When news broke about the first Star Wars Anthology film being about the Rebel spies stealing plans for the Death Star, I thought it sounded brilliant. I love the men-on-a-mission genre. THE DIRTY DOZEN and THE GUNS OF NAVARONE are two of my favorite war films. The only doubts I had of ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY was if it was a story that needed to be told? The opening crawl of STAR WARS told us basic information, and our imagination did the rest. Was this new movie just an excuse to have Darth Vader (a.k.a brand recognition) appear in the new cannon?
The verdict is still out if I think this is a “necessary” Star Wars film? That doesn't imply that I didn't like the movie because ROGUE ONE is pretty awesome! It's a war movie set in the Star Wars universe, WHERE EAGLES DARE with Droids! What's not to like!
Days if not hours leading up to seeing the film my anticipation was getting the best of me. Debating with friends on how much this “standalone” film was going to compare with the Episodes? It was confirmed by Lucasfilm that there would be no crawl at the beginning of the movie. Those are only for the Skywalker saga. That actually makes sense but now begs the question, what other things will be missing? The Star Wars logo? The famous Kurosawa transition swipes?
After the Lucasfilm logo and the most famous blue lettered title card in cinema history, the movie begins! No Star Wars theme or crawl. This was jarring at first but a nitpick that was easily forgiven and forgotten.
Like I mentioned earlier, ROGUE ONE is a war movie. For years the Empire has secretly been building a battle station rumored to destroy planets. An Imperial pilot has defected and has vital information regarding the technological terror the Empire has constructed. Galen Erso, the engineer who designed the weapon for the battle station has a message for his old friend and extremist Saw Gerrera about said weapon. Rebellion Intelligence learn from this and sends Cassian Andor to intercept. Cassian finds Erso's daughter Jyn, in hopes of convincing Saw to tell the Alliance everything he knows.
Jyn learns of the trap that her father designed into the Death Star so that it can be destroyed. At the Rebels secret base it is decided that this information is too vague to launch an attack upon the Empire. It's up to Jyn and a band of rogues to steal the data that could save the galaxy.
While I really really like ROGUE ONE it goes without saying that I have issues with the film. First of all the characters aren't that memorable, unlike last years STAR WARS THE FORCE AWAKENS. The other issue I have is the return of classic characters. Since ROGUE ONE is a prequel to STAR WARS we see Grand Moff Tarkin. Instead of casting an actor who resembles the late Peter Cushing and apply prosthetic facial makeup, the filmmakers decided to go with CGI?
I've seen the movie twice and the first time was in 3D IMAX, the CGI face I didn't find too distracting. But when I watched it a second time in a regular theater, the CGI was super noticeable. The technology is getting better but I don't think will ever be perfect.
Speaking of CGI the next scene I wanna mention is the final shot. Love it or hate it, it's one of those seemingly mandatory shots in any spin-off tying together the main story. Yes, I'm talking about Princess Leia. I like the scene because I'm a Star Wars geek. But completely understand why folks would hate it and deem it pointless. It does seem like a gag for the fans sitting up in the cheap seats.
In fact, I wish the film would have ended with Jyn and Cassian's dying embrace. Too much of a downer I know. That might have be too bleak?
But I gotta give Disney credit for allowing ROGUE ONE to go as dark as it did! In the beginning of STAR WARS I felt is was always implied that the Empire killed the spies who stole the Death Star plans. And like any good suicide mission film, nobody in ROGUE ONE was coming back home.
I would have put money down that Disney mandated the character of Jyn and at least two others safely escape the Empire. Turns out I was wrong, and I'm happy about that.
The first two acts of ROGUE ONE are pretty slow with some nice action beats sprinkled here and there. I found the cloak and dagger stuff interesting. All the intercepting of transmissions involving the Intel of the Imperial defector, Saw, and Galen felt like an old school spy/war movie.
But it's the films final act that earns ROGUE ONE it's full admission price. The attack of Scarif is the catalyst for STAR WARS. It's the opening crawl come to life. Was it necessary? Probably not, but for those fans who always dreamed that this universe was bigger than the Skywalker family, Episode IV is now even better because of it.
I don't know for how long (probably since 1977) but among fans of STAR WARS there has been a debatable plot-hole in the film. That of the Death Star's weakness, the thermal exhaust port. The design flaw has been the butt of the joke for many fans of the film. ROGUE ONE has fixed that. From now on it will be kinda cool knowing that Galen Erso made the flaw on purpose. He gave the Death Star a fuse.
Now the moment you're probably all wondering, what did I think about Darth Vader? I'm happy to announce that Vader is back! Back to the Vader we know and love. George Lucas dropped the ball big time with the character in REVENGE OF THE SITH.
Vader is awesome in ROGUE ONE! The film gives him the menace that we remember in the original trilogy. He has his own castle in the movie! And despite what Lucas tried to make us think, Anakin is not in that suit 24/7. Which reminds me, the suit. The suit is a throwback to how the design looked in STAR WARS. They did a fantastic job. I wanna believe the costume was practical but I'm unsure? What looked CGI to me could have been crisp digital projection?
But let's talk about that castle for a bit. Way before REVENGE OF THE SITH the Obi-Wan and Anakin duel on a lava planet was already cannon. In the early stages of per-production on EMPIRE STRIKES BACK, Lucas toyed with the idea that Darth Vader lived in a castle on a lava planet. A planet where Anakin became more machine than man.
I swear that when I was younger a friend of mine had a Star Wars comic book that showed Obi-Wan defeating Anakin on a lava planet! Maybe it was a origin of Vader issue? Regardless, I love the fact that this was cannon before Episode III. And that ROGUE ONE does a bit of retcon when it comes to the prequels. Meaning, the new film might be using notes and concept ideas that predate REVENGE OF THE SITH by a long shot Yeah, Vader probably lives on Mustafar as a tragic reminder to himself of the monster he's become. But was it always called Mustafar?
There is only one lightsaber in ROGUE ONE and rightfully so! Probably my favorite Darth Vader moment is when the Imperials board a Rebel cruiser. The Rebel soldiers are ready for battle! Scared but ready. The fear on their faces when Vader appears tells you everything you need to know about the Dark Lord of the Sith's reputation in the galaxy!
Due to budget and special effects limitations the classic lightsaber duel from STAR WARS is pretty un-spectacular by today's standards. So in the new film when Vader goes all Jason Voorhees with his lightsaber, it feels somewhat out of place. The scene becomes glorified fan fiction. I normally hate fan fiction but here I give it a pass.
ROGUE ONE needed to have Darth Vader be scary and kick ass. For far too long has the character been the mascot for Star Wars. Everything from hip-hop dancing at Disneyland, car commercials, and greeting cards it was time to remind people that Vader was once the greatest film villain ever!
In conclusion, I highly recommend ROGUE ONE. Is the film "necessary"? I think so, and so will other Star Wars fans. It's a great war film first and a good Star Wars story second. I just hope the Han Solo movie doesn't end with him and Chewbacca setting a course to Mos Eisley?
And I almost forgot to mention K-2SO. He's great! A welcomed tradition of memorable droid characters in the Star Wars universe. But contrary to popular critic belief, K-2SO is not the only memorable thing in the movie.
May the Force be with you!