Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - A Review
Rogue One: A Star Wars Story opened Friday, and if you are anything like us here at Brew Chatt, you were not only enthralled, but down right sexually aroused by this film. For those of you that listen to The Brew Chatt Podcast, you'll know it's no secret that I adore Star Wars and it is my own personal "Rosebud." Ten points to the first person to get that reference.
Essentially Rogue One is a film about the events discussed in the opening crawl for Star Wars Episode IV A New Hope. The Rebels have just scored their first victory against the Galactic Empire and gained access to the plans for a deadly battle station. Then we see Princess Leia giving the Plans to R2D2, only to eventually be purchased by Luke Skywalker's Uncle Owen. You get the gist. Rogue One ends about a day before this, at least from what I gather. I'll add... there are no Bothans... I'm really growing tired of correcting people on this..
So let's back up a minute to when I mentioned the Star Wars crawl, Rogue One doesn't have one. Which comes as a bit of a shock to to fans and non-fans alike. But it fits so well for both the direction of the franchise and the film itself. A cold open is a fitting place for a galaxy run by an empire and this film is dark for a Star Wars film. I hate saying that phrase though, it's become overstated in the modern climate of blockbuster films. But I stand by my statement, it is a dark film. But not too dark, it is still perfectly suitable for kids.
It is a war film after all, and the only legitimate "war film" we have gotten out of a franchise who has 'war' in their title. The film is brutal, it shows the devastation of war, culturally, personally, and well... galactically. By the end of the film, both the Empire and the Rebel Alliance have experienced heavy losses, but ultimately it was a victory for the Rebellion. They do succeed in gaining the plans and (spoiler alert) eventually destroying the Death Star. For a rabid fan of the series it was great to see all of these small nuggets sprinkled throughout the film, and one of these was the sheer size and force of the Empire and the Rebellion. Gareth Edwards really achieved a sense of scale with both sides respectively. It was great how they showed that the Rebel Alliance was just that, an Alliance. It wasn't so much an actual military as it was a group of planetary systems, people, and cultures that refuse to accept Imperial rule. With that being said, The Rebel Alliance isn't quite as smooth a war machine as the Empire; the Rebellion has their own problems even out side of the war itself. Rogue One showed that the Rebellion has a bit of infighting, disagreements, and needs a council just to determine any strategic move, at least before the "real war" started. Perhaps this was a device used in showing the progression of the Rebellion, as the battle at Scarif (final battle in the film) was technically the Rebellion's first real military engagement and victory.
These little "nuggets" I spoke of are peppered throughout the film, and I typically find easter eggs to be a bit forced, and fan-service if nothing else. But in Rogue One they actually make sense for the overall narrative that is the Star Wars franchise. Quite frankly, I refuse to call them easter eggs simply because they aren't mere fan service and make sense within the overall franchise. So nuggets, I like nuggets. One such nugget finds our central character Jyn on the kyber-crystal-rich world of Jedha searching for Saw Gerrera (Forrest Whitaker), an old family friend and a familiar face if you have watched Clone Wars and Rebels. She's meandering through the streets when we run into two very familiar faces. None other than Ponda Baba and Dr. Cornelius Evazan who were just a few days away from that fateful drink at the Mos Eisley Cantina where the former will lose their arm to one Ben Kenobi. Jedha city gets obliterated by the Death Star in the film, and this could leave one to speculate just on why these two were so salty when they begin threatening Luke in the cantina. They were obviously trying to drink and get over the fact that they just barely escaped death a day or two prior, and perhaps it was previously 13 rather than 12 systems that they had the death sentence on.
Like I said, these small nuggets are peppered throughout the film. But really come to shine in the third act when the alliance sends in the cavalry of X-Wings. We see Red 5 go down, which frees up that call sign to be taken up by none other than Luke Skywalker. The director of Rogue One, Gareth Edwards found unused footage from the original film that he digitized and used in this film. While watching the climactic final battle, original footage of Drew Henley the actor who played Gold Leader, slips in there, and almost goes by undetected. But then it clicks that we've heard that voice before, "...Stay on target...." I'll admit this sent me over the edge with excitement. It made the entire film a cohesive piece of the Star Wars canon and I'll never watch A New Hope again without watching this beforehand.
