very well, the dialogue does stand out as one area where it fell short.
The acting itself was fine. As with most Star Wars movies, it tilted toward the earnest side and nobody will be winning any Oscars, but the lead actors (especially Diego Luna) held up their end of the bargain well enough, although I don’t feel, at least on a first viewing, that any of them really hit it out of the park like Daisy Ridley did with Rey in The Force Awakens.
Finally I should mention all the references and call backs, of which I’m sure I missed many. Having Red 5 get shot down (thus, presumably opening up that slot for Luke) was a well thought-out detail. Dr. Evazan was the perfect side character for a call back, as he (including his voice) is so recognizable, and is the kind of character that does get around the galaxy (as we know since he has the death sentence on twelve systems). The brief display of Artoo and Threepio was mercifully understated. And the sole appearance of the lightsaber in what is arguably the most kick-ass outing of Darth Vader ever put on screen was just delightful. Like I said, I’m sure there are a ton more I didn’t catch, but they were mostly done tastefully and smartly, even space Jimmy Smits and Mon Mothma talking Obi-Wan and Leia without mentioning their names.
Additionally, very little about this movie dramatically altered our understanding of Original Trilogy events, which is a good thing. The only major exception (unless I missed others) is the insertion of the plot point that Galen Erso intentionally and secretly designed the Death Star’s ultimately fatal flaw into its architecture for the Rebels to exploit later. I’m still on the fence about this one. On the one hand, it feels like it takes something away from the original movie’s presentation of the Death Star defect, especially in light of Tarkin’s hubristic refusal to recognize it, as a symbol of the cracks of weakness which will always appear in the seemingly impenetrable armor of authoritarian systems, of their very unsustainability. But then again, even if the flaw was added subversively rather than it being an Imperial mistake, in either case the inability or unwillingness of the Empire to identify it or acknowledge its potentially destructive power is a critical oversight that leads to their own undoing, which would leave the fundamental dynamics less altered than they might appear.
But overall, I am satisfied with Rogue One – for what it is – and I don’t think that will change too much on subsequent viewings. I mainly had a blast watching it, and if there were a few slightly off-putting moments here or there, they were vastly out-shadowed by the pure, unbridled joy of what seemed like the imagination of a kid playing with his Star Wars toys projected onto the big IMAX screen in 3D (which, by the way, is definitely how the movie should be seen).
Quite honestly, I had lowered my expectations for Rogue One based partly on the trailers and partly on rumors (and confirmed stories) of production troubles, and as such, I was, again for the most part, happily surprised. Was it perfect? No, but it was a hell of a lot of fun, and for the 85-90% of it that they got right, I can forgive the few schlocky moments – none of which were even remotely as cringe-worthy as “Yippee!” or “Wizard!” or “I hate sand” or every single frame which Jar-Jar Binks was in.
My current rankings, which are always subject to change:
Return of the Jedi
The Force Awakens
Revenge of the Sith
Attack of the Clones
The Phantom Menace