After a long wait since the announcement of the title back in March of 2015, Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is finally here. With great anticipation and excitement, I was eager to see what this spin-off film would bring to the franchise. A lot is riding on this first spin-off film with Kathleen Kennedy saying recently that the returns of this movie may dictate the direction of projects for the future. A warning shot across the bow for everyone involved, including the purchasing public. As much as we love it or hate it, this is a money making enterprise and the final cash takeaway matters.
I have always felt and mentioned it often here at the Star Wars Post and on the Now This Is Podcasting! Podcast that Rogue One felt like a winner. The pitch, cast, and execution looked solid and the commitment to make sure this was a success was there for anyone willing to see it. After the credits had finished rolling, I took a long look around the theater here in South Florida. A place I have never been as I am visiting the In-Laws for the holidays. There in the plush seats and poster-laden hallways smiles abounded. Joyous faces that looked like children on Christmas morning. At that moment that seemed to take forever, I felt proud to be a Star Wars fan. Even though I did not contribute in any way, shape or form to the production and creation of this motion picture, I felt as though I did. For someone who lives and breathes Star Wars every day, you sometimes feel as though you are a part of it, even in some small way. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is so good, that those dedicated fans will feel proud to drag our friends and family into our Galaxy and have them experience the fun what we have always felt. The soft snickers and jabs we get from family and friends about our passion for this franchise start to come full circle when it manifests in them after watching Rogue One. A film that does a fantastic job conveying why we love Star Wars so much. I broadcast a smile across to my In-Laws and in the warmest way possible, they return it in kind. Their look says it all, “Max, that was awesome.” “Yes Dad-In-Law, yes it was.”
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a tremendous achievement by Gareth Edwards and Lucasfilm. A story of sacrifice, daring and hope displayed beautifully onscreen. The film also redefines what the Rebellion means in the Star Wars Galaxy. The harsh day to day existence, the innocence lost and the cold truth of what war is. Rogue One shows the despair and exhaustion of normal individuals banded together for a seemingly hopeless cause. There will be lots to write about this film in the coming weeks, and for this review, I want to hit the high notes of importance and how they were executed in this first spin-off film.
The good cause that makes people cruel.
War isn’t a beautiful, glory filled enterprise. It certainly isn’t chock full of honor or decisions that are as stark as the black and white of a Stormtrooper uniform. It’s win at all costs, and the first victim of war is the moral decay of its participants. This corrosion of conscience is clearly evident in Captain Cassian Andor played by the incredible Diego Luna. The Rebellion Intelligence officer who shows his capacity for evil deeds in the very opening moment of the movie with the murder of an injured informant. A soldier who has been with the Rebellion since he was a little boy, has whittled away what’s left of his humanity to bring the fight to the Empire. A man who has lost everything and through the events of Rogue One claws back his dignity, respect for life and what it means to be good. Cassian is given that choice with the prospect of killing Galen Erso on the rain-soaked planet of Eadu. There on those crumbling black cliffs he finds himself on firm foundations that he isn’t a bad person, that this war hasn’t entirely made Captain Andor into a being of unfeeling matter. A Stormtrooper without the armor, as mentioned by Gyn soon after.
On the opposite end of this spectrum in Bohdi Rook, played by Riz Ahmed. This former pilot of the Empire defects and takes the critical message of Galen Erso to Saw Gerrera and eventually the Rebel Alliance. A young man who sacrifices his secure job slugging Kyber Crystals to and from Imperial facilities to save the Galaxy. The chain of events that lead to the ultimate win over the Empire has one link forged by the courage of Bohdi Rook. Just like Finn, in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, real people must sacrifice the life they have to secure the fate of others. Bohdi is a hero, and his commitment to getting the data transmission out to General Raddus is real steps through the sand under fire courage.
Kindling that fuels Hope.
Many of the new works from Lucasfilm have been shouting from the rooftops, that the Empire is to be feared. The novels show in stark terms the vileness of the Empire and their path of destruction to build this new superweapon. They demonstrate the enslavement of people across the Galaxy and the destruction of their way of life. I love this new dedication to getting into specifics of why the Empire is evil and why they should strike terror deep in the pit of the audience’s stomachs. The days of laughing at the quirky Stormtroopers are over. They are the villain and as such should be presented as an avalanche of shit yourself terror. This dread is layered on super thick in Rogue One with a now fully functional Death Star. Here the Battle Station of green lasered toting death devours both Jedha and Scarif in ridiculous up-ending catastrophic fashion.
The panic and shock are displayed in eloquent fast shifting camera views with the faces of Rebel standing at the table at Yavin IV. Many of whom are simply ready to disband the Rebellion and run for safety. Hope forever lost and a spark that never kindles hope. Until that moment where one person, who has been through so much, who just plain doesn’t give damn anymore, looks to repair her Fathers good name. An act of defiance that convinces the fearful that something must be done. Even here, deep in the Massassi Temples of Yavin IV, politics still reign supreme. Gyn’s insistence at that moment mimics the real stories of many war heroes in our reality. People with nothing left to lose that inspire the masses around them to fight. Gyn Erso and her merry band of Rogues define the real courage that sparks the kindling that fuels hope.
