In the Home Theater: Rogue One - a Star Wars Story (Review)
Rogue One is, first and foremost, a war movie. Strip away all the sci-fi dressings, and you have something akin to Force 10 from Navarone, The Big Red One, or The Dirty Dozen. Many passages in the film are inspiring, and it is here that we see the true heart of the Rebellion. Let me load this up front: I was not a fan of The Force Awakens. I felt it was pandering, lost a lot of the thread of the intricate story and world-building that Lucas did, and was just a pitched popcorn movie that was meant to recreate Episode IV, sometimes as in a fast-forwarded direct copy of the original. To me, Rogue One does a lot to set things aright with what went awry in TFA, and I was very happy that I viewed it at home in the darkness of my own personal studio set-up so that I could drink in every last detail.
The only element that I kind of disliked was that in order to fully consume and appreciate the Saw Gerrera content, you had to be a viewer of content outside of the movie franchise, which I always dislike. But I gave that a pass because at least I knew where that content occurred and that I could go find it if I wanted to. I didn't and I don't, and I still feel that, as a philosophy, movie goers shouldn't have to. But I get that Star Wars is a pretty big universe, even with the retcon that reduces the footprint of the canon significantly.
I cannot think of a single character or portrayal of a character or performance in the film that I did not like. I take marks away a bit for all of the buzz about how well Governor Tarkin's CG effects looked in the film. It was good, maybe even great, but it was still readily detectable as a video-game like rendering effect. Leia too. The performance of the actor behind the mocap was probably the best element of the thing, but we still have a very, very long way to go before CG can replace human actors in a film. I would have preferred him simply being recast rather than this attempted trick; I would have respected that a great deal more.
Regardless, the story of Rogue One is tortuously beautiful. My biggest kudos to Felicity Jones, who pulls off a strong female lead, who is still drop-dead gorgeous and does not back away from that at all, and a story that injects an emotional and tangentially romantic arc with her without becoming overtly sexual. She is an amalgamation of Han Solo, who equally evokes notions of Luke Skywalker and eminent hope, and freckles of Leia in inspiring others to do what must be done while setting the example and holding up her end of the bargain. The climax is the most white-knuckled of heroism stuff that I have seen in a long time. Faced with an insurmountable threat, without the aide of lightsabers and Jedi, this small band is arguably THE most heroic crew of anything seen in a Star Wars film to-date. Everyone sacrifices. No one is left unscathed. The most unfortunate thing of this affair is that there is no room left for further tales following the movie's ending. I would have watched an entire trilogy of the Rogue One crew without missing any releases.
Cinematically, the movie soars, and locks down a challenge that the Star Trek franchise has failed to do. How to make a story set in a point in the fictional timeline that occurs before a story told in a movie or series that was made before the new one. Star Trek has yet to make good effects that make me feel like I am watching a prequel, when you watch Enterprise and the Star Trek reboots. Everything still looks newer and more advanced than the future story told before. No one has been able to take the shine off the newer digital effects, especially when the future story that came before was done with practical effects rather than digital. Lucas' Episodes One through Three also failed to capture this visual enigma. But Rogue One firmly looks and feels like it occurred at the same point in time as Episode IV. And the Rebels DO actually feel like a rag-tag collection of guerilla fighters with not so much as a common uniform (fighter pilots excluded).
One of the best things about the film is that, other than the necessary components of the Death Star and some starships that necessarily had to be there, and characters acting out historic elements of the mythology, this movie does not lean on Episode 4 - 6 tropes and pandering fan-service to make you fall in love with the film. There are sparse cameos, and none of those characters occupy that much screen time. There are not silly references to a ton of events that we've seen in previous films. And there are just a small number of hard to distinguish Easter eggs to get all nostalgic over. It's just a well-told story, that could easily have been a hit without the Star Wars license.
VERDICT: 9.0 / 10.0
Rogue One: a Star Wars Story is simply a buff and a shine short of being a masterpiece of story-telling and heroism. It is the most inspiring Star Wars film since the original trilogy. It is a thing that I would definitely want a kid of mine to watch once they were a young adult to teach them those lessons of being part of something greater than yourself, of sacrifice for the greater good, and of letting people earn your trust despite every instinct not to do so. It is a story of doing what is right, not what is easy. The performances are remarkable, and every character to the last person is endearing. Krennec is a great villain, and the ominous portent of seeing the rise of Vader and Tarkin is eloquently woven into the tapestry of the greater Star Wars canon. This movie does for the film franchise much of what the Marvel licensed comics run did to revitalize and re-set the tone for what great story-telling can be done with the most massive licensed modern-day mythology that has ever existed, when time and care is taken to do it properly. For the remaining prequels, I now have the greatest hopes. Star Wars is officially back.