By: Viet Doan
The day had arrived and we were excited to finally see the new Star Wars movie! Let me set the stage for you guys: there we were, sitting in the movie theater, and we had just gone through the trailers. *Logan looks amazing. Spiderman: Homecoming received enthusiastic applause. Vin Diesel is the bad guy(?) in the new Fast and Furious movie. There is yet another Pirates of the Caribbean movie. The lights dimmed, the phone silencing reminder came on, and the title flashed across the screen: Fantastic Beast and Where to Find Them. Wait, what? So the movie theater played the wrong movie. Not the biggest deal, except this theater had one screen and was only playing Rogue One that day. Like, you had one job. I’m looking at you, mister projector technician guy!
Flash forward 15 minutes, and we were on our way to a roughly 2 hour and 20 minute long adventure with the unheralded heroes of the Star Wars universe. This isn’t a story about the Rebel leaders that waged war against the Empire; this is a story about (from the tag for the movie) “ordinary people who choose to do extraordinary things.” It is a full length movie to expand on a few short lines from the opening crawl of the original Star Wars about the Rebels stealing the schematics for the Death Star. The following will contain some small spoilers (I’ll try to mark them), so read at your own risk!
Immediately the film feels both familiar and different. Like you are watching a super high quality knock off. It starts with the opening title screen, the iconic Star Wars’ font reading Rogue One stretched across a star filled canvas. The trademark crawl (aka the convenient crammer of plot) was non-existent, and the fanfare started off like the original theme… only to hold a couple notes in. Since you all know how the theme goes, it would be something like: dun dun dun duuun duuuun (familiar) duuuun duuuuuuuun (hmmm). Where is the rest, Michael Giacchino? Indeed, it is the moments that evoke the original’s fanfare that will catch your attention in an otherwise forgettable soundtrack.
This should be the first clue, that while dressed in Star Wars clothing, this movie will feel very different. Star Wars, in general, is a classic story of good triumphing over evil; Rogue One is the story of good having the courage to deal with evil. This isn’t the feel good romp that the Force Awakens was. In fact the battle sequences are some of the most brutal and violent scenes from the entire series. For action junkies, this movie is for you. The fight scenes are stunning and the scope of battle often times breathtaking. Rogue One shows fans what some of the original epic battles would have looked like created with today’s technology. In two words, most excellent!
Meet our protagonist, Jyn Erso, a young rebel whose father’s (Galen Erso) LinkedIn credentials read “Inventor of the Death Star.” Jyn starts the film off imprisoned, an early sign that her life hasn’t exactly been all roses and daffodils. Felicity Jones does a solid job here, portraying simultaneously the quiet strength and hardened ambivalence that comes with a life of running and surviving without ever feeling like you have a choice or say. At one point our plucky heroine states that she “doesn’t have the luxury of political opinions.” Indeed, the Empire cares little for the opinions of rebels.
In a way, this is a very serious attempt at fleshing out what Star Wars fans have lovingly made fun of for years. Those way too conveniently vulnerable thermal exhaust ports on the Death Star! In the original series, the Rebels made it seem like they discovered a weak spot to exploit in the Death Star by perusing the blueprints. This is consistent with the Empire’s side as well, citing the thermal exhaust ports as a significant design flaw and subsequently removing them from Death Star II. Well surprise surprise, (spoiler-ish) it was a purposefully designed vulnerability baked-in by Galen to give the rebels a shot of taking down what was otherwise a juggernaut weapon of mass destruction.
When the Rebels receive intel via a turn-cloak pilot (Riz Ahmed) about this Imperial super weapon, Rebel Officer Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) springs into action, freeing Jyn (whose familial ties are deemed valuable) from a prison transport and thus forming what would be the core of the ragtag ensemble of heroes in Rogue One. It should be noted that all of the actors in this diverse cast do a fantastic job. The characters were well-acted if not necessarily well-written. To make another Force Awakens comparison, there may not be as many fan favorite performances here.
This is a story about fighting for the right to exist (with just the slight chance of victory), and that dark material doesn’t afford many opportunities for some good old fashioned Star Wars comedy and campiness. The one break in the action comes in the form of K-2SO, a brutally honest android, whose humor provides some much needed levity in a rather somber journey. Alan Tudyk kills it here, and his “robot without a filter” steals just about every scene. At one point, when Cassian hands a blaster to Jyn, a skeptical K-2SO asks him “do you know what the odds are that she will use that on you? Very high, they are very high.”
The issue isn’t that the characters aren’t interesting, they are just not given ample time to be fleshed out before they are scurried along to the next battle sequence. The force-sensitive-ish Chirrut Îmwe certainly has some great moments. Played by martial arts action star Donnie Yen, Chirrut may be blind, but he can definitely throw down with some Imperial baddies. The film gives Yen ample opportunity to really strut his stuff. Bro must take lessons from this guy:
The message of Rogue One is an equally inspiring and hard-hitting one of responcibilty disguised as hope. We get to see a pre-originals Rebel alliance that wasn’t quite ready to die in the name of freedom and liberty. Our very own heroiene, early on in the movie, states that it is easy to accept Imperial control as long as you don’t look up to see the banners. A distressing sentiment that should resonate well with the audience. Rogue One’s message is clear: justice demands that we hold ourselves accountable for inaction. A rebellion may be built on hope, but it is only successful through action. A somber self-reflective message that may be hard to digest along with the popcorn. It is easy to root for our heroes along their adventure precisely because we understand the courage it takes to act. It’s not always fun to be brave, and unfortunately, its not always fun watching this movie.
At its best, Rogue One manages to couple a poignant message with eye-meltingly stunning action. At its worst, Rogue One suffers from poor pacing, skipping from tedious lulls straight to extended battle sequences, leading to under-developed charcters. That said, I cannot stress how amazing the action scenes are. A friend I watched the movie with commented on how it was more just a “war” film then a “Star Wars” movie. There is truth to that, especially by the movie’s epic third act. The AT-ATs are terrifying, Storm Troopers actually hit people, and Darth Vader is a bad ass force (hehe) to be reckoned with.
The third act’s battle alone might just be worth the price of admission. Between the in-your-face guerilla warfare to the epic dogfights in space, there is something here for all fans of sci-fi action. The entire movie? No regrets on the first ticket, but not quite sure how many people would be willing to pay to watch it again. However, in a world where cinema is increasingly dominated by an intricately woven and long spanning Marvel Cinematic Universe, this self contained one-off set in an equally sprawling series, is a very refreshing turn. A solid entry into the beloved franchise, it will be rated by fans the same way it sits chronologically. Somewhere closer to the originals than the prequels.
8/10 Bro Fists