Although no Jedi would be present in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, we did know there would be a huge element of spirituality in the Force through Chirrut Imwe, Gyn and Lyra Erso. The devotion of the Force by our blind, former Guardian of the Temple of the Whills, reminds the audience to have confidence in faith. More than Yoda, the Jedi Council or anyone before him, Chirrut defines and hammers home with his bo staff to believe without fear. To “let go” in a way, I have rarely seen but heard much of in Star Wars. Chirrut’s letting go moment in his slow walk to the communication controls is right up there with Luke in his trench run and Kanan’s duel with the Sith Inquisitor and Maul. Never before have I felt the power of the Force expressed in action so well in a Star Wars film. Not with some Force push or throwing some items in the air but with pure, confident plain soaked action. “I am one with the Force and the Force is with me”. For a film without any Jedi, they cemented the power of faith in the Force in a manner that is new and inspiring.
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a marvel to look at and in future stories here at the Post we want to delve deep into the return of Grand Moff Tarkin and Princess Leia. I am still left stunned witnessing Peter Cushing back on screen, in multiple scenes with dialogue. For the first time in cinematic history, a legendary Actor has returned to the big screen years after they have passed away. An Actor that never signed for this film and yet here he is. Make no mistake this beautiful work performed by ILM is historic and a moment that people will remember in cinema history. The look of both Tarkin and Leia were marvelous, well executed and believable. The young woman seated in front of me said it best, loud and proud when Leia was shown on screen “No freaking way.” There may be more of course as I believe Red leader was also re-created as well.
If there was one drawback for this film, it was the score. However, I want to make sure this point comes across fairly. Michael Giacchino had only a few weeks to develop the score for this film after the last minute withdrawal of Alexandre Desplat because of scheduling conflicts.
The music didn’t take away from Rogue One, but in my honest opinion, it didn’t add much to it either. During these grave and pivotal moments of the movie, where the dialogue and visual cues were on point all that was needed was to tossed over the edge by the score, and sadly it never came. The themes seemed familiar but always looked to be cut short as to not give away their origins. Almost like someone copying a piece of music only to leave the big points flat or empty to separate itself because of copyright. I would hear the tones in my ears, following along as it felt familiar, waiting for that warmly recognized crescendo, but it was never there. I do not want this critique to be final before I purchase the soundtrack it and give it a thorough repeated listen. But my first impressions are not well received for this score, but there are adequate reasons to explain why.
One of the biggest reasons to watch this film in the theater multiple times is to pick up on all the wonderful Easter eggs and surprise scenes. From Vader’s castle and his bacta bath to Chopper at Yavin IV and the Ghost high above Scarif, there are lots here to chew on. Vader’s castle scene on what looks to be Mustafar looks incredible and matches many of the early sketches of Ralph McQuarrie. The evilness of that place is just dripping from the walls of this minimalist styled castle of horrors. You would think a place floating on an ocean of lava would not exude such cold, lifeless despair. There it is in all its glory, Vader in his home.
Then there is the sighting of the Ghost and Chopper from Star Wars Rebels. As a huge fan of the series, it was a joy to see them onscreen. There are lots of Easter eggs in Rogue One, and I cannot wait to view this film at home with the power of the pause function to discover all these beautiful details. Rogue One looks to be the playground of the Lucasfilm Story Group and I for one cannot wait to play and find things within it.
The best moment in the film for me was the final scene where the data is transmitted to General Raddus. There in those final moments with Darth Vader, lost in a mist of black smoke, he emerges like a nightmare against Rebel soldiers. With his red lightsaber dancing wildly and a sprouty Darth Vader mowing his way to secure the data card containing the stolen plans of the Death Star. A scene that is one of the best in the franchise and explains the ferocity of Vader as seen in the opening shots of Star Wars: A New Hope. Finally, we see Vader unleashed in a skirmish where this relay race of death plays out as the data card becomes the baton, passing between men determined to keep hope alive. A card that inevitably ends in the hands of recreated CGI Princess Leia and the final defining message of Rogue One – Hope.
The pursuit gives way when the Tantive IV has released from Raddus’s Capital ship and bridges this stand-alone story into the episodic films we enjoy so much.
Rogue One is one of my favorite Star Wars films and one that I am most proud of. This movie didn’t have the budget of the other films and had many obstacles in its way to becoming a successful project. The commitment of Kathy Kennedy, Disney and the vision of Gareth Edwards is a prime example of hard work makes great cinema. Outstandingly and unequivocally, job well done.