The only movies that seem to be worth the price of admission to the theaters anymore are the big Hollywood blockbusters. It's not only because of the surround sound and special effects. Those would be nothing without a polished story, strong performances, and meaningful themes, and that is what these action movies have been delivering.
The superhero movie franchises have set the bar high. So, it's unacceptable to throw out a movie with the Star Wars title on it without putting blood, sweat, and tears into making it a worthwhile story to tell. I'm not a huge Star Wars fan, but I did see Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, over New Year’s weekend. I had been very impressed with The Force Awakens, and after watching all of the other movies in the series, I was interested to see how they could squeeze this story right in the middle of it all. Below are my spoiler-free thoughts on the movie.
Rogue One sets out to tie together Episodes 3 and 4 of the saga, permanently cementing the inability to explain the ordering of these movies to a newcomer to the film series. Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), a loaner criminal, is captured by the Rebel Alliance and persuaded to join them in a mission to stop the Empire from their latest plan of destruction. She, along with rebel fighter Cassian Andor (Diego Luna) and reprogrammed Imperial droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk), discover that the Empire is constructing an all powerful weapon capable of destroying entire planets, a weapon that they are calling the “Death Star”. This information is given to her through a message from her long lost father. In the message, he admits that it was he who constructed the weapon for the Empire but intentionally added a weakness in the design which could be used to destroy it.
With this knowledge, the team, joined by the visually impaired yet force devoted, Chirrut Imwe (Donnie Yen), gun-wielding Baze Malbus (Wen Jiang), and timid pilot, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed), seek out to steal the plans for The Death Star and transmit them to the Rebel Alliance so that they can destroy it. And the rest is history.
The film starts out slow and steady, showing the significant moment in Jyn's childhood when she was separated from her family before transitioning to her in adulthood as a lost drifter before she is introduced to the rebels and asked to join in their rebellion. A lot of exposition is required to help the audience catch up to the events that are taking place. We meet each of the main characters through Jyn's introduction to each of them, and they slowly pull together to form the group that carriers out their famous mission. Character development is very limited. Anything personal that you learn about this crew is squeezed into quick, quiet moments between the action.
This is a movie that definitely requires repeat viewings. You are presented with a complete set of new characters, thrown between two films that you (should) have already seen which are set years apart from each other. There is a constant piecing together of this new information as it relates to the continuity of the franchise. Familiar faces pop up throughout, but in the end, you are solely relying on these new characters to take you from the first reel to the final credits.
This movie does not try to get too flashy or deviate too much from the look of the other films, despite being its own stand alone story. The details are very precise from the designs of the inside of the ships to the alien extras milling about in the background. However, it doesn’t try to show you anything too familiar either. Different planets are visited and new images blend together to create scenarios and situations that are integral to telling this specific story, making it its own stand alone tale.
Jyn is traumatized by her parents’ intentional yet driven abandonment as a child. She’s bitter but not broken. Her character could have gone cold and become unlikeable very easily. Cassian is not entirely a good guy, despite being a devoted rebel fighter. We see very early on that he is motivated solely by his cause. It defines him, and you can see that he has lost sight of what he is fighting for and is merely working towards winning the fight by any means necessary. K-2S0 and Chirrut provide some of the only lighter moments in the movie with their witty dialogue and observations. Still, they are not colorfully wisecracking stock characters. Overall, it's a well balanced toned though easily the most serious in the series.
The acting is probably the strongest element in the film. The plot is very concentrated. There are no lightsaber duels, new alien races to meet, or any of the other typical scenes that you would find in a Star Wars movie so the the film is reliant on its cast to carry the story. All of the main characters balance their layered performances perfectly. They treat their roles as seriously as if they were doing an independent Oscar-friendly film, while keeping from going too over-the-top or too flat in each scene. Forrest Whittaker’s role as Saw Gerrera is probably the most flashy besides that of the much-anticipated Darth Vader cameo, which I will not go into detail about as this is a spoiler-free review.
The team is racially diverse, something that recent films have been lacking, yet it doesn’t, and shouldn’t, come up. This is something that Disney has been doing right in the Marvel universe and is continuing to represent different ethnicities in their heroes in the Star Wars universe without making them stiff or stereotypical. They are just people being people in extreme circumstances. With any luck, it’s going to become less talked about as it becomes more prevalent, but while it’s still a hot topic, it’s safe to say that the diverse talent in this film shows that heroes come from all backgrounds.
Speaking of heroes, the way that this Star Wars story is the most different from the others is that it is not about good versus evil, good becoming evil, or evil becoming good. Everyone who boards that ship to their mission is looking for redemption from past atrocities. We don’t learn everyone’s motivations for doing what they do, only that they want to help. For the first time in this universe, we see that the rebels are not entirely innocent. Like two countries at war, both have had to sacrifice their understanding of right and wrong in order to stay in the fight. When the first films were made, there was no denying who was right and who was wrong. A movie made today is no longer that simple.
When the fighting begins, the audience has a lot more knowledge of both sides and their devotion to their cause. This is highlighted best in the third act as both sides are unrelenting in their quests: one to steal the plans and one to stop them from being stolen. The unsung heroes really shine in what is essentially a suicide mission. We know from Episode 4 that many will give their lives for this information and that what they are fighting for was not even agreed upon as the right course of action to fighting the Empire.
The mission is also a risky one. With no direct help from the Rebel Alliance, the team has to wing it. This is not just about the team holding off an army of bad guys while the main characters run in and steal the plans and maybe have an encounter with a main villain or two. Everyone has a task from buying time for Jyn and Cassian to get from the ship to the control room where the plans are kept to getting a working signal to the Rebel Alliance ships to positioning the satellites in order to transmit the information all while being attacked on the beach by accurate-for-once storm troopers, imperial droids, and the infamous AT-AT’s. It's tricky, and convoluted, and if anyone fails, the entire mission fails.
The final battle gets Star Wars big very fast. While there are plenty of action sequences throughout the film, the air and land battles at the end are the scenes that made you buy a ticket in the first place. It makes up for the lack of light saber duels and encounters with alien beasts that the other films are known for.
These characters won’t be remembered like the original team or even The Force Awakens characters whose story has yet to be completely told. However, their motivations and determination are just as admirable as those Skywalkers and Solos, and without the actions of this team, the Death Star would have done a lot more damage than it did in the original trilogy.
This is a movie for those who do the right thing for their own personal reasons, not for medals and glory. They understand that they are part of a larger whole and that their individual contributions are each an ingredient to the success that the rebels have in taking down their dark opponents. It’s a great message to send out to every generation of Star Wars fans, both young and old, and it’s a message that we need a constant reminder of today when we are all struggling to stand out from the crowd and be noticed instead of working together to make things better for everyone.
I do know that I’m going to need repeat viewings of this movie in order to fully understand it, but overall, I think that the filmmakers pulled off what they set out to do. They not only successfully explained away a major plot hole in the franchise, but they were able to resurrect some old heroes in both a relevant and nostalgic way while sending an important message to audiences in the meantime. What is meant to be a side note in a larger story became a large story of its own and gave super fans something to hold them over until the next installment in the franchise is released.
Winnie on January 03, 2017:
Great break down of the film!