I went to see Rogue One last night. It rocked

This isn’t so much a review as a bullet-pointed series of thoughts that I had during and after the film.

This list will contain spoilers.

  • Rogue One manages to successfully do a Star Wars film in a mostly different genre to the others. The other seven films have all been adventure films set during a war, but this was definitely a war film that had tropes of adventure films in places. It was darker, more cynical and even grimier than the ‘lived-in future’ (or long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away) of the previous films.
  • Related to the above, it was easily the most violent Star Wars film yet, and that’s including the various lightsaber-severed limbs of the other films. We had good guys murdering people (and not in the Han shooting first sense, but an actual murder of an innocent ally), some intense shoot-outs that were closer to Saving Private Ryan than A New Hope, the execution of a wounded stormtrooper with a head-shot (one of several explicit head-shots in the film), and a pretty nasty bit where a character uses a stormtrooper as a human shield. That human shield gets riddled with quite a few scorch marks.
  • Storm trooper armour proves yet again to be utterly incapable of stopping a blaster bolt or even a baton strike. You can see how those Ewoks took them down so easily.
  • The political machinations behind the Rebellion were expanded upon, without becoming as heavily ladled on as in the prequel trilogy. Bail Organa and Mon Mothma, both serving Imperial senators, are amongst the leadership of the Rebel Alliance. The Rebellion’s goal isn’t to wage war against the Empire, but to bring it down legally, by exposing its crimes to the Imperial Senate, who would then act against Emperor Palpatine. This feels more plausible than the good-versus-evil war implied by the original trilogy. It also feels plausible that there would be factions within the Rebellion that disagreed with the Mothma/Organa strategy, from Saw Gerrera’s terrorist splinter cell to General Draven’s hardline militarist attitude.
  • The involvement of the Senate in plotting against Palpatine also explains why the Senate is dissolved during the events of A New Hope.
  • The Guardians of the Whills (which is a reference to Lucas’s working title for the entire saga) are an interesting addition to canon, being a religious order that worship the Force, despite not being Force-users themselves. I can only imagine that their continued existence at the start of Rogue One is due to them being culturally irrelevant in a post-Jedi era. It also supports the idea that certain citizens of the Empire regard the Jedi and a belief in the Force as being parts of a ‘hokey religion’.
  • The film ends mere hours, or even minutes, before the start of Episode IV: A New Hope, and the finale is that first victory that Episode IV‘s opening crawl tells us about.
  • Speaking of opening crawls, this film doesn’t have one, removing it from the main saga, at least until the plot starts tying back in with the events of Episode IV.
  • Speaking of hope, which is explicitly referred to multiple times during the film, including by Princess Leia in her cameo, it’s already been pointed out by several websites and journalists that, thanks to Rogue One, the title ‘A New Hope’ no longer refers to Luke Skywalker. The new hope for the Rebellion and the galaxy now refers to Jyn Erso and her team’s success at finding the Death Star plans. That shifts the emphasis of Star Wars slightly, from being about badass Jedi solving or causing everyone’s problems, to the little people getting to make a difference as well. This universe is bigger than Luke Skywalker.
  • You know how The Phantom Menace was goddamn awful because it loved its computer-generated characters way too much? Well, Rogue One benefits from its love of CG characters. While Director Krennic has had all the publicity, he wasn’t the villain of the film. He was certainly protagonist Jyn Erso’s personal nemesis, and was integral to the development of the Death Star, but the real bad guy was Governor Tarkin, played by Guy Henry (Brutus’ sidekick Cassius in HBO’s Rome, and the Minister of Magic in Harry Potter) with Peter Cushing’s face superimposed over the top. It wasn’t a perfect effect – in a few scenes, we paid a definite visit to Uncanny Valley – but it was definitely very effective.
  • The presence of Tarkin enhanced Krennic’s character significantly. The feuding between rival officers, and Krennic’s pique over Tarkin’s political manouevrings, lent a certain degree of authenticity to the Empire.
  • As a side note, I’m pretty sure Tarkin was only ever addressed as ‘Governor’ Tarkin, the same title that Leia gave him in A New Hope. If I’m right, that means that the silly ‘Grand Moff’ title has now never been used in the film series. Tarkin’s still credited with that rank on IMDB’s entry for Rogue One, but I can still head-canon it out of existence.
  • The CG characters didn’t stop with Tarkin, or even with the brief appearance by Princess Leia, who was likewise superimposed onto Ingvild Deila, an actor with a very similarly-shaped face to 20-year-old Carrie Fisher. (We only saw Leia’s face for a brief moment, and I don’t think the effect worked as well as it did with Tarkin.) The faces of the X-Wing squadron leaders who don’t manage to penetrate the planetary shield at Scarif have received the same treatment, so that they look like their later appearances alongside Luke Skywalker in the attack on the Death Star.
  • Mon Mothma and Bail Organa are exceptions, being played by the same actors who played them in the prequel trilogy, which makes sense. However, I’m wondering about all the other faces around the table at the Rebel briefings. Pretty much every officer who’s appeared in the original trilogy is there, but are they lookalikes or CG masks?
  • I hope people keep working on virtual actor technology, although it’s a technology that could get creepy if misused. Imagine if the porn industry could afford it (and get around facial licensing laws – maybe claiming parody and the First Amendment)? And what happens when you’re able to put together reasonable virtual actors at home on your PC?
  • Orson Krennic is, insofar as I can recall, the first named Imperial character in any of the films to fire a blaster. Boba Fett is a freelance mercenary, and I don’t think Captain Phasma ever uses that lovely chrome blaster in The Force Awakens, though I’ve not watched that film since I saw it in the cinema. All other named Imperial characters have either been Sith or naval officers. Krennic nearly became the only named Imperial character to be killed with a blaster as well (all others having either been killed by Force powers or exploding spaceships or Death Stars).
