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Unless you've been living under a rock the past few months, you've probably heard that a new Star Wars film was released this past week, "Rogue One." Like "The Force Awakens", I've been looking forward to this for quite some time. Obviously what follows will be my heavily biased review - I'm a huge Star Wars fan and don't have the most critical eye when it comes to the subject matter, but if you want to know what I thought, read on. I will add a very large and obvious "Spoiler Break" after I share my thoughts, so stop reading at that point if you don't want important details ruined for you. I will also consider the comments to be a spoiler zone as well. Basically - just stop reading at the spoiler break!
Going into this movie, I had only one concern. As the first non-trilogy movie (that's not exactly right, Clone Wars was the first one), there was a lot riding on it. I really believed that this was a good idea. Like the books, TV shows, etc, let's explore what's happening outside the main big story and flesh out the universe. Right from the beginning though there were concerns. A sizable portion of the people I spoke to about the movie were confused by when it actually took place. Normally that's a pretty bad sign. I think most people eventually got what was going on, but audience confusion is never a good sign.
All I wanted for it was to not suck. I thought the idea of "Rogue One" (R1) was great, and I thought the idea of a Han Solo film was also good, but obviously if R1 tanked all of that would go away.
Right from the beginning, this is a completely unique film. Everything, from the title text, to how things are shot, are completely new to the SW series. Even though "The Force Awakens" (TFA) was set past the events of the last trilogy and had a lot of new stuff in it, I really thought R1 was more unique. It felt like seeing a completely new side to the classic story.
What comes to mind is "Enterprise". Yes, I know, talking about "Star Trek" in a "Star Wars" movie review is probably breaking some Internet law, and I know most folks didn't like "Enterprise", but just go with me here a minute. One of the best aspects of "Enterprise" to me were the details it revealed about the early years of Starfleet. Specifically, I thought the Vulcans, and how they treated Earth, was absolutely fascinating. To me, seeing that 'texture' to the history made the show worthwhile to me, despite it's other flaws.
R1 does much of the same. We are presented with a Rebel Alliance that is much more fascinating then we've seen in the past. It isn't uniformly pure and good. There is infighting. It's all a much more realistic and interesting than previously seen.
This is a much darker film than we've seen previously. "Empire Strikes Back" (ESB) has a pretty dark tone, but I'd say R1 far surpasses it. That could be a bad thing. "Batman vs Superman" was incredibly grim, but ended up feeling completely stupid and unnecessary. In R1, it feels entirely appropriate for the story. The Empire is at its strongest and there is a desperation to the movie that makes sense for that universe.
The main cast was well done, especially Felicity Jones' Jyn Erso. Like most ensemble films though you don't get a deep look at many of the characters. I'm ok with that as - again - it is an ensemble film, but I really feel like the Imperial pilot defector got shafted. Maybe they were worried about spending too much time on a defector when we had one as a primary character in TFA as well, but I truly felt like Bodhi Rook (and yes, I had to look it up) had a much more interesting story to tell.
Krennic and Galen were well done, but I strongly recommend reading Catalyst to get a much deeper look at their relationship. In fact, I'd say that my overall enjoyment of the film was greatly enhanced by reading the book first. It really gives you insight into their characters.
The use of CGI for two characters (I won't name them yet as it would be spoilers) was... an interesting choice. The uncanny valley issue is strong here and I'm not sure I would have made the same choice. When it was done in "Tron Legacy", it made sense to me. In the real world, Flynn's youthful face was used sparingly, and it wasn't too jarring. In the computer world, his CGI face made perfect sense.
Lastly, the music was uninspiring, just like it was in TFA too. That's truly sad. It doesn't ruin the movie for me, not even close, it's just disappointing. I bought the TFA soundtrack and played it once or twice, but there's nothing memorable in either's soundtrack in my opinion.
It sounds like I'm complaining a lot, but to be clear, I loved it. A coworker asked me how I would rank this film, and honestly, I feel like I can't. Every aspect of it seems to different from the 7 main story films it doesn't quite 'sit' right in a simple ranking. I would say it is much better than any of the prequels (which, to be clear, I didn't hate per se, but...) and I would say it has the coolest sequence of any Star Wars film I've ever seen. (Not that it matters, but after the spoiler break I'll share my thoughts on the coolest moments in SW history. ;)
I definitely recommend seeing this in the theater. It really deserves a big screen viewing.
Finally, I want to share a few tweets from Kumail Nanjiani, star of HBO's "Silicon Valley" - he pointed out how diverse the cast was, something I had noticed, but not really noticed like he did:
I strangely started tearing up. And I'm a grown man. I thought of kids watching this movie & seeing ppl that look like them kicking ass.— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) December 16, 2016
Didn't think about structure once during Rogue. The fight in Jedha struck me. Ppl who looked like me & dressed like my ppl were good guys!— Kumail Nanjiani (@kumailn) December 16, 2016
Those embeds aren't necessarily in the proper order (thanks Twitter for making embeds weird), but you get the point. I remember when I took my eldest son (he was born in South Korea) to the Star Trek reboot, he got incredibly excited when Sulu had his kicking ass scene.
Anyway - you get the idea - go see it - enjoy it - this isn't the most intelligent film of the year but it's good fun and an awesome addition to the world of Star Wars!
Some random spoiler-ific items in no particular order.
Killing everyone was bold. It made sense. It's the only realistic end to the show. But I'm still shocked Disney let that happen. The folks behind R1 must have fought hard to get them to agree to it. Or heck, maybe it wasn't a hard fight. Either way, it was an incredibly bold thing to do and the right thing to do, and as much as I may think "This is just Star Wars, it isn't art", this was a pretty powerful statement.
That ending... holy shit. I had hoped we would see Vader kicking ass, but this went beyond anything I had imagined. That sequence was the coolest thing I've seen in a long time (even if it was yet another hallway fight - you did realize that, right?) This is the Vader I wanted to see in the prequels.
Vader's castle was bad ass. Almost too over the top, but if you had to design a crib for the dark lord, that's probably what you would come up with.
Chirrut's scenes were epic. A bit silly at first, but his last sequence was epic. "I'm one with the Force. The Force is with me." I get chills reading that now.
Oh, so I said the ending sequence was the coolest thing I'd seen in Star Wars movies. My other top moments are: The SSD reveal in ESB and Kylo Ren 'freezing' a laser bolt. When he did that, I thought the film had broken. Seriously.
K-2SO was awesome. I want that action figure right now. I normally only collect the bad guys/ships, but I'll make an exception for him. I also want to get the Black Series Jyn (and I've just now added it to my wish list).
CGI Tarkin... as I said above - I think it may have been a mistake. His lines were great (and again, reading "Catalyst" provides more context as to why), but if I spent time thinking about the CGI than that's a mistake. They should have recasted him. On the other hand, CGI Leia's brief appearance worked a lot better for me.