There are more obvious callbacks to the original trilogy throughout that really help sell the entire experience. Everyone's favorite cheekbones return with a CGI recreation of Peter Cushing's Grand Moff/General Tarkin. Which is hands-down the greatest CGI created human in film, thus far. A friend of mine who joined me for the film didn't notice the CGI and actually said after the film "I would have thought that dude would have been long dead by now." I myself immediately noticed but hey, I'm here to notice those things, and in no way did it ever take me out of the film. We are teased with the character's backside and reflection until the big reveal when he turns around, and the CGI was nothing but stunning. As nicely done as Tarkin was I couldn't say quite the same for Princess Leia's appearance at the end of the film. It was great CGI, beyond anything we've seen done thus far in film. But, something still seemed a bit off. I'm not sure if the average movie-goer would be able to pick up on such differences, but I always find myself noticing... It tends to be something with mouths that always give it away for me. It's the lips, always the lips. They tend to look like the lips of a person hiding the fact that they are about to burst into tears with a wry smile. You know the one, and I'm sure the best of us have been there. Lips quivering, slowly rising into a smile as if it's an animal drawing its last breath. But I think that is more or less limitations on motion capture technology as opposed to anything else. As I have noticed this to be a problem for years, especially with the digitally aged Peggy Carter in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. But I digress, back to the subject at hand. Regardless of the problems I personally had with the CGI, they were minor, and I do not think the average film-goer will even notice. As I was absolutely delighted when Leia shows up at the end of the film to retrieve the plans, only to set off and later be captured by Darth Vader above Tattooine.
Moving on to Darth Vader, who admittedly played a larger role in the film than I anticipated. James Earl Jones returns to voice the character, which is always a delight. But something about his voice was off, I'm not entirely sure what it is. But I think it was the overall inflection of his words more than anything else. Which would be expected, as James Early Jones is climbing up there in age, and quite frankly... people's speech changes over time. His speech in Rogue One wasn't radically different, it was another minor thing that both as a Star Wars fan and a film buff... I noticed.
In the third act of the film we see Darth Vader soaking it up in a bacta tank with two Imperial Royal Guards. Another one of those nuggets I keep talking about. Seemingly set in Vader's personal fortress, Bast Castle. Which is based on a lava filled planet, that one can surmise is Mustafar. The planet where Anakin lost his humanity, legs, arms, face, lips, toenails, and anything else he presumably cared about. I assume so he can just keep reliving the memory and getting more and more powerful with hate and the dark side of the force.
Vader shows up in his star destroyer above Scarif to retrieve the stolen plans when we are delighted with one of the greatest scenes in the entire film and franchise. There's a rebel soldier who is running with the plans when we hear breathing in the dark corridor. The rebel soldiers still trapped, hastily try to make it out of the door which is locked, partially shut. They manage to get the plans through to Captain Antilles just as a red lightsaber ignites. Darth Vader proceeds to dismember, and maul every soldier unfortunate enough to be trapped in that hallway with him, and it is pure glory. Which in retrospect, makes his battle with Luke on both Bespin and The Death Star II that much more meaningful. In that he was clearly holding back on Luke, because he was his son. Darth Vader is shown to be a pure tour de force in this film, and it really shows how terrifyingly menacing he would truly be on a battlefield.
I will need to let the initial shock of pure kick-assery wear off a bit before I properly judge it. But honestly... this film is sitting somewhere in the ranks of The Empire Strikes Back in my opinion. Rogue One has a lot of new faces in the mix, both behind and in front of the camera; but there's also a lot of old faces there as well. This is precisely why the Star Wars franchise, moving forward, is going to continually kick so much ass. All of the people involved on this have either worked on the franchise previously, or they grew up with it, and everyone of them know how precious of a thing it is. They know what Star Wars means to so many people worldwide. I have 100% faith in this series moving forward and cannot wait to see the Han Solo stand alone film in 2018.
Remember to check back Thursday for the Rogue One episode of The Brew Chatt Podcast.