  • Speaking of named Imperial characters, we finally get to see how goddamn terrifying it is for mundane combatants to go up against a Force-wielding opponent. Sure, we’ve seen it loads of times, particularly in the prequel trilogy, but only ever from the point of view of the force-users themselves (even dark-Anakin’s rampage was from his perspective). Pro tip: never let yourself be locked in a confined space with a Dark Lord of the Sith.
  • Alan Tudyk seemed to be doing his best Anthony Daniels (C-3PO) impression as K-2SO, which could have been a bad thing, but the very different personalities of those two droids meant that it didn’t feel derivative, but merely consistent, particularly since Goldenrod turns up in person for all of five seconds towards the end of the film.
  • Speaking of cameos, Bum-Chin and Melty-Face from the Mos Eisley cantina appeared in a brief, unnecessary, but not harmful cameo early in the film. I assume they left the planet shortly thereafter. They were every bit as obnoxious as they were in A New Hope.
  • Despite being a two hour film, I don’t think we really got to know any of the ‘Rogue One’ team that well, with the exception of Felicity Jones’ Jyn Erso. Forest Whitaker’s Saw Gerrera was underused, and I can’t even remember the names of the blind monk and his heavy blaster-wielding sidekick (although both were entertaining one-note characters). Cassian Andor and Bodhi Rook were pretty good though.
  • Jyn, as is traditional in Star Wars, had a strained family relationship that involves daddy siding with the Empire and building a Death Star. Apparently it’s a thing that happens. Unlike Luke or Leia, who both had good role models as they grew up and so turned out okay, Jyn’s adoptive parent was a terrorist who abandoned her without warning when she was sixteen. This left her a bit cynical (rather like the film, really), and very much in the neutral part of the Light-Dark spectrum. There’s still a bit of heroism in there though, and it comes right to the fore when circumstances require it.
  • Andor’s hardened assassin/spy was a refreshingly gritty character for a Star Wars series, particularly for a Rebel, to the extent that if he was a character in a Knights of the Old Republic video game, he’d have a red background when you looked up his stats. The manner in which he came back towards the Light Side of the Force felt natural as well. After his character-defining moment in the alleyway with the informant, his was a gradual slide back towards redemption as he developed doubts as to the orders he was receiving from General Draven. This culminates in himself leading the Rebel soldiers who decide to follow Jyn to Scarif, and issuing a brief but meaningful monologue about the terrible things that all of them have done in the name of the Rebellion. That’s him casting off of the taint on his soul, right there. Of course, this was motivated by close contact with the film’s protagonist, who was herself undergoing an awakening of heroism, and he sort of went along in her wake. That they avoided an explicit romance between them in exchange for something more comradely helped a lot.
  • Bodhi Rook was an interesting role for a Star Wars film: he was a normal, everyday guy thrust into extraordinary circumstances due to his own inherent goodness. (In KoToR, to continue the analogy I used for Andor, his background colour would be bright blue.) He was continually out of his depth throughout the film, and spent most of the final battle hiding, but when it came down to it, he answered the call (as he did prior to the film’s events, by defecting to the Rebellion) and died a hero.
  • Remember the spoiler warning?
  • Yeah, there’s a good reason why we don’t see most of these characters again in the later films. Alan ‘Wash from Serenity‘ Tudyk managed to set up the ‘anyone can die’ vibe again with K-2SO’s tragic end. Possibly because it was the first, and possibly because K was the comic relief, its ‘death’ had the most emotional impact. It also braced us for further deaths as well.
  • Jyn and Andor’s final scene on the beach worked for me, although I’ve seen others say it was pointless and they should have just done what they did the last time they were shot at by a fully operational battle station, and looked for a ship to steal. Practically, yes, they could have done that, but narratively, no. An escape into the sky would have been meaningless. Andor had completed his character arc by coming away from the Dark Side, while Jyn’s was completed when she finished off her father’s work (hmm, there’s a feminist critique in that…) by getting the Death Star plans to the Rebellion.
  • Still on the subject of character deaths, the minor characters in Rogue One were excellent. Most had no names, a few had a name shouted over gunfire and explosions, others had callsigns. However, lots of them had just enough personality, even if it was just in their faces, to make you care. The casting and acting of the Rebel armsmen in the Darth Vader lightsaber rampage was particularly good – they really conveyed the terror of facing a fallen Jedi in combat, while also being big damn heroes with that data-disk they were transporting. A superb scene.
  • So where did the film go wrong? Not many places, in my opinion. The biggest bit that I noticed was the triple-battle on Jedha. The initial attack by insurgents on an Imperial convoy was brilliant. Confusing, intense and more than a little bit Black Hawk Down or Children of Men. Then, as everyone sits down to get their breath back, more Imperials arrive and another battle starts. Then, as everyone sits down to get their breath back, even  more Imperials arrive and another battle starts. Do none of them ever think about leaving the scene of that loud, explodey terrorist attack?
  • There were also a few moments where the stage directions appeared to say, ‘Enter half a dozen storm troopers, who are cut down by a volley of blaster fire.’ It felt a bit repetitive and forgot that the men (and possibly women, although that may just be a First Order thing) inside those suits were humans. War films are at their best when they portray the German soldiers as being just like the Allies, and too many moments where they’re just cannon fodder for the heroes detracts from that.

With that as the strongest criticism I can give at the moment, I’m awarding Rogue One: A Star Wars Story four Ewoks out of five.

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One thought on “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – some thoughts

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