While Luke was still on Tatooine,
Before his escapades were seen,
The rebels fought
With secret plot
For every desperate, daring shot.
Some fled, some died, and some were caught,
For freedom’s never cheaply bought.
Before the rebels found success,
They found a chance that none would guess,
A chance that few
Would dare pursue
But those who hopes were overdue.
The groundwork of the tried and true
Was laid by names we never knew.
MPAA rating: PG-13
I’ve been a little disconcerted at Rogue One’s mixed reception, with half the people loving it and the other half accepting it halfheartedly. I know how the latter group feels since that’s how I reacted to The Force Awakens last year, but not this year, not with Rogue One. I enjoyed it a lot, probably more than The Force Awakens, mainly because The Force Awakens will always have the shadow of Han Solo’s death hanging over it. No matter how many times I see it, it will always be “the one where they killed Han Solo.” I remember gloomily walking out of the theater in shock last year, but I left Rogue One as one should leave a Star Wars movie, exhilarated and satisfied, even if the film is meant for a more bittersweet kind of appreciation. I wanted to love it, and there was nothing that kept me from loving it.
What many find iffy about Rogue One is that it doesn’t quite feel like a Star Wars movie. There’s no in-your-face opening crawl and no Jedi; the overall tone is darker and grittier than the other films, and the rebellion is depicted in a more ruthless and morally ambiguous light. All this is true, yet the settings and sci-fi trappings feel enough like Star Wars that it seems more like an unexplored region of the franchise than an entirely separate affair. And of course, since Rogue One is set between the fall of the Jedi and the beginning of A New Hope, there are clear connections to both trilogies, most notably in the return of Darth Vader and another character whose very presence brings the magic of CGI to new heights.
Yet unlike The Force Awakens and its unoriginal blow-up-yet-another-Death-Star climax, Rogue One has no lack of originality. It does take its time getting started, establishing the various rebels and their motivations, particularly Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), the daughter of the scientist (Mads Mikkelsen) forced to build the Death Star, and Cassian Andor (Diego Luna), a rebel fighter committed to following orders no matter what. The ragtag band that collects around them is especially highlighted with some humor by the blind kicker-of-butt Chirrut Îmwe (Donnie Yen) and the tall droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), who combines the snarkiness of R2 and the grumbling of C-3PO.
None of these characters are particularly deep or destined to be fan favorites, but as they band together to find Jyn’s father and the plans for the Death Star, most of them have some moment of truth or coolness that makes them memorable, like the machine-gun blaster of Chirrut’s friend Baze Malbus (Jiang Wen). I can’t say I had that much more connection with the new characters of Force Awakens after one viewing, but at least they have the benefit of further sequels. Rogue One is clearly a stand-alone film with characters that could be viewed as disposable, but by the time sacrifices were made, I cared enough about the characters that they were clearly more than cardboard cutouts. It’s a good balance, one that kept me invested without being overcome by grief like last year.
Even in the most mocked of the prequels, George Lucas always proved his skill at action sequences, and director Gareth Edwards does the same here. The film breaks out of that slow start with some highly entertaining thrills, ranging from ground combat to close escapes, and the big battle at the end had several “whoa” moments to bring out my inner Star Wars geek. Michael Giacchino’s score also complemented every scene, deftly incorporating the original John Williams music where apt. I also liked how the film provided an explanation for the Death Star’s glaring design flaw, which Luke so famously took advantage of. You know, one shot and the whole thing blows up—who thought that up? Well, someone did, and there’s actually a good reason.
Riding high after leaving the theater yesterday, I was brought down a bit by the sad news of Carrie Fisher’s death. Considering how Rogue One ends, it seemed strangely fitting that I picked that day to visit the movies. Now, of course, the film and its final scene will have a touch of bittersweet to it, even more than it already had, but at least I got to see it the first time without the sad connection. Rest in peace, Leia.
Rogue One may not be a perfect Star Wars film. Perhaps the characters are a bit thin; perhaps the effect used in the final scene is a little imperfect; perhaps the tone is a bit different from the familiar stories we grew up with. Forest Whitaker as extremist rebel Saw Gerrera isn’t as important as he seems at first, and he’s probably the reason some of the early scenes felt off. Likewise, I might have liked a little more screen time for known characters like Vader. Yet Rogue One isn’t about the movers and shakers of that galaxy far, far away; it’s about the rough-and-ready rebels on the front lines, the previously unknown players who made the heroics of Luke and Leia possible, and in that it’s a more than worthy addition to the Star Wars universe.
Best line: (Jyn and Cassian) “Rebellions are built on hope.”